If you haven’t watched much of Ajax this season, it didn’t take long Wednesday night to find out what they’re all about. It’s about non-stop pressure, and high-pressure at that, with their youth and capacity to out-work the opposition no matter how much they run being one of the staples of their return to the Champions League quarterfinals.
That’s not necessarily the best kind of thing for Juventus to deal with knowing full well how much they’ve struggled against teams that love to press. Somehow, some way, Juventus avoided disaster in the first leg of a knockout round tie for the second consecutive matchup.
We saw the good and the bad of Joao Cancelo on either ends of halftime, as he first set up Cristiano Ronaldo’s 125th Champions League goal and then got absolutely cooked on Ajax’s equalizer all of 30 seconds into the second half. The end result, a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam, means Juve are in a much, much better situation than they were against Atlético Madrid in the round of 16. I mean, they’ve got an all-valuable away goal in their back pocket — which is more than we can say about the situation coming back from Madrid six weeks ago.
And, with that, I have a confession: I have no idea how this game ended with a 1-1 final score.
Seriously, I have no idea.
Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini-less defense was not just under pressure, but Ajax just seemed to come at them in waves. If we wanted the ultimate test for Daniele Rugani to see how he would handle things filling in for Chiellini, this might have been it. Ajax controlled possession, they controlled the pace of the game and really took it to Juventus for huge chunks of the game in both halves.
Essentially, this was more about how Juventus would find a way to not just break Ajax’s press, but also just a way to create scoring opportunities.
As it turned out, the lone chance Juve put on frame was Ronaldo’s diving header, the final point in what was an excellent quick counter started by Rodrigo Bentancur. (Douglas Costa did hit the woodwork late in the second half, so it’s not like Juve were completely devoid of scoring chances once the game was tied up.)
But, I guess my last impression from this game is something along the lines of “Eh, I guess it could have been worse.” Even being more optimistic than pessimistic like I usually am, the absence of Chiellini didn’t have me thinking very many good thoughts — and that was even before Ajax was swarming Juventus in the opening 10 or 15 minutes and only allowing the visitors to have around 45 seconds of possession. (Rough estimation as always.)
Juve’s got the away goal and aren’t down on aggregate, and against a club like Ajax that was playing some sweet and beautiful football that’s all you can really ask for. Ajax were clearly the better side, clearly could have won this game, and yet it ends in a 1-1 draw and Juve’s probably liking where they stand.
The performance wasn’t great, obviously, but the end result means that Juve — at least for right now — won’t have to be superhuman in the second leg.
So, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- God, Frenkie de Jong is so good.
- God, Matthijs de Ligt is so good.
- So much for Juve’s teenaged starlet getting some playing time, huh?
- Sorry, I don’t wanna be #ThatGuy, but Moise Kean could have been rather useful against Ajax, right? I understand bringing on Paulo Dybala because Juve needed somebody to actually control the ball for more than a split second and Douglas Costa really proved to be a good sub, but what happened to Moise?
- And the way Mario Mandzukic played against Ajax isn’t exactly going to quiet the crowd who want Kean to play more and more.
- Kean-related rant over. Back to regularly schedule programming.
- Ajax completed nearly twice as many passes as Juventus did. And, based on how the game went, I shouldn’t be all that surprised. Yet, here I am, still surprised.
- Oh man oh man. If Douglas Costa’s shot that rang the post went in. That second away goal would have been sooooooo nice to have knowing how Ajax is going to come out firing next week.
- Also, Douglas Costa steals souls.
- Wojciech Szczesny has proven to be a really, really good goalkeeper, you guys. He showed that once again Wednesday night. I am happy that he’s Juve’s No. 1 following the last No. 1 the club had the past two decades.
- After 90 minutes, I can say any worries I had about Daniele Rugani filling in for Giorgio Chiellini turned out to be mostly silenced. Good work, Dan. Now come back soon, Giorgio.
- This was a big night for Rodrigo Bentancur, who was the one to get the start over Sami Khedira because of Emre Can’s ankle injury. Like pretty much all of his teammates, the game started out very, very rough. Yet, unlike some of his teammates, Bentancur really did grow into the game. The passing stats aren’t great, but he really did prove to be one of Juve’s best players on the field Wednesday night. And against THAT midfield that Ajax has, that kind of performance from Bentancur was definitely needed.
- I really have no idea how Federico Bernardeschi will be able to walk out of the stadium because he looked absolutely shattered as the teams left the field. You may question some of his decisions, but you can’t question the dude’s effort. His work rate is unreal.
- Who’s exciting for SPAL this weekend? GET HYPED!