Meetings between Ajax and Juventus could rightfully be called European classics. On the eve of another classic, Erik ten Hag and Hakim Ziyech looked ahead on Tuesday, in the Johan Cruijff ArenA. Ten Hag: “Agains Juventus, we need to stick with our own style.”
The importance of a match can often be measured by the number of reporters on hand for the pre-game press conference. On Tuesday, the ArenA’s press room was chock full of reporters. Next to the many Dutch and Italian reporters, some of the other – international – football press was in attendance in Amsterdam. This underlined again how big the impact of this quarterfinal game would be in the most important European tournament.
'The bar keeps getting higher’
“The challenges keep getting harder. The bar keeps getting higher”, said Ten Hag, referring to the level of previous CL games and the upcoming one against the Old Lady. And Ajax’s European achievements are pure team work, emphasizes the Ajax coach.
“I need to compliment the players. They’re very fit”, continues Ten Hag. “But there’s a plan behind our achievements. The team is working well, but the team surrounding them is working hard, too. Everything is based on a good plan. Everyone is attacking and everyone is defending, and that’s where it starts. Positions in our team can be swapped. Our players are so tactical that they’re able to do several different tasks.”
Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong is expected to be fit enough to play in the top game. The last training on Tuesday afternoon will tell more.
Explanation for the success
Ten Hag: “We’ve found a good balance between the young players, the mid-level players, and the older players. That partly explains our success. This season, all of our players have shown that they can play at a high level. I’m happy that we’re active on three fronts. With the right balance in the team, it’s possible for us to achieve results at the top European level.”
At this point in the season, Ajax is living from game to game. “We’re living in the moment. That’s what it’s all about right now. Tomorrow it’s Juventus, and after that we’ll face the next thing. Step by step.” Ziyech supports his coach’s words: “We are feeling good and looking forward to tomorrow. Ajax is focused on Juve now, after that it will be Excelsior.”
What does the coach expect from Juve? An opponents who is lurking for opportunity, one who stealthily waits for it? Or an opponent who is going for it? “Juve is such an experienced team, and a seasoned trainer”, warns Ten Hag. “They can handle many systems and scenarios. We need to read the match well and anticipate properly. This is the next threshold for us. We already reached a high level against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. And against Italy’s top team, we’re going to do everything to reach that, too. For that, we need to remain true to our own style.”
“Of course it’s important for Ajax to be in the CL quarter-finals again. For a relatively small football country, it’s so much harder to get here. Ajax has the smallest budget of all of the quarter-finalists. So we need to be creative. But this is good for the Champions League as well. Football needs to be surprising. It’s good that we’re bringing that element this year.”
Cristiano Ronaldo has a spot in the match selection. The Portuguese mega-star is just coming back from an injury. Giorgio Chiellini is injured and will miss the game in the ArenA. How does Ten Hag see Ronaldo’s potential role?
The coach also spoke as a lover of the game on Tuesday: “We want to play against the best. It’s fantastic to be able to play against a player like Ronaldo. That’s a challenge. Ronaldo is an experienced player. It would have been a miss if he wouldn’t be there. That’s our point of view. Chiellini is another important player for Juve. But the club has a big selection. They’re able to cover in these situations.”
Ziyech is also looking forward to a meeting with the famed Ronaldo.
At the end of the press conference, the coach expressed his expectation that the ArenA would be fully charged on Wednesday. Hopefully there will be an amazing football atmosphere in the ArenA on Wednesday. One that will push Ten Hag and the Ajacieds to new heights and new success. With the help of the home crowd, who knows what can be possible in the Champions League? “We need to bring quality to the field. The players and members of staff are looking forward to it. Of course, we’re going for a good result tomorrow.”