The over-riding feeling you get from Ajax coach Erik ten Hag’s comments after his side were drawn against Juventus in the Champions League isn’t necessarily one of confidence or excitement on his part. Indeed, what he has had to say might lead you to believe that he remains sceptical of their chances to progress in the competition.
Ajax stunned Real Madrid to progress to the quarter-finals where they will meet the Italian giants next month over two legs. The Spanish giants were rocked by the Dutch outfit when they chalked up a stunning 4-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. The defeat meant that Madrid were booted out 5-3 on aggregate in the round of 16. It also meant sheer delirium for Sons of the Gods.
Despite the initial euphoria, Ten Hag wasted little time sugar-coating the situation once the draw was made. He has made no bones about who he considers which team will go on to play either Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final.
He said: “It is clear that Juventus are the favourites, but there are always chances. If we take a realistic and no-holds barred approach to the game, then there are definitely some opportunities. Juventus are a very experienced squad with players who have won a lot of titles during their career. They can take on different types of play… but we can do the same. That makes the challenge even greater.”
And there it is. In the last but one sentence Ten Hag provides a clue as to his real thinking regards the tie against the Old Lady of Turin. “We can do the same,” he says, when referring how adaptable Juve can be. So, the conclusion one can make from his thoughts on the clash are that he is praising the opponents while plotting their downfall with all the surety of a coach who has just orchestrated the demise of the mighty Madrid. The first leg will take place on April 10, with the return leg a week later. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, there is no ambiguity over who will triumph when it comes to the comments from former Juve ace Andrea Pirlo, who believes Ajax will struggle to get a foothold in the tie. He said: “Ajax are a good draw. Physically Juve can destroy them. Juventus seem better than Barcelona, but Manchester City are dangerous. I already gave Juve a big chance of winning the Champions League. That’s providing they convince themselves that it’s necessary to play with that rhythm and mentality from the first minute of every game (a reference to the second leg against Atletico Madrid), which is what Juventus didn’t do in Madrid.”
Of course, the increased exposure of the Ajax players means that suitors come calling. And one star who has yet to settle his future is defender Matthijs de Ligt who is said to be weighing up the chance of a switch to Barcelona. Following Holland’s 3-2 defeat to Germany on Sunday, he said: “I’ll talk about my future next week, I still haven’t decided.”