On Monday, Martin Jol and Jan Vertonghen looked ahead to their second Champions League group match, against AC Milan. “We want to be seen in Europe”, said Vertonghen expectantly. “We believe it.”
On a European scale, Ajax needs to set things right against the rossoneri. They were soundly thumped in their first group match, away at Real Madrid, 2-0. “We need to have a defensive answer, especially playing against a team with so many assets”, said Martin Jol, revealing one of the lessons learned by his players in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. “We have to play like we played on Saturday, during the first half against FC Twente. And it if doesn’t work, we need to make other choices. In that respect, we’re still growing.”
AC Milan will be met with a healthy dose of respect. But not so much that Ajax falls into old mistakes against the Italians. “Milan has a lot of individual class, and that’s how the team can distinguish itself”, analysed Jol. “Their assets are out in front, but they’re very solid at the back as well. It’s up to us to challenge them. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the best striker in the world. Offensively, Milan is at least Real Madrid’s equal. But hopefully, we’ll come out of this game better than we did in Madrid, and the ball will roll our way on Tuesday.” The Ajax coach can count on Rasmus Lindgren and Eyong Enoh. The midfielders were both suffering from mild pain, but they’ll be available to play on Tuesday.
Ajax can gain valuable experience in the Champions League. For this reason, Vertonghen especially looks forward to the meeting against the Italians. After his suspension for the match against Real Madrid, a Champions League debut is on the horizon for the Belgian. In front of his home crowd, and against one of the most inspirational opponents, no less. “Personally, I’m looking forward to it a lot”, said the Belgian central defender. “It killed me to have to watch in Madrid. Milan and Real Madrid are relatively comparable opponents. On Tuesday evening, we need to show our best football. In that respect, we have enough experience and guts.”
Vertonghen has seen Milan in action mainly on television. He also has spoken with team mates who have previously played with Milan forward Ibrahimovic. Finally, the scouting department was consulted. The Italians’ tactics were analysed in the last week. “You need to be a hundred percent focussed against them, for ninety minutes, or as long as the match lasts. As defenders, we need to play our best game, especially against this world class striker.”