Ajax, the most complete team in the Champions League Quarter Finals?
Their theme song, “don’t worry, about a thing, everything you need; is gonna be alright,” has been just that for the most part, a song of encouragement and consolation adopted from the legendary Bob Marley’s timeless records. As of now, in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League competition, the Ajax faithful don’t need consolation, the song has become an affirmation of the reality and assurance of joy brought about by Erik Ten Hagen side’s on-the-pitch displays.
The once so called minnows heading into the round of 16 of this year’s UCL competition have shown that they are more, no matter how they fare from now going forward, I am personally convinced they have made their case known before all of the old and young, great and mighty, pessimistic and optimistic. The young Ajax side with an average age of no more than 24 of their starting XI players, of which at least six of them are 22 years and under, are looking a complete side. Perhaps the most complete unit amongst all of Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus, Porto, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham, who made it to this year’s last eight of Europe’s elite club competition. Here is why.
Barcelona and Juventus are undoubtedly huge favourites to go all the way, mainly because of their leading men, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – the two best players of the century. Both sides would be less threatening and more vulnerable if it were not for the effort of those two magicians. Juve’s progression to the quarters was in doubt after losing 2-0 to Atletico Madrid and it required three Ronaldo goals to bail them out. Barca have been less convincing in first leg clashes against Lyon in the last 16 and now Manchester United, but as was the case with Lyon – you can surely bet that it all could still get Messi for Ole’s United because of the Argentine. Manchester City have been rampant in the group stages and even dismantled Schalke 04 with an aggregate scoreline of 10 – 2 in the knock out stages but simply didn’t turn up in their 1-0 loss at Tottenham, who were quite solid to be honest. Pochettino’s men however played the greater part of that fixture on the back-foot and things are looking quite nervy heading into the second leg, more so now that they have lost Harry Kane to an ankle injury. Manchester United are arguably the weakest teams amongst the eight, in open play, having gone past PSG courtesy of a miracle night in Paris and in desperate need of another miracle, if they are to defeat, La Liga’s champions in waiting, Barcelona at the Camp Nou. That leaves us with the Malian Mousa Marega’s Porto side which have been quite impressive though once found wanting in the first leg clashes against Roma and their recent 2-0 loss to Liverpool. As harsh as it may be to say, Liverpool seem to be lacking a footballing identity though they have been deservedly grinding out results. Their 0-0 draw against Bayern Munich in the first leg of the UCL quarters was more than a boring affair, they barely scrapped through the group stages and most recently benefited from Porto’s mistakes in the 2-0 quarters advantage.
As for de Godenzonen (Sons of God), finishing unbeaten in the group stages after battling the likes of Bayern Munich and Benfica has been proven to be far from just a fluke. As if that was not enough, they were unlucky to lose 2-1 to defending champions, Real Madrid in the first leg of the round of 16 even having a goal controversially ruled out for an infringement on goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois. They dominated proceedings with some total football and received their dues in the second leg, seeing off the winners of the UCL trophy for the past 3 years with an impressive 4-1 triumph that earned a special place in the pages of history. It was the same song all over again in their 1-1 home draw with Juve in the quarter-finals, as they dominated possession with 61% of the ball, and fearlessly knocked the ball around with purpose and intent against seasoned competitors like Juve who have since made it to two finals in the past four years. They are simply scintillating and a marvel to watch, from defence to attack. Their goalkeeping talent in the 23-year-old Cameroonian in Andre Onana, 19-year-old captain in Mathijs De Light, Frenkie De Jong, the Moroccan left-hooker in Hakim Ziyech and the revitalised Dusan Tadic partnering with the coming of age striker, 22-year-old Brazilian, David Neres – only to mention but a few.
It’s all to play for as they visit Turin on Tuesday for the second leg clash with Juve. Should they get past Ronaldo and company, you surely cannot rule them out to go all the way and end their UCL drought, having last won in the 1994-95 season. They are obviously at risk of losing most of their young talent in the summer and may not get the fairytale end to this year’s UCL campaign but one thing is for sure, their fans don’t have anything to worry about. Everything has been alright as the song suggests. They are a unit exhibiting total football and perhaps the most complete team among this year’s eight Champions League finalists, regardless of the results.