A century of goals? CR7? Who will be victorious?

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This game featuring Juventus and Ajax kicks off the start of the UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals

This game featuring Juventus and Ajax kicks off the start of the UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals! Get ready for some great football, big names, and fantastic entertainment. This is the third of eight games in this round, and this tie will be decided over two legs; the first at Amsterdam Arena (Amsterdam) and the second at Juventus.

Can Juventus new captain bring them Champions League glory?

Juventus’ odds of advancing to the quarterfinals looked to be in question after a competent two-goal win by Atletico Madrid. They had kept Cristiano Ronaldo off the scoresheet for 90 minutes, but Atletico was unable to repeat the performance, and yet another Ronaldo hat-trick propelled them through. Juventus have already wrapped up a Serie A title barring some astronomical collapse and a herculean effort by Napoli. In layman’s terms, Juventus would have to lose every game from here on out, and Napoli would need to win them all. No manager wants his team to lose focus, but I’m pretty sure his side is looking forward to the next trophy they could add to the case, the Champions League trophy.

As I touched on above, there’s not a whole lot to say about Juventus’ domestic campaign, they’ve had the Serie A title in the bag (realistically) for weeks now. They’ve **won** 27 of their 31 games played and lost, get ready for this… one. They are averaging about two-thirds of a goal per game allowed while scoring upwards of two. I guess you could say there’s a “difference” in home and away form, but it totals up to maybe one point? Regardless, Juventus are clearly not going to be stopped this year, and will likely be doing squad rotation through the rest of the domestic season to prepare as best they can for their remaining Champions League games.

In the group stages, the runaway Serie A champions have also been good, in fact, they’ve given up only four goals. All four of those goals came in two games against Manchester United and the Swiss-upstart side BSC Young Boys (whom @guruebby did a solid piece on). In the elimination round, they had one win and one loss, and ironically, the loss was also two to nothing. Ultimately, though, they’ve managed to move past the speed bumps with four solid group stage wins and an impressive three to nothing victory of Atletico at home.

Players to watch:

-Cristiano Ronaldo: If Ronaldo is new to you, you must have been living under a rock. This guy is one of the most awarded players in soccer history. He also happens to be the one Champions League winner left from last year (his next opponent defeated Real Madrid in the last round). I don’t think his role can be understated for this team; he’s scored nearly three times more goals than the second place scorer on the team. If that’s not enough contribution, he also leads the team in assists with eight being two more than the next guy. He is currently the third leading scorer in the Serie A and is tied for third in assists at the same time. He’s accrued 19 goals and eight assists so far in Serie A, although he’s “only” scored five goals and two assists in the Champions League.

-Mario Mandzukic: Mandzukic has taken a bit of a backseat to Ronaldo, despite putting up very solid numbers himself. He’s contributed eight goals and six assists so far in Serie A but has a lone goal to his name in the Champions League. Mandzukic’s consistent performances in the Serie A leaves something to be desired in the Champions League, but I have to believe it’s only a matter of time before the goals start to come. Mandzukic has made a career off being a goalscorer, though I think he’s helped to enable Dybala and Ronaldo more than his statistics indicate. He also has played among the lowest minutes of the regular Champions League starters.

-Paulo Dybala: Dybala has really stepped up for this Juventus team in the Champions League with the same number of goals as in the Serie A (on 19 fewer appearances). He’s yet to record an assist in the Champions League but has four to his name in Serie A. I feel like Dybala has been the gut teams have challenged to beat them while they try to lock down Ronaldo and Mandzukic. To the man’s credit, he’s done exactly that and has taken on the burden of scoring and is being exactly the “surprise” that Juventus needed.

An Ajax team famous for its academy needs some help from its seniors

Ajax hasn’t lifted the Champions League trophy since 1995 and would love to add a second (since the competition was rebranded), instead of reliving their 1996 runners up performance. Although there’s a long way to go for this side, I have to believe that they have a reasonable chance of doing just that. The next big hurdle, however, goes by CR7; Atletico Madrid surely thought they were through until they met his hat-trick. The level of competition has increased, and Ajax must answer the call and play well to keep in it.

Ajax is tied at the top of the table with PSV Eindhoven with a chasm between them and the rest of the pack. They are a full 18 points clear of the third-placed team, so they have already cemented their place in the Champions League next year. Although I am certain that Ajax fans would love another Championship (as I’ve mentioned in earlier versions of Ajax in the Champions League — they have just a few), in reality, I expect them to be extra focused on the Champions League. There is a ridiculous difference between prize money for the Champions League and the Eredivisie league. PSV have been eliminated from the Champions League and are likely to focus on winning the league. Ajax has been scintillating this season averaging nearly four goals per game scored and only a single one allowed.

Although Ajax hasn’t been able to maintain their ridiculous goalscoring form from the Eredivisie they have still been far from poor. During the group stage, Ajax was undefeated, although they only managed three wins to go along with three draws. They still managed nearly two goals scored per game and only one allowed which is quite reasonable. In the knockout round, Ajax shipped three goals, although they ended up running out 5-3 winners over Real Madrid. Ajax has been a little better at home than on the road, with two wins and a draw (in the group stage) versus one win and two draws. However, their knockout stage games were quite the opposite, they lost two to one at home, before a resounding 4-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeau.

Players to Watch:

-Dusan Tadic: Tadic was a huge part of Ajax turning around the tie. He scored once and added two assists in the five-goal game over Real Madrid. Tadic has brought his goal-scoring total in the Champions League to six goals and three assists in eight games. In the Eredivisie, his goalscoring rate is almost ridiculous with 20 goals and ten assists in 29 games. He’s second in scoring in the Eredivisie and tied for third in assists overall. Tadic is going to be very dangerous if Juventus doesn’t play him carefully. He’s shown that he can pick apart opponents in both the Eredivisie and the Champions League.

-Donnie Van Den Beek: Van Den Beek was also a part of the blowout contributing an assist. The last game’s production brings his tally to one goal and two assists in his eight appearances. Moreover, although Van Den Beek is not the most prolific scorer, he’s managed very balanced production in the Eredivisie with eight goals and eight assists. I don’t think his role in this run is over and like any true team player — he doesn’t care how he contributes as long as the team succeeds.

-Hakim Ziyech: Ziyech has been the focal point of this offense. He has two goals in the last two games, and he’s starting to heat up at just the right time. Ziyech has aided the Eredivisie campaign with 15 goals and ten assists by himself. Ziyech hasn’t found his goalscoring form in the Champions League yet, but he definitely still has plenty of opportunities. He’s also shown that he can put those chances away, Juventus will have some tough decisions to make regarding who (if anyone) they are going to man mark and see how they’ll play defensively. These three players to watch are responsible for 43 of the 100 Eredivisie goals by themselves and not too much less production in the Champions League (7 of 16).

What to expect in this Champions League game:

There should be a ton of action in this match. Both teams are prolific scorers and decent defensively. Ajax comes in with 100 goals in their Eredivisie campaign, and Juventus survived the knockout round because of a much-needed hat-trick. I think this might be the game(s) of the round for the neutrals.

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Last Updated: April 8, 2019

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