Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 1
One of the more interesting duels of the Europa League quarterfinals this season will see four-time continental champions Ajax face Serie A side AS Roma, with the first leg being played at the Johan Cruijff Arena this Thursday. If they win, the Dutch team will equal the record of 11 consecutive home triumphs in this competition, while the Italians will be looking to continue the streak which has so far seen them win all four knockout games in this campaign.
Ajax started the season in the Champions League, but they couldn’t secure passage on from the first stage and only managed to finish third in Group D, behind Liverpool and Atalanta, bettering only Midtjylland. They were thus forced to take a step down to the Europa League round of 32, where they beat Lille OSC by 2-1 in both games, before thrashing Young Boys 5-0 on aggregate in the round of 16.
Domestically, Ajax are a dominant force. At the moment, they top the Eredivisie with 69 points, 11 more than PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar in second and third place, respectively, while having a game in hand of both of their nearest rivals. As things stand, they are three wins away from picking up their 35th title as the Dutch champions.
As for recent form, Erik ten Hag’s team won all of their last six matches in all competitions; 3-1 at home against Groningen, 3-0 at home against Young Boys, 0-2 away to PEC Zwolle, 0-2 away to Young Boys, 5-0 at home against Den Haag and 1-2 away to Heerenveen.
Goalkeeper Marteen Stekelenburg is a doubt for this match and unlikely to face the club for which he made 55 appearances between 2011 and 2013. With Andre Onana still suspended for doping, Netherlands Under-21 international Kjell Scherpen is expected to make his senior European debut.
Apart from goalkeeper issues, ten Hag also has a problem with defenders. Former Manchester United player Daley Blind is out with a knee problem, the same as centre-back Perr Schuurs. Right-back Noussair Mazraoui suffered a head injury in February and isn’t back yet, while Sean Klaiber, also a right-back, became a father this week and is likely to be on leave.
Roma have been superb in the Europa League this season. They finished top of Group A, ahead of Young Boys, CFR Cluj and CSKA Sofia, they beat Braga and Shakhtar Donetsk twice apiece to get through the rounds of 32 and 16.
On the other hand, things aren’t looking as good in Serie A, where they have a difficult path before them if they plan on playing in Europe again next term. At the moment, Paulo Fonseca’s team are in seventh place with 51 points, five less than Juventus in fourth and Napoli in fifth, and one less than city rivals Lazio, and all these teams have a game in hand on Roma. Naturally, with nine matches left to play nothing is settled yet, but it won’t be easy.
Roma won three, drew one and lost two of their last six contests in all competitions; they beat Genoa 1-0 at home, Shakhtar at home by 3-0, lost 2-0 away to Parma, beat Shakhtar away by 1-2, lost 0-2 at home to Napoli, and drew 2-2 away to Sassuolo.
Fonseca won’t be able to call upon forward Stephan El Shaarawy (thigh), defender Marash Kumbulla (knee), defender Chris Smalling (knee), forward Nicolo Zaniolo (knee), and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (calf). Midfielder Jordan Veretout has just come back from a serious thigh problem and could feature, though it isn’t too likely.
Ajax are flying high at the moment. They seem full of confidence and it feels they could break Roma’s successful run in Europe.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 1
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