Wednesday night’s match against Ajax’s wonderjungs was bound to be a bit of a letdown for Juventus after the 3-0 epic comeback that saw them secure the pass to the quarterfinals. But, if you expected the Dutch team to roll over, boy, were you sadly mistaken.
Sure, Real Madrid has been a clown car that wrecked and then fell off a cliff this season, so for someone that doesn’t follow Ajax that closely you could see their convincing defeat of the Spanish giants as a massive upset. But, after watching them on the first game of the two legged tie, I got to say, this is a legitimately good team. They play high, intense football and, if we are talking about it subjectively, probably deserved more than what they got in this match against a slightly undermanned Juventus squad.
Let’s get to it fellas.
Winner: Douglas Costa
Oh man, how I missed the speedy Brazilian. Costa has not been his usual self this season, due to injuries and a lack of rhythm we haven’t seen the same type of game changing winger he is capable of being and that Juventus had last season. But, tonight appearing as a sub, we got to see him back in full throttle and it was quite a thing to behold.
Dribbling in and out, streaking and doing very Douglas Costa things. Almost getting a goal too. If Costa is back to last season’s form it will be a huge addition in the stretch run of the season.
Loser: Mario Mandzukic
The de facto captain with Giorgio Chiellini out due to injury, Mandzukic had another lackluster game in what has been a string of lackluster games for the Croat.
Most people understand what he brings to the table, and that even if he is not scoring goals he is still an important cog in the Juventus machine. But with an embarrassment of riches in the attacking department and Moise Kean being the most in-form striker in the squad by far, it’s frustrating to see Mandzukic continue to get minutes when he is clearly exhausted and out of form.
Winner: Juventus Emergency Options
Solid games for two guys who desperately needed them in Rodrigo Bentancur and Daniele Rugani. In an ideal world, neither of those guys would have featured as starters — both due to injuries to Emre Can and Giorgio Chiellini — but they were both thrown into the fire and came out of the whole thing pretty decently.
Bentancur especially needed this game, after starting the season as one of the most pleasant surprises in the squad he trailed off in the second half and put forth a few stinkers that had Bentanbelievers wondering if it all had been a fluke. Thankfully, and after a few shaky moments early on, Bentancur bounced back and had a solid display on Wednesday.
Rugani, fresh of a contract renewal that some guys looked at skeptically, filled in admirably in place of Chiellini and showed exactly why it’s important to have guys like him ready to go at any moment.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
While clearly not 100 percent back from his injury yet, Ronaldo did what he does best and that’s score goals in the Champions League. In a game where Juventus did not have as many chances as we would have liked, it was important for number 7 to capitalize on the few chances that he got.
Another day, another goal and a key away goal at that. Just a day in the office for the all-time leading scorer of the competition.
Loser: Joao Cancelo
Sure, he had the assist for Juventus’ only goal of the night, on a true peach of a cross. But outside of that shining moment we got Bad Joao for 90 minutes, Inter Joao for a lack of a better definition.
Cancelo got cooked on Ajax’s goal and struggled with the Dutch side’s relentless press. He’s another guy that has been more hit or miss after a stellar start of the season. I’m not tremendously worried about Cancelo, but hopefully this kind of games become less and less common for the mercurial right back as he gets more experience.
Parting shot of the week
All and all, a decent result to bring back home, considering the fact that anything better than a three-goal deficit is an improvement at this point.
However, if you think for one moment that the qualification to the semifinals is a given, you haven’t been paying attention. This Ajax squad is no longer just a fun team with some talented young players. They are, straight up, a really good team, no qualifications necessary. They are disciplined and relentless, and after their beatdown of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, do you think they will be even slightly shook at Allianz Stadium?
Juventus will be favorites, but Ajax is a high-pressing team filled with kids with nothing to lose, a swashbuckling attitude and the knowledge that they can go toe to toe with anyone in Europe right now.
In an ideal world, Juve bounces them from the competition, they keep their core together and are a dynasty in years to come. Unfortunately, this might be the only chance the Dutch side gets, considering most of their talented squad is involved in transfer rumors and will most likely get sold this coming transfer season. So they might as well go all out and try to shock another European giant away from home, again.
I’m not exactly nervous, but I’m also not not nervous.
Can’t wait until next week. THE CHAMPIONS!