Ajax eye another European trophy as Roma travel to Amsterdam in the Europa League


While their last Champions League title came all the way back in 1995, Ajax are undoubtedly European royalty.

In a side headlined by Johan Cruyff, De Godenzonen won the European Cup three times between 1971 and 1973. Despite their success in the mid-90s, Ajax have since struggled to establish themselves as a top team on the continental stage.

They now find themselves in the Europa League, having been eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages. Erik ten Hag’s side were put up against Liverpool, Atalanta and FC Midtjylland, but a defeat to La Dea in the final game saw them exit Europe’s top competition before the knockout stages.

This means that Ajax have only qualified for the round of 16 once since 2005/06.

But the Europa League provides a much better chance for De Godenzonen to win their first European title of the 21st century. While they went on an incredibly run to the semi-finals in 2019, Ajax’s team is considerably weaker after losing many of their star players.

Academy graduates Mathijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong left for Juventus and FC Barcelona respectively after their performances in the Champions League, while Donny van de Beek left the following season to join Manchester United.

But now there’s a new generation of youngsters coming through at De Toekomst, most notably 18-year-old Ryan Gravenberch. The midfielder has drawn comparisons to Paul Pogba and looks incredibly likely to make the Netherlands squad for the European Championships this summer.

Perr Schuurs has also stepped up the fill the void left by Mathijs de Ligt in the heart of defence. The 21-year-old joined Jong Ajax from Fortuna Sittard in 2018, but has since made the step up to become a permanent fixture in De Godenzonen‘s senior side. However, he won’t feature on Thursday due to a knee injury.

Ajax’s form has been superb. They’re unbeaten in 2021, with their last defeat in any competition coming against Atalanta in the Champions League in the start of December. They comfortably saw off Lille and Young Boys in their last two Europa League ties, an impressive feat given that both are top of their respective leagues.

They now face Serie A side AS Roma, who’ve struggled for form in recent weeks after dropping down to seventh in the league. I Giallorossi have drawn one and lost two of their last three league games, including a humiliating 2-0 defeat away at struggling Parma in mid-March.

Their European exploits, however, have been much more successful. Paulo Foncesca’s men comfortably dispatched of Braga and Shakhtar Donetsk in the round of 32 and round of 16 respectively, beating both sides by a 5-1 aggregate.

Roma will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling, Max Kumbulla and Stephan El Shaarawy due to injury, while Rick Karsdorp also misses out after accumulating too many yellow cards. Foncesca has confirmed that both Jordan Veretout and Edin Džeko will start in Amsterdam, while Gonzalo Villar and Roger Ibañez will be available again after missing the draw against Sassuolo through suspension.

Ajax’s absences are perhaps more concerning. De Godenzonen incredibly failed to register January signing Sébastian Haller for their Europa League campaign, while star goalkeeper André Onana is serving a one year suspension after a doping violation.

Alongside Schuurs, Ten Hag will also be without Noussair Mazraoui and Daley Blind due to injury, while Sean Klaiber may also miss out after becoming a father in midweek. While they look light defensively, Ajax have depth up front to replace Haller, with Brian Brobbey or Dušan Tadić likely to step in instead.

A semi-final clash against Manchester United or Granada awaits the winner of this tie, but both sides will be fully focused on Thursday’s clash at the Johan Cruyff Arena. Ajax heavy favourites to qualify for the final four, but Roma’s impressive European form proves that they’re a huge threat at this level and cannot be underestimated.

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East Anglian football editor for Prost International.

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