Before Ajax hosts Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday, let’s look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.
Ajax will win if …
They play with the same enthusiasm and fearlessness they displayed when they stunned Real Madrid in the second leg of the Round of 16. We at High Press Soccer liked Ajax’s chances to upset Los Blancos going into that match. But even as believers, we were overwhelmed by the way they picked apart RM on March 5.
Against Juventus, the Dutch club will need to remain creative with its passing and clinical with its finishing in the final third. How it plays without the ball, though, will be even more important. Atlético Madrid was shredded in Turin as the Italians recovered from a 2-0 deficit thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s most recent Champions League magic. Midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek, as well as defender Matthijs de Ligt and the rest of the back line, will need to do what Atleti failed to in their loss: prevent service to Ronaldo. Any ball in the air in Ronaldo’s vicinity is trouble for Ajax, so they must limit those opportunities.
Juventus will win if …
Is it too obvious to say Juve is advancing to the semifinals if Ronaldo has another game anything like his last UCL performance? I think so. Juventus has a massive advantage in experience, so as long as they’re on a level playing field going into the second leg in their backyard, they’re going to be dangerous. That means a draw in Amsterdam, especially if they can produce an away goal or two, would be huge.
The clash of styles between these teams is why many are calling this match-up the most intriguing of the quarterfinals. When Ajax has the ball, will they be able to take on Juve defenders with the same success they enjoyed against RM? Or will the physicality and experience of players like Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini — whose status is reportedly unclear after he injured his calf in practice on Monday — neutralize Ajax’s young talent?
Ajax’s most important player and secret weapon are de Ligt and Dusan Tadic, respectively.
De Ligt is about to be a very rich man this summer, and he can ratchet up the demand for his services even further if he’s able to help Ajax contain Ronaldo. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be asked to do so single-handedly, but he’s the leader of a back line facing CR7, so his importance cannot be overstated. Skeptics will point out that Ajax is not nearly as battle-tested as the other seven teams still alive in the UCL. The doubters will have to find a new criticism of this team if it advances past Juve.
Tadic lit up Real Madrid in memorable fashion the last time we – excluding those of us who regularly watch the Eredivisie – saw him. Can he do to Juventus what he did to the winners of last year’s UCL? It’s hard to imagine him humiliating the likes of Bonucci and Chiellini for an entire afternoon, but a moment or two of brilliance could be all his team needs.
Juve’s most important player and secret weapon are Ronaldo and Moise Kean, respectively.
Say what you will about whether Ronaldo still has as much all-around impact as Lionel Messi – he does not, IMO – but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous in front of the net. His strength and leaping ability make him a nightmare in the box. Those gifts, coupled with his ever-so-understated confidence from owning Europe’s top competition for a while now, mean he is – in shocking news – easily the most important player in this game.
The 19-year-old Moise Kean is red-hot right now, with five goals in his last five Serie A matches. He did not play in the first leg of the UCL Round of 16 in Madrid and did not come on until the 80th minute in Turin. He figures to see more action against Ajax, unless Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri is too concerned his lack of experience will be a factor on the big stage. Whether he starts or not, though, expect a player with seven (!) goals in his last eight games for club and country to make an impact at some point in one of these games.
Latest Ajax vs Juventus Odds
|Ajax +230||Draw +220||Juventus+130|
Also Read: Champions League Quarterfinal Predictions