08 April at 16:10
After their incredible come back against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Ajax represented the dark horses of the Champions League draw. While Juventus will no doubt be pleased to have avoided one of the more established sides, such as Barcelona or Manchester City, Ajax have all the hallmarks of a potential banana skin. Their ‘never say die’ attitude that they exhibited so perfectly in Madrid, is backed up by a squad which impeccably balances exceptional young talent with more experienced older players, and as Real Madrid and Sergio Ramos showed in the last game, they are not a side to underestimate.
Ajax are a club with incredible footballing pedigree, having won the Champions League (or the European Cup in its earlier guise) four times, and with their footballing philosophy running through every aspect of the club. At its best, Ajax’s football is a thing of beauty; a mixture of their classical total football style, but brought into the modern era by the addition of a high intensity press, it relies on every player being comfortable in all aspects of the game, with the attackers defending from the front, and the defenders being assured on the ball and able to progress play and start attacks with ease.
Players to watch out for
In Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax undoubtedly have two of the best young players of a generation. Both have shown incredible maturity in their performances, emphasised by de Ligt assuming the club captaincy last season, while both have been developed to exude the Ajax way in everything they do. De Ligt is a tall centre back with exceptional passing ability, who is also blessed with a natural ability to read the game. In de Jong Ajax have a versatile midfielder, who is capable of playing anywhere in midfield, or even at centre back. He is most often deployed as a defensive minded midfielder, but despite playing a more reserved role, he averages 1.3 key passes every game, indicating how progressive his passing is.
Ajax’s young Dutch stars are complimented by the flair players in the team, Hakim Ziyech is able to score a goal seemingly out of nothing, and, with 17 goals and 11 assists in the Eredivisie and the Champions League this season he will be a key man for Ajax going forward. David Neres will also be a threat from the left wing, but it will be the re-emergence of Dusan Tadic that Juventus will have to pay closest attention to. Following his stunning performance in the Bernabeu, where he provided two sublime assists he became only the 9th player ever to receive a perfect ten in L’Equipe’s notoriously critical player ratings. Over the course of this season his goal involvement (goals and assists) has averaged over 1 per game in both the Champions League (6g 3a in 8) and the Eredivisie (20g 10a in 29).
Injuries and suspensions
Ajax have no major injury worries, with young midfielder Carel Eiting their only player missing through injury, but they will miss first choice right back Noussair Mazraoui through suspension. Mazraoui is a major part of the way they play and will be a big loss to the Dutch side, but in Joel Veltman they have a more than capable deputy, who has recently returned to the first team fold following a torn ACL.
Take a look at Ajax’s predicted line-up in the gallery at the top of the page.