Many have been surprised by the nerve of these young players, who have eliminated Real Madrid or have held their own against the Juventus of Cristiano Ronaldo. Their assault at the Santiago Bernabéu was not an exception, because it forms part of their DNA. Ajax has an unbreakable style of playing, that counts on the unwavering loyalty of its fans, who are proud of the bravery of their team, but also faithful to the way it is managed. The club comes before everything else, both on the pitch and in the offices. They are conscious that they need to be several steps ahead of the rest in terms of planning, because the team is probably the most appetizing store window for the big rich teams in Europe. At the time that they were conscious of the progress of Frenkie de Jong two years ago, they covered their backs by picking out a substitute. The same happens with their coaches, who do not decide on signings given that they come and go, leaving the club obliged to protect its long-term strategy.
Ajax has spent a number of years immersed in the contradictory situation of being up to the task on the continent without being able to translate that drive into titles
When we signed Peter Bosz at Maccabi Tel Aviv after Slavisa Jokanovic left for Fulham, in the middle of the 2015-16 season, we were well aware that his name was at the top of the list of Frank de Boers replacements if he decided to leave the club. When his exit was made formal, I was sure that the call from Ajax would come at any time to pay the termination clause that we had put in his contract. Bosz lasted barely a season in Amsterdam, because Borussia Dortmund threw down the gauntlet after taking the team to the final of the Europa League against Manchester United.
Mario Mandzukic (ST) – Mandzukic certainly isnt prolific in front of goal, but his importance to Juventus cannot be underestimated. He tends to get the best out of those around him and thats not forgetting the impact he can have when defending set pieces.
And that European final featured that generation of youngsters that has captivated soccer lovers, but Ajax has spent a number of years immersed in the contradictory situation of being up to the task on the continent without being able to translate that drive into titles. They havent won the Eredivisie for five years. And that domestic pressure has forced them to rectify their line of recruiting young promises, investing in transfers of veterans who have been seasoned in the big leagues and who have knowledge of Dutch soccer, such as Dusan Tadic or Daley Blind.
This combination of youth and experience has balanced out a squad that has recovered its winning elements and now is hoping to win the league. And they count on sufficiently healthy accounts thanks to good player sales such as that of De Jong, without the need to dispose of half of the starting team and offering up players who are tempted by other destinations on a par with the Premier League or La Liga. Let no one be fooled. Ajax does not hesitate when the time comes to declare that a player is not for transfer.
Many people ask me if this Ajax is a homage to my father Johan. Honestly, I wouldnt dare to go so far. The best tribute that they have given him is to give his name to the Johan Cruyff Arena. But there are elements of this team that form part of his footballing beliefs: style, youth, courage and management in the hands of ex-players, something that is represented right now in its chief executive officer, Edwin Van der Sar, or its director of football, Marc Overmars, and, in the recent past, Dennis Bergkamp on the bench and Wim Jonk in the academy. I am sure that he would feel proud of this generation that, on Tuesday, went out to enjoy the game on the pitch of Juventus Stadium as the team has done until now: without fear.
What can we expect from Juventus in this game? In what has been a season of ups and downs for the Bianconeri, its hard to predict how they will do in the second leg of the tie. Juve has looked like an absolute world beater one week, only to look like a disinterested, mismatched squad the very next. We do know this, though: If they want to keep the Champions League dream alive, Juve will have to come out guns blazing against a very good Ajax squad.
Another April, another month where a bunch of Juventus players are besieged by nagging injuries. At this point is hard to remember that last season where in the thick of the season the club had a full, fit, healthy squad.
The most important pieces missing in last Wednesdays first leg were midfielder Emre Can and captain Giorgio Chiellini. Both did not play against SPAL and reports suggest they are making good progress to be back for Tuesday. Getting Chiellini back would be especially massive as Daniele Rugani is slated to fill in for the captain. Look, I like Rugani and all, but there is no way I feel super confident starting the youngster in a crucial Champions League game, especially alongside Leonardo Bonucci, who is not nearly the physical presence a guy like Chiellini can be.
