Ajax v Juventus
Fresh from their stunning Round of 16 win over holders Real Madrid, Ajax will look to continue their fairy-tale run in this season’s Champions League when they square off against Italian giants Juventus in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening.
Ajax stunned Real Madrid 4-1 at the Bernabeu in the second leg to send Los Blancos crashing out of the competition. Real were without Sergio Ramos that evening, and with Juve potentially facing a similar situation after Giorgio Chiellini picked up a calf injury in training, Erik ten Hag’s men will definitely fancy their chances at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
The Dutch side also went top of the Eredivisie on goal difference over the weekend after they beat Willem II 4-2 and rivals PSV drew 3-3 against Vitesse.
Noussair Mazraoui is suspended for the home side, which means Ten Hag will have to choose between one of Rasmus Kristensen and John Veltman at right back.
Dusan Tadic was the star of the show in that 4-1 win at the Bernabeu, with French paper L’Equipe giving him one of their rare 10/10 ratings. He will be key to any chances of an Ajax win here along with the likes of Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and Frenkie de Jong.
Ajax are the only side left in the competition that had to work their way through qualification. They beat Sturm Graz, Standard and Dinamo Kiev before emerging unbeaten from a group that also consisted of Bayern Munich, Benfica and AEK Athens.
Ajax last beat Juventus in European competition back in 1974. Since then, Juve have had the wood over the Dutch giants, and have won five of the last six games against the Amsterdam outfit.
Midfielder Emre Can will be unavailable for this clash after picking up an ankle injury over the weekend. Cristiano Ronaldo is also a doubt- he hasn’t played for the Bianconeri since that virtuoso performance against Atleti in Turin that propelled Juve into the last eight. Coach Max Allegri will give him every chance to recover though- if Ronaldo, Can and Chiellini do not play, the visitors will not quite have the same unbeatable aura around them. Ajax have the youngest team in the tournament, while Juve, not surprisingly, are the oldest.
The referee for this game is Spaniard Carlos Del Cerro Grande. Ajax beat AEK 3-0 earlier this season with him in charge, while Juventus have never played a game when the 43-year-old has had the whistle. However he did ref Napoli last month in the Partenopei’s 3-1 loss in Austria to Salzburg in the Europa League.
Verdict: A Juve defence with the likes of Rugani and De Sciglio/Cancelo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially away from home. A lot will depend on whether or not Chiellini and Ronaldo are fit to play. If they’re not, an Ajax win or draw double chance at 1.61 appears to be worth a punt.
Manchester United vs Barcelona
After effectively wrapping up the La Liga title with a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid over the weekend, Barcelona will turn their sights to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United when the two sides lock horns at Old Trafford in what promises to be an enthralling quarter-final tie.
This is the first Champions League meeting between the two sides since the 2011 final, which Barca won 3-1 thanks to an inspirational performance from Lionel Messi. The Argentine star has been in superb form for the Catalan giants in recent months, but somewhat bizarrely, has a poor record at this stage of the competition- he hasn’t scored in Barca’s last 11 quarterfinals since netting against PSG back in the 2012/13 season. The 31-year old forward will be very keen to set that record straight on Wednesday night. The same goes for his team-mate Luis Suarez, who hasn’t netted an away Champions League goal since doing so against Roma in September 2015.
United didn’t play over the weekend and Solskjaer and his assistants would’ve had plenty of time to analyse what went wrong in their last game- the 2-1 loss to Wolves at Molineux. The Norwegian’s tenure at Old Trafford started well enough for his temporary deal to be converted into a permanent one, but there’ve been some hiccups in recent weeks, notably the FA Cup loss to Wolves as well as a defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates.
The worrying bit for Manchester United has been their home form in this season’s Champions League. It hasn’t been the fortress one would’ve expected it to be, with the Red Devils scoring just one goal across four games against Valencia, Young Boys, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
Paul Pogba will return from suspension after missing the second leg Round of 16 clash at the Parc des Princes. Five United players- Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Antonio Valencia, are a booking away from missing the return leg at the Nou Camp.
The referee for this game is Gianlucca Rocchi. Barca have a flawless record under the Italian, having won all four of their Champions League games when he’s had the whistle, including victories over British opposition in the form of Man City and Celtic.
United’s record under him has been mixed- their last game under him was a 2-1 win over CSKA, but he was also the ref when they were beaten 2-1 to Real Madrid in the 2017 Super Cup and in the shock 2-0 loss away at Olympiakos five years ago.
Interestingly, Barca have never won at Old Trafford in three previous visits- they drew 2-2 and 3-3 in the 90’s and lost 1-0 in the semi-final back in 2008.
Verdict: Both Juventus and PSG have come away with victories from the Theatre of Dreams this season and Barca will look to emulate them by beating the Red Devils. We reckon they’ll edge this clash- a Barca draw no bet at 1.44 looks to be good value.