UEFA Europa League - Match Prediction: AFC Ajax VS AS Roma

Posted Thu, 08 Apr 2021 09:01:37 GMT        

Match Time:4/9/2021 03:00 Friday  (GMT+8)

UEFA Europa League --  AFC Ajax   VS   AS Roma

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Dutch champions Ajax meet Serie A side Roma in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday, pitting together two of the grander names in continental football.

 

The clubs convene at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, seeking an advantage to take into next week's return in Rome - with the hosts 90 minutes away from a record-equalling 11th successive home win in the competition and the visitors having won all four matches in this year's knockout phase.

 

Match preview

After Ajax finished third in Champions League Group D last autumn - behind English champions Liverpool and impressive overachievers Atalanta - the Dutch giants were offered the consolation prize of a record-breaking ninth appearance in the Europa League knockout phase.

 

So far, they have made the transition serenely - beating Ligue 1 high-flyers Lille twice in the last 32, before completing another double in the next round. A comprehensive aggregate victory over Swiss league leaders Young Boys (3-0 at home and 2-0 away) enabled Erik ten Hag's side to reach the competition's quarter-finals for only the second time in those nine knockout campaigns.

 

They won their previous last-eight tie in 2017, scoring twice in extra time to knock out Schalke en route to the final - which they lost to Manchester United despite the presence of future stars including Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt - but this time a squad of slightly more modest talents must turn over dangerous Italian opposition to make the final four.

 

Nonetheless, the Amsterdam club's Europa League record on home soil during springtime has seen them win 11 times and lose just four. Not only that, but their last ten home matches in the competition proper have also resulted in victory - leaving them only one short of six-time winners Sevilla's competition record.

 

Ajax are also unbeaten in 15 Europa League games at the Johan Cruijff ArenA since going down to RB Salzburg in 2014 and are in fearless form domestically.

 

In beating Heerenveen 2-1 at the weekend, Ten Hag's men took another step towards retaining their controversially-won Eredivisie title. Having previously posted a 5-0 thumping of ADO Den Haag in their last fixture before the international break, Thursday's hosts have been relentless since the turn of the year - only dropping points to PSV in their last 12 league matches.

 

Such a scintillating run of form has seen the squad captained by sublimely-gifted schemer Dusan Tadic open an 11-point lead at the top of the table, and a 35th domestic crown now looks increasingly inevitable.

 

Whichever side progresses from this tie following next week's second leg will face the winner between La Liga upstarts Granada and Ajax's 2017 conquerors, Manchester United - alongside the Dutch team, the only other past winner of either the Champions League, UEFA Cup or Europa League still remaining.

 

Ahead of their trip to Amsterdam this week, Roma have been one of the most dominant sides in Europe's second-tier competition, having kicked off their campaign by comfortably topping Group A in the autumn.

 

Since the knockout rounds commenced, like Ajax, the Giallorossi have convincingly disposed of their European opponents - with four wins from four since the action resumed.

 

Coach Paulo Fonseca - under fire for his side's frustratingly inconsistent Serie A performances this term - ousted two of his former clubs by beating Braga in the last 32 and then Shakhtar Donetsk in the following round.

 

A regular in the Europa League, having largely played second fiddle to Edin Dzeko domestically, on-loan Real Madrid forward Borja Mayoral registered a further four goals across the two ties to become the competition's joint-top marksman this season with seven in total.

 

Largely thanks to the Spanish striker's goals, Roma are now into the final eight for the first time and arrive in the Netherlands not only desperate to inch closer to some rare silverware, but also stay in with a shot of securing the Champions League qualification spot reserved for May's ultimate winner.

 

Fonseca's men may well need to earn a place through such a route, as in the closely-fought battle for a top four finish in Serie A their form has faltered in recent weeks, with successive defeats to relegation-threatened Parma and then close rivals Napoli being followed by a 2-2 draw with mid-table Sassuolo on Saturday. Giacomo Raspadori's dramatic late equaliser for the Emilian side saw Roma slip to seventh in the standings and into serious danger of missing out on a return to any continental competition at all.

