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What can Ajax expect from their Champions League group?

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Ajax handed a difficult group as they are set to face Liverpool, Atalanta and FC Midtjylland

 

The Amsterdam club have been handed a difficult group as they are set to face the 6-time Champions League winners and 2019 champions of the competition: Liverpool. As well as last season’s Quarter-Finalists in the way of Atalanta.

The Group D draw has also handed Ajax a tie against Danish SuperLiga champions FC Midtjylland. A team that came through the qualifiers, having gotten the better of Slavia Praha and Young Boys.

The reactions so far has been somewhat mixed by Ajax fans, with last season being Atalanta’s impressive first appearance in the competition. Whilst very little is known about their Danish counterparts, nerves and fear surrounds how Ajax will fare in this seasons Champions League.

Here is what Ajax can expect from their competition in this seasons Champions League Group Stage.

 

Liverpool

This matchup will be the final that could have been if Lucas Moura hadn’t scored that last minute winner for Tottenham in the 2019 Semi Final that famously knocked Ajax out.

Jurgen Klopp’s men will be one of the most feared opponents for any club going into this year’s group stage. The front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane is one of the best attacking lineups that any European club has to offer. Whilst the new signing Diogo Jota means that Liverpool will have an even stronger attacking options when needed- both off of the bench but also when the front three need rotating.

With their high press, amazing understanding of each other and free-flowing nature on the ball, not to mention their new signing of Thiago who can dictate the play at whatever speed he wants. Liverpool will look to cause serious problems all over the pitch for Perr Schurrs and Daley Blind, giving them no time on the ball to play out from the back in the way they traditionally like to do.

Liverpool have be known for their solid defense in recent years with Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez being at the heart of it. However, they have been susceptible to conceding goals- conceding 7 goals in their last 3 home Premier League games. Something that Erik Ten Hag will be looking at to give the boys confidence.

Whilst analysing the Premier League Champions’ performance against Leeds on the opening day. They matched Liverpool for a high-pressed style of play, with that, it forced Van Dijk into making a crucial mistakes. In addition, their full backs struggled to press higher up the pitch, like they usually do to get more involved in the attacking opportunities, having been pushed back by Jack Harrison and Helder Costa. Whilst Ajax tend to play in a similar way to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, it will be worth getting Antony and David Neres/ Quincy Promes to attack to wings, to prevent the attacking options that Trent and Robertson offer.

Liverpool vs Ajax – Is set to be an exciting tie for sure, both sides enjoy pushing forward to provide entertaining football. Whilst Liverpool may have the firepower in quality all over the pitch. Ajax will have players who can hurt this Liverpool side and players who can play a key role in deciding the outcome of both of the home and away fixtures.

 

Atalanta

Atalanta were last seasons surprise package of the Champions League, only narrowly getting knocked out in the last few minutes against PSG in the Quarter-Finals.

The Italian side operate under a 5-back formation that allows their full backs Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens to push forward and be apart of the attack. It is with this formation under Gian Piero Gasperini that allowed them to score the most goals in Serie A last season- bagging 98 goals from 38 games. A figure that will put fear on the faces of Ajax fans, knowing that their defense is still developing since the departure of Matthijs De Ligt and now Sergino Dest to Barcelona.

In the past, Ajax have struggled to defend against strong, physical strikers. And none come much stronger than Atalanta’s Duvan Zapata. The Colombian striker will be difficult to stop as he leads the line for the Italian’s, alongside the pacey Luis Muriel and creative Alejandro Gomez; who will fit in just behind the front two. This is all ignoring Josip Ilicic. A player who scored 7 goals in the clubs run to the Quarter Finals last season.

 

Like Liverpool, they are liable to conceding goals- having conceded 48 goals in last seasons domestic campaign. It will be interesting to see how the Dutch side lineup against their 5-back formations. Do they match for strength by using Lassina Traore in the striker position or use the ‘false 9’ style striker in Tadic- that worked so well for them in the 2018/19 Champions League campaign, or even Zakaria Labyad who has featured in that position so far this season.

