Erik ten Hagt ook his place behind the microphone on Tuesday afternoon for the last pre-game conference in the Champions League group phase. Keeper Andre Onana, who, just like Donny van de Beek, was forced to retire early from the PEC Zwolle -Ajax game, joined his coach.
It was clear to everyone. If Andre Onana was participating in the press conference, then he’s fit. The reporters wanted to make sure that this was the case. The keeper answered: “ I think so, but I need to wait and see. My first training of the week will be this afternoon. If that goes well, it’s up to the coach and the medical staff.”
‘Hoping to have everyone on board’
The trainer was asked about the status of all of the injuries. “It’s not due to fatigue”, said Ten Hag. “These things always happen. We played on artificial turf on Saturday, or, more accurately, on a skating rink. That has no place in top level football. Football on artificial turf is a different game. We’ve recovered well and are hoping to have everyone on board. Yes, that also means Van de Beek, Kasper Dolberg, and Hakim Ziyech. That’s what we’re hoping for, but there are no guarantees right now.”
'We want to test ourselves against Bayern'
Although Ajax and Bayern Munich have both already qualified for the next round, a lot is at stake on Wednesday evening. Winning the group means meeting an opponent that ended second in its pool, after the winter break. “If we win the pool, we have a chance to avoid the strongest teams from other pools, but you never know for sure. We want to test ourselves against Bayern, the top in the world. Our aim is to continue our good season.”
But on the other hand, Ajax also wants to win the Eredivisie championship. Shouldn’t he be sparing players in this case? “Those are considerations that have been going through my head in the past few days. Because of course, we want to win the championship. Which risks should we take? But we also want to bring something to the fans, who have been amazing this season. It’s a super headline: Ajax – Bayern. You want to give everything dig deep. Not to mention the advantages we’d get by winning the pool. Although we’re in a different position now than in previous European games, the experience is not that different.”
Bayern has been experiencing a comeback in the past few weeks. “The team is clearly better now than when we played them in Munich”, acknowledges Ten Hag. “Nico Kovac has had a great career and deserved the transfer to Bayern Munich. We will need to be at our best to beat them, and we’ll need to do that by playing our own game. We are obviously dealing with an incredible team, and we need to respect that. But we’ll need to be brave as well.”
The coach regrets Arjen Robben’s absence. “In many ways, it’s a big shame that Robben won’t be there. He’s such a star. He’s older now, but still so good. It’s a shame for him, personally, and for our players. They’ll miss out on the chance to play against him.”