Juventus vs. Ajax Tactical Preview: A Champions League Quarterfinal of Depth vs. Youth
Courtesy of @juventusfc/Twitter. Pictured: Cristiano Ronaldo
- Juventus are slight road favorites against Dutch upstarts Ajax in the Champions League Quarterfinals.
- Do the youthful Ajax have a chance to pull the upset against battle-tested Juventus?
Juventus vs. Ajax Betting Odds
- Juventus moneyline: +125
- Ajax moneyline: +235
- Draw: +235
- Goalline: +0.5 (-150) / -0.5 (+125)
- Over/Under: 2.5 (Over +107/Under -127)
- Time: 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday
The second group of Championship League Quarterfinals fixtures kicks off with Juventus (champions of Italy) visiting Ajax (first in Holland’s Eredivisie).
Both teams overcame first-leg losses to defeat their foes from Madrid behind comprehensive victories, and both are at their best when denying opponents what they do best. So what should we expect in a matchup of two teams that want to deny each other the ball?
Let’s find out.
Under Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus have transformed into one of the most tactically sound teams in Europe.
Juve have the ability to switch from their preferred 4-3-3 to a more nuanced 3-5-2 at the drop of the hat — sometimes without their opponents realizing it for long stretches of time. They have no distinct, singular style — Allegri introduces a new wrinkle to every game to limit the opposition’s strengths.
In the second leg against Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16, this meant relying on Leonardo Bonucci’s passing range from the center of defense, pinging long balls over the top to Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo to circumvent Atletico’s vaunted midfield press.
Juve will be without Emre Can in the center of the pitch, but if there’s one thing this team doesn’t lack, it’s talented midfielders.
Ronaldo will almost certainly start having recovered from a thigh injury and will likely joined by Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi in the forward line. And the back, club legend Giorgio Chiellini has already been ruled out through injury, which will mean a start for either 37-year-old Andrea Barzagli or 24-year-old Daniele Rugani.
On the other side, Ajax mirror Juventus in their ability to stop you from doing what you want. Ajax play quintessential Dutch football: 4-3-3, high pressing, total football, with every attacker capable of filling in at the back and every defender willing to make a rampaging run forward.
They’re led by two products from the Ajax academy: Matthijs de Ligt, a mercurial ball-playing central defender, and Frenkie de Jong, a midfield tempo driver who has already secured a big-money move to Barcelona in the summer. Those two are the driving forces of a team curated over the past two offseasons to be equal parts up-and-coming stars (hello David Neres and Hakim Ziyech!) and veterans from stronger leagues who are playing big fish, small pond in the Eredivisie (looking at you, Dusan Tadic).
That youthful exuberance could prove a problem for Juventus.
The team the Italians rolled out last round against Atletico Madrid had an average age of 29.09, with five players older than 30. Against an Ajax team that loves to run, Allegri will either be forced to rely on younger heads or subject his old reliables to waves of youths running fearlessly at Juve’s defense.
But despite facing an opponent that will roll out a much younger starting XI, Juventus might actually have the advantage when it comes to stamina and match fitness come Wednesday.
The Italian giants clinched their seventh consecutive Serie A title on Saturday after beating rivals AC Milan 2-1. They did so despite rolling out what was by and large a B- or even C-team — even when they fell behind 1-0 early, it was 19-year-old Moise Kean who was called upon from the bench over more experienced (read: old) options.
Juventus rested just about every one of their elder statesmen, with one eye clearly fixated on Wednesday’s fixture in Amsterdam.
Ajax are in the exact opposite situation.
After PSV Eindhoven dropped points over the weekend, Ajax are in the driver’s seat to win the Eredivisie with five games to play. While their squad is deeper than it has been in years past, they still can’t hope to match the sheer depth of a European titan like Juventus.
Bookings and injuries have begun to pile up for Ajax. case in point: 21-year-old Rasmus Kristensen will likely have to start at right back in place of the suspended Noussair Mazraoui.
This late in the season, the factors off the pitch begin to weigh as heavily as those between the white lines.
Juventus are rested and focused on the UCL; a probably-healthy Ronaldo is just a cherry on top. Ajax have assembled their team over the last two seasons precisely for situations like this one, and it still might not be enough.
With uncertainty in both team’s personnel, I’ll be waiting to see how the opening 10 to 15 minutes play out and looking to bet this one live.