UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals Preview: Manchester United vs Barcelona & Ajax vs Juventus
Lionel Messi will be the protagonist at Old Trafford and Cristiano Ronaldo’s return from injury has lifted the confidence of Juventus facing a young Ajax side.
Manchester United will be welcoming Barcelona and Ajax will be looking to repeat a similar upset to the travelling Bianconeri side as they did against Real Madrid in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter finals. It is expected to be a high voltage contest as all four teams have huge footballing history and will be battling for a berth in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
With the appointment of Ole Solskjaer as permanent manager for Manchester United, all eyes would be on the Norwegian. This would be his first UEFA game post his permanent managerial appointment and the former United player will be eager to make a mark from this opportunity. There has been enormous optimistic turnaround at Manchester United under the helm of Solskjaer and it has gelled on to the players as well. The Red devils would be feeding on the confidence after the dramatic comeback against PSG in the round of 16.
At the same time, La Liga table leaders Barcelona have been in tremendous form of late and they would be arriving at Manchester with the fresh memory of their thumping 2-0 win against second placed Ateltico Madrid. Ernesto Valverde’s side would be travelling with a 22 member squad to Old Trafford with the likes of Todibo, despite the fact that he has not been registered for the Champions League.
Juventus and Ajax- Red Hot form in Their Domestic Season
In Amsterdam, John Cruijff Arena will be witnessing a belter of a contest with a ruthless Ajax side facing the Italian giants, Juventus. Juventus are on the record of securing a 8th consecutive Serie A title if things go their way in the upcoming domestic games. Their last game was against AC Milan and they comfortably won 2-1. Massimiliano Allegri will hope to continue their winning momentum against Ajax keeping in mind their upset of Real Madrid. Ajax has been in the form of their life and the four time European champions would be chasing their fifth UCL title after a gap of 24 years since their major European triumph in 1995.
Rashford Seems Doubtful; Chiellini is Out
Injury concerns still remain a problem for United, with Rashford, Herrera and Matic doubtful to feature in the starting XI. Valencia and Eric Bailly have been completely ruled out due to injury, while Sanchez is fit and back in training. According to the Barcelona’s official website, Dembele will be travelling to United but does not have a medical clearance and Vermaelen is sidelined due to leg injury.
Giorgio Chiellini and Emre Can won’t be featuring in the Juventus trip due to injury while Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong is deemed to be fit after he was forcibly substituted during their last game against Willem II in the Eredivisie (domestic cup).
Expectations from Both the Games
United have qualified for the UCL quarterfinal stages after the 2013/14 season, five years since they lost against Bayern Munich, David Moyes being the manager of United during that period. Signs of vintage United are reigning back with Ole’s management, but to win against a formidable side like Barcelona is a Herculean task. Barcelona will be heavily banking once again on Messi to cruise past United. The Spanish juggernaut has been eliminated during the quarterfinals of the last three UCL seasons and won the previous UCL title in 2015 against Juventus. Valverde’s 22 member squad announcement shows that he is not ready to take any risks against the Red Devils and would try to take the game towards the opposition.
With an industrious frontline comprising of Messi, Suarez and Coutinho; Rakitic marshalling the midfield; Pique and Lenglet providing a solid defensive wall, the Catalans are a complete package on paper. The problem is that they have been unable to extract this complete package on the pitch. Solskjaer needs to prove his tactical worth in such pressure games for United fans to believe that he has the ability to make the cut against any side, not to forget the comeback against PSG. Air- tight defence, increased fluidity in the attack and high-pressing in the opposition’s half are some parameters that Solskjaer might consider to juice the opposition’s solidarity.
Juventus will look to etch their name on their long awaited UCL title since 1996.Their best performance was runners up in 2016/17 UCL season losing to Real Madrid in the final. With the transfer of Ronaldo, Juventus will be pegging down on him to storm into the semi-finals and lift the UCL trophy. On the contrary, Ajax’s home grown academy players with the likes of de Jong, Tadic, de Ligt and many more to prove the world wrong that football is not about money and stardom.