It’s go time for Champions League football. SPAL spoiled the party for the eighth straight Scudetto this weekend, but no matter, that will have to wait a few days. Ajax comes to Allianz Stadium this Tuesday night in what promises to be an extremely interesting match.
What can we expect from Juventus in this game? In what has been a season of ups and downs for the Bianconeri, it’s 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.
Let’s go through some key points of this matchup.
1. How will injuries affect both squads?
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 Wednesday’s 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.
Can is also a doubt, while his inclusion would be great, I’m 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 wouldn’t be terribly upset to see the Uruguayan kid make the start.
Douglas Costa, a super sub in the first game if I’ve ever seen one is also a doubt, with conflicting reports saying he will be ready to go and others that say he won’t. 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.
2. How will Juve handle the press?
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.
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 Ajax’s 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…
3. Will Ajax be shook in Allianz Stadium?
No, of course not, did you see them annihilate Real Madrid last round?
Dumb question, next question, moving on.
4. Is Moise starting? COULD MOISE START?
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 don’t think it’s 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.
5. Who you got?
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 Madrid’s form this season, but it’s 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.
I also predict a goal by Kean, because more often than not lately, that prediction comes true.
See y’all Tuesday.