 

Ajax may have noted, too, that their Roman counterparts' away form has proved a particular cause for concern, as they have gained only 18 of their 51 league points on the road - winning just five of 14 away matches to date.

 

Ajax Europa League form: WWWW

Ajax form (all competitions): WWWWWW

 

Roma Europa League form: WLWWWW

Roma form (all competitions): LWLWLD

 

Team News

Roma's Stephan El Shaarawy will miss up to a fortnight's action after suffering a thigh injury in the draw with Sassuolo last weekend, in which he missed a golden one-on-one opportunity to effectively win the match. The Azzurri forward was forced off in the 74th minute and has now been ruled out of both legs of this quarter-final tie.

 

It has also been confirmed that Albania defender Marash Kumbulla sustained an injured meniscus on international duty and will miss the remainder of the Giallorossi's 2020-2021 campaign, while opting for a recovery route of rest and therapy rather than surgery.

 

In the absence of Kumbulla, injury-prone Englishman Chris Smalling and the suspended Roger Ibanez, former Feyenoord wing-back Rick Karsdorp was unexpectedly pressed into service as a center-back on Saturday, with his positioning proving understandably suspect on several occasions.

 

Ibanez will now be available to join Gianluca Mancini and the versatile Bryan Cristante in the visitors' back three, though Karsdorp is suspended for the first leg, so weekend goalscorer Bruno Peres should cover his position on the right side of Paulo Fonseca's customary 3-4-2-1 formation.

 

Attacking starlet Nicolo Zaniolo continues his recovery from a torn ACL while on Italy duty last year but is not yet fit to return, while his fellow creative talent Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also still absent. Meanwhile, set-piece specialist Jordan Veretout has only just come back from a serious thigh strain sustained before the international break, so Amadou Diawara is set to continue in central midfield.

 

Europa League top scorer Borja Mayoral will once more go head-to-head with the experienced Edin Dzeko for the centre-forward's shirt.

 

Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is doubtful for the first leg of the quarter-final against his former club. Having ended his first spell at the Amsterdam side with a move to Roma in 2011, the Dutch international spent the next two seasons with the Giallorossi - making 55 appearances - but is currently struggling with a knee injury.

 

The veteran stopper picked up the problem in the warm-up ahead of the match against Heerenveen, so Netherlands Under-21 goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen made an unexpected league debut - only his second appearance in the first team.

 

Scherpen could therefore make his European bow if Stekelenburg fails to recover in time, with erstwhile first-choice Andre Onana still excluded for a doping offence.

 

Coach Erik ten Hag has a number of defensive absentees, as full-back Noussair Mazraoui sustained a head injury in mid-February and has yet to make his return to action, while experienced campaigner Daley Blind will sit out another game due to a knee issue sustained on international duty. Young centre-back Perr Schuurs is also out with a knee problem, while Sean Klaiber became a father this week and is unlikely to feature.

 

Ajax notoriously omitted record signing Sebastien Haller from their Europa League squad due to an administrative error - something which has plagued Roma this season too - so the Ivory Coast forward will have no part to play in the remainder of their continental campaign.

 

In Haller's absence, influential skipper Dusan Tadic may operate as a false nine for the hosts, having done so to great effect in the past, or Leipzig-bound Brian Brobbey could start instead.

 

Jurrien Timber made his return from COVID-19 infection at the weekend and should keep his place at right-back, though could cover in the centre if required.

 

Ajax possible starting lineup:

Scherpen; Tagliafico, Alvarez, Martinez, Timber; Gravenberch, Klaassen, Rensch; Antony, Tadic, Neres

 

Roma possible starting lineup:

Lopez; Mancini, Cristante, Ibanez; Peres, Diawara, Villar, Spinazzola; Pellegrini, Pedro; Dzeko

 

Ajax VS Roma

Ajax 2-2 Roma

UEFA Europa League - Match Prediction: AFC Ajax VS AS Roma