Juventus vs Ajax
Juventus has ‘deliberately’ put their national championship celebration on hold last weekend by playing with a ‘b’ squad full of substitutes and youth players and losing 1-2. The expected payoff is playing at full battle strength in the meeting with Ajax on Tuesday. A luxury you can afford when you are twenty points ahead in the competition. Ajax on the other hand is still in fierce contest with PSV for the national title and could not afford to give it’s star players any rest. Unfortunately for Ajax, this resulted in Frenkie de Jong grabbing his hamstring and being called for substitution in the 28th minute. How severe the injury is remains to be seen. For all that is football, we hope to see revelation De Jong on the pitch tonight. If not, this can influence the power balance on the field quite a bit. Ajax also has to miss Nico Tagliafico that received his second yellow last encounter for a foul that he will probably regret the rest of his life.
But there is more to this match than who is fit and who plays and who doesn’t. Looking at the last Champions League home game from Juventus, they cleaned up a 0-2 against Atletico Madrid with 3 goals from Ronaldo. Looking at the last Champions League away game from Ajax on the other hand; they demolished Real Madrid with a staggering 1-4. The normal laws of fatigue and anxiousness simply don’t apply to the youngsters of Ajax. No matter who you are or what is at stake, they will play relentlessly from the first to the last minute.
The best indicator though to the outcome of this match is the previous encounter between these teams, which ended up in a draw (1-1). We feel that this result was in accordance to the power balance. Yes, Ajax had the upper hand in most of the game and might have deserved to win. But Juventus proved themselves more deadly, more ingenious and more cunning. It will be interesting to see how these qualities translate to the return match. We expect Ajax to be in slight advantage here since they have nothing to prove and anything to win. They will pound on that door no matter what. Juventus feels it has to win, and though Ronaldo has shown that he is in control of his nerves, there are still ten more Juventus players on the field. There are hardly any 0-0 games at this stage of the tournament, so there is hardly any telling where this will end up! Tell us your thoughts!
Barcelona vs Manchester United
Another team that took the luxury of giving some (10!!) players their well deserved day off is Barcelona. And again, the other team is struggling to close this season successfully on a national level. In this case not even for the Championship, but to secure next years participation in the Champions League. Manchester United found its wings under Solskjaer, like a bird freed of his cage, but the winds of change calmed down again and the bird seem to be losing it’s lift. Losing 4 of their last 6 matches. Does it matter? Manchester United has evolved into being the Houdini of this tournament, especially in away games and especially when everyone said they didn’t stand a chance.
The more important question to answer is probably: how good is Barcelona? Yes, they are way ahead in La Liga, but Atletico and Real are not playing their best seasons. And that is putting it lightly. In the Champions League Barcelona has had it relatively easy without disrespecting PSV, Inter, Tottenham and Lyon. But these teams simply are not title candidates in their national competition (PSV being the exception, but paradoxically also probably the weakest of the list). The answer from the question is that we simply don’t know how good Barcelona exactly is this season, which is really weird since we are so far in the season. The first leg of the quarter finals wasn’t the best display from Barcelona (and a rather horrible one from United), but it was good enough.
We do know one thing though; when debating on how good Barcelona is, you have the choice between really good and extremely good. We are not suggesting that Barcelona isn’t good. A dutch commentator was asked if Ajax would stand a chance against Barcelona in the finals. He replied that without Messi they would stand a good chance. We have the feeling that this also applies to Manchester United; without Messi, the Red Devils would put up a good fight. But with Messi? We think Barcelona will take this game home.