Champions League: Juventus' old guard bidding to finish job against Ajax

Ajax managed to dominate Juventus at Amsterdam in the Champions League quarterfinal first-leg. Though it will be a difficult second-leg in Turin, the Dutch side looks confident to make it through to the last four for the first time in 22 years.

Cristiano Ronaldo was rested midweek so that he can be ready for the Champions League second-leg against Ajax.   -  Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo will spearhead Juventus’ old guard as it looks to finish the job on Tuesday against Ajax’s impressive young guns in a quarterfinal second-leg clash between two sides desperate to end years of Champions League heartbreak.

Follow the match live here

Juventus has the edge on away goals thanks to Ronaldo’s 125th Champions League goal in a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam, but Ajax’s David Neres ensured the teams will start on a knife-edge in Turin in a repeat of the 1973 and 1996 finals.

Juventus has put its bid to wrap up an eighth consecutive Serie A title on the back burner as it focuses on its European ambitions.

Massimiliano Allegri lined out with a young squad against lowly SPAL on Saturday and the champion fell to a 2-1 defeat when a point would have sufficed for another Scudetto.

"The Scudetto will come sooner or later," said Allegri, whose side holds a 17-point lead on second-placed Napoli with six games left.

RELATED | Quarterfinal curse looms as Barcelona hosts Manchester United

"If we had put all our starters in, it would have been easier to win it, but there is the goal to obtain on Tuesday."

Juventus has won the Champions League twice, most recently in 1996 when it beat Ajax in the final.

Four-time winner Ajax won its third consecutive title in 1973 at the expense of Juventus, last lifting the trophy in 1995.

Allegri said he was prepared for "a difficult match against a very impressive team."

Ajax's David Neres celebrates scoring the equaliser in the 46th minute against Juventus in the quarterfinal first-leg.   -  UEFA Champions League Twitter

 

Ronaldo was rested at the weekend along with regulars Leonardo Bonucci, Blaise Matuidi, Alex Sandro, Mario Mandzukic and Miralem Pjanic.

Teenager Moise Kean’s fine form continued with the 19-year-old scoring his sixth goal in as many games.

Captain Giorgio Chiellini, however, remains a doubt with the 34-year-old defender recovering from a calf injury, with Daniele Rugani a possible replacement.

READ | Ajax handed boost on De Jong's fitness for Juventus game

But Ronaldo remains Juve’s key weapon.

The 34-year-old was signed for 100 million euros ($117 million) last summer, and pocketed an annual 31 million-euro salary to help Juventus win a competition it has finished runners-up in a record seven times, most recently in 2015 and 2017.

Daniele Rugani will most likely start for injured Giorgio Chiellini against Ajax.   -  Getty Images

 

Ronaldo has played a leading role in all of his five previous European triumphs, including with the tie-clinching, 97th-minute penalty for Real Madrid against Juventus last season in the quarters.

He has scored five goals this campaign, one against Manchester United and a hat-trick which rescued Juventus in the last 16, second leg against Atletico, before returning from injury to score against Ajax.

- Experience vs Exuberance -

The financial clout of Dutch league leader Ajax is significantly less than Juventus. The club, which is captained by 19-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt, spent a reported club-record 45 million euros last summer on new signings to bolster its Champions League hopes.

Defensive midfielder Daley Blind arrived from Manchester United, and forward Dusan Tadic from Southampton, to provide leadership for a young squad where the average age is 24 years.

Ajax winger Dusan Tadic arrived from Southampton to add experience to a young forward line.   -  Getty Images

 

Ajax’s strike-force of 22-year-old Neres, Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech have proven effective this season. Veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 35, also hit form with a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Excelsior in the Dutch league at the weekend. Neres stole the limelight with his seventh goal in eight games against Juventus in Amsterdam, but Barcelona-bound De Jong was outstanding in midfield.

ALSO READ | Lloris backing Son, Lucas for impact at Manchester City

Both teams produced memorable second-leg comebacks in the round of 16.Ajax overturned a 2-1 home defeat by Real Madrid to oust the three-time holder with a stunning 4-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu to reach its first quarter-final since 2003. Ronaldo’s hat-trick rescued Juventus, which lost 2-0 against Atletico Madrid in Spain.

While Juve is looking to reach a third semi-final in five seasons, Ajax has not made it to the last four since 1997. The winner would go through to a semi-final against the winner of the all-English tie between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

  Dugout videos