Atalanta vs Ajax – the Bergamo club love to play on the counter-attack. With Ajax traditionally dominating the ball, this could play perfectly into the hands of Atalanta. A team that know how to find the back of the net and will enjoy soaking up Ajax pressure.

Atalanta have started the season in fine form. Having scored 4 goals in both their opening 2 games this season, showing worrying signs for Ajax. A team that are still reshaping after significant summer departures. However, like in the preview for the Liverpool game, Ajax will have players that can cause problems for this Atalanta side. Antony with his Brazilian flair will have the chance to cause Atalanta nightmares and Mohammed Kudus will be able to run their midfield ragged.

 

FC Midtjylland

The Danish side have had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years under manager Brian Priske as they embark on their first ever Champions League quest in what will be considered an incredibly difficult group.

Midtjylland achieved a special win over Czech side Slavia Praha, winning 4-1. This is following their triumph in the Danish SuperLiga as they finished 14 points above second placed FC Copenhagen- the usual representatives from Denmark in the Champions League. The club has been praised as they have challenged and overcome the battles of clubs with bigger financial budgets to win the Danish league, and it is with this success that they turn to Europe to challenge the continents most elite clubs.

The most noticeable and threatening players that Ajax will need to watch out for are Pione Sisto. A player that has previously played against Ajax in the Europa League for his former club: Celta Vigo. Sisto is an electric winger who on his day will be almost impossible to control. The Danish side will also rely on Sory Kaba upfront who will look to make history in steering the club past the group stage. The Guinean scored against Slavia Praha and will hope to continue that by causing havoc in the group stage of the competition.

FC Midtjylland vs Ajax – The Danish side will find confidence in being the underdogs, they have shown that they are not shy in pushing plenty of players forward on attacks as shown in their win against Slavia Praha. With this, they will look to pressurise the Ajax defense, who have at times, since De Ligt’s departure, looked shaky. For Ajax, these two games will be must win if they want any chance of making it to the knockout rounds of the competition and will certainly be considered favourites with the quality that they have. Ajax have a history of making European games difficult for themselves and this will be by no means an easy tie for the Dutch side.

 

So what should Ajax expect from Group D of the Champions League?

The one thing for certain is that we should expect goals… A lot of goals. All of the clubs in this group had high goal-scoring seasons last year and with that, we should expect high scoring games, that is for sure!

Ajax tend to play with much of the possession, looking to force opponents into making mistakes, but it will be interesting to see if they are able to continue playing this way in the Champions League given the way that Atalanta and Liverpool play. In recent years, the club has stuck to its footballing philosophy, no matter who the opponent has been and have recorded famous results in doing so.

 

Final Round-Up

FC Midtjylland may be the newcomers of the competition but if one thing is for certain, it is that they will not be easily beaten throughout the group stage. Domestically they have had to overcome teams of bigger sizes than themselves, so they will be well used to being the underdogs and will look to thrive as the pressure will be on the other clubs.

Liverpool will be the overriding favourites, with their firepower and the talent that they have on display. It will be a difficult task to stop their front three. However, defensively they will be susceptible to conceding goals which will give any team a chance when playing them. A fact that Ajax, Atalanta and Midtjylland will be aware of.

Whilst Atalanta will look to build on their successful campaign last season. Despite losing Timothy Castagne to Leicester, the Bergamo club have looked strong with Robin Gosens filling in, in his position. Ajax will be wary of their goalscoring talents but will also know that they will have players themselves that can cause Atalanta serious problems at the back.

The group has been set up nicely, with no easy betting on which way it is going to go. Certainly one of the most exciting groups to keep an eye on, there should be a decent amount of entertaining games for the neutrals but also anxious ones for the fans.

 

What did you make on the Champions League? Which groups look the most exciting and do you think Ajax can make it out of this group? Let us know!

 

Read More Here on the Champions League and Ajax:

Sam has recently graduated from the University of East Anglia with a 2:1, having studied international relations. The degree has allowed him to improve his writing skills that he believes will be transferable when writing for Sporting Ferret. He hopes to gain valuable work experience to expand his knowledge and skills as a sports journalist. You can contact Sam at: samplummer89@gmail.com

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