Juve-Ajax LIVE: official program, latest team news and predicted line-ups
Can is also a doubt, while his inclusion would be great, Im more encouraged by the performance from Rodrigo Bentancur filling in for him last week. Bentancur is capable of incredible displays, so while Can is probably the more solid contributor, I wouldnt be terribly upset to see the Uruguayan kid make the start.
The feeling is that its not that Juve cant cut loose, but that theyre not allowed to, and it is significant that the finest performance of Allegris reign was arguably last years 3-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, where they had been left with no option but to attack after a 3-0 first-leg loss.
From Chiellini to Rugani: Juventus injury situation ahead of UCL clash vs Ajax
Douglas Costa, a super sub in the first game if Ive ever seen one is also a doubt, with conflicting reports saying he will be ready to go and others that say he wont. It would be nice to have the Brazilian dynamo ready to go, but he was not slated to start, a luxury more than anything else. Cristiano Ronaldo was still visibly not 100% in the first tie, recovering from an injury he picked up in international duty, but hopefully an extra week of recovery will be all he needs to be his usual self.
For Ajax, Frenkie de Jong picked up an injury during the weekend, limping off the field after limited minutes in the Dutch league. IF he were unable to play in the deciding match it would be a massive blow for the visitors, who will also be without Nicolas Tagliafico due to a suspension.
Injuries could end up playing a big role in the coming match, as they always do, but de Jong and Chiellini are by far the most crucial ones. Missing those guys changes the entire game for their squads, keep an eye out on those two players when lineups are announced.
A rather bizarre development for Juventus last few seasons has been their continuous problems playing against teams that deploy a high press style of football.
Ajaxs Frenkie de Jong Fit to Play vs. Juventus After Injury Scare, Says Agent
Every team, from Tottenham Hotspurs to freakin Genoa has given Juve fits when pressing high, and Ajax has been no different.
The first tie was mostly dictated by the home side as Juve struggled to generate any type of build up against their press. If Ajax comes out with a similar strategy Bonucci, Joao Cancelo and Miralem Pjanic will be crucial to make the right passes and play calmly under duress to break out of Ajaxs press. If not, we are going to have a white-knuckle game in our hands, because Ajax is not afraid to go at anybody. On that note…
The most in-form striker in the squad, coming off another goal scoring performance against SPAL, Moise Kean is quickly becoming an important part of the team in the closing months. While getting the start against SPAL, he only played 60 minutes, prompting some folks to speculate if he was scheduled to play minutes mid-week.
I dont think its that far fetched to think he could be in the starting 11, but I still think Max Allegri will go with the ol reliable AKA Mario Mandzukic. Despite that, this game could be great for the young Kean, his pace and physicality is exactly what Juve will need to fight off the high press that Ajax employs and — I cannot stress this enough — the kid scores, ALL THE TIME.
With Costa ailing, I would not be shocked if he was used as a sub as he was in the return leg against Atletico. Hopefully he proves to be the difference maker once more.
And while the Old Lady will be confident of getting the job done back on their own patch, Mourinho has had a word of warning for Massimiliano Allegri’s team.
I cannot mention enough how good this Ajax team is. They play care free, dangerous attacking football. They play with goddamn panache and I could not be a bigger fan of their squad. You can say whatever you want about Real Madrids form this season, but its not easy to walk into that stadium and wreck them the way Ajax did.
Still, Juve is the favorite and for good reason, top to bottom they have more talent and more experience than the young Dutch upstarts. Closing the tie at home, with that key away goal in their back pocket. So, yes, they should by all intents and purposes walk out of the Allianz Stadium with the semifinal ticket in hand.
But football is unpredictable and knockout rounds always led themselves to unpredictability. Ajax is coming in with nothing to lose and will give the Bianconeri everything they can handle. I predict an even match that ends up with the home side edging by the visitors and securing a semifinal spot.