AS Roma are aiming for a semifinal berth in the UEFA Europa League as they lock horns with Ajax in the second leg on Thursday.
Following their slight slip up in the Serie A league table, AS Roma could now shift their attention entirely to the UEFA Europa League as they welcome Ajax on Thursday, in the second leg of their quarterfinal affair.
They have a healthy 2-1 advantage heading into this encounter, meaning Ajax will need either win by a two goal margin or at least score three goals to knock the Giallorossi out of the competition.
It might not be a particularly difficult task as Roma do boast one of the worst defensive records in the top half of the Serie A table, but a lot could depend on how Ajax perform themselves, as they were indeed quite wasteful in the first leg.
Both the teams are heading into this game on the back of narrow 1-0 victories against Bologna and Waalwijk respectively, but Ajax do slightly have the advantage, having almost secured their coronation in the Eredivisie.
The visitors are arguably the stronger side as well and are more than capable of advancing to the semis if they can play to their strengths and avoid any defensive errors. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their enticing second leg encounter in the UEFA Europa League this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
It will be interesting to see how Paulo Fonseca juggles with his squad as he continues to deal with the injury crisis that sees Nicolo Zaniolo, Marash Kumbulla and most recently Leonardo Spinzzola out injured while Chris Smalling and Stephan El Shaarawy are doubtful heading into this game.
Moreover, Bruno Peres is suspended, which could be a huge blow for Fonseca is already devoid of options in the wingback department. While Rick Karsdorp should return to the setup, the Portuguese tactician may have to make do with the young Riccardo Calafiori in the two wingback slots.
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Roma are a team that loves to attack, so they will play a pivotal role in the build-up and transition. However, the back three of Gianluca Mancini, Roger Ibanez and Bryan Cristante could be equally important as the Giallorossi look to hold on to their slender one-goal lead against Ajax.
Fonseca is unlikely to have much of a selection dilemma in midfield where the double pivot of Amadou Diawara and Jordan Veretout will hope to offer the urgency. Veretout, though, should also be key in ball circulation and transition, especially in the half-spaces.
As for the Roma attack, Edin Dzeko might get the nod ahead of Borja Mayoral as the Bosnian’s heading prowess could be useful in a game where the Serie A giants are likely to play on the counter and rely heavily on crosses.
As such, Dzeko’s two attacking partners in Lorenzo Pellegrini and Pedro are set to play a vital role in the club’s chance creation, though Fonseca may potentially have the option of unleashing Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Lopez; Mancini, Cristante, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Diawara, Veretout, Calafiori; Pellegrini, Pedro; Dzeko
Ajax, on the other hand, will be ruing the error that led to Sebastien Haller’s exclusion from the Europa League side. His presence in the attack could have been useful in the first leg, but with him being not available, the Eredivisie giants will once again rely on the services of top scorer Dusan Tadic, in the false nine role.
Tadic’s presence in a more central area should pave the way for David Neres to return to the setup as the Brazilian looks to partner Antony in the wide attacking slots. They will mostly look to cut inside and rely on quick interplay to breach the depleted Roma backline rather than whipping in crosses that could be useful without a target man like Haller.
In midfield, Ajax is likely to continue with the trifecta of Edson Alvarez, Ryan Gravenberch and Davy Klaassen, with the former operating as the holding midfielder, hoping to screen the backline.
As for Gravenberch and Klaassen, they are effective ball carriers, who could be critical in the transition as well as the chance creation, especially when it comes to linking up with the wide attackers in a more central area while the fullbacks are expected to make overlapping runs out wide.
Speaking of fullbacks, Noussair Mazraoui and most recently Devyne Rensch’s injury should pave the way for Sean Klaiber to earn a rare opportunity at right-back while Nicolas Tagliafico, Jurrien Timber and Lisandro Martinez are guaranteed starters elsewhere in the backline this midweek.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Scherpen; Klaiber, Timber, Martinez, Tagliafico; Gravenberch, Alvarez, Klaassen; Antony, Tadic, Neres
- Roma and AJax will face off for the fourth time in all competitions, with both sides managing one win each. This will be the first time since that draw in March 2003 that the Italians will host their Dutch counterparts.
- Since 2013/14, only two other sides in a UEFA Europa League encounter have lost despite outperforming their opponent’s expected goal tally by a wider margin than Ajax (3.2) did in the first leg with Roma (0.7).
- Ajax have overturned a deficit on two of the last three occasions they’ve lost the first leg of a two-legged European tie (excluding qualifiers), progressing past FC Kobenhavn in the 2016/17 Europa League and Real Madrid in the 2018/19 Champions League.
- In their European history, Roma have gone on to progress from each of their previous 16 two-legged ties when taking a lead back home for the second leg, 50% of which have come in the UEFA Cup/Europa League.
- Despite failing to score in the first leg, Edin Dzeko (29) has scored more goal in major European competition for Roma than any other player in the club’s history whilst since he signed for the club permanently in 2016, only four other players have more UEFA Europa League goals than the Bosnian’s 14.
Player to Watch
Dusan Tadic has a point to prove after appearing wasteful in front of goal in the first leg at home. The former Southampton star most notably missed a penalty with an awful attempt, but he did make amends with an impressive display in the recent win over RKC Waalwijk in the Eredivisie.
Tadic, though, will need to step his game against Roma, especially as Ajax cope with the absence of Sebastien Haller or any naturally viable option in the number ten role. The Serbian, therefore, will be hoping to breach the Giallorossi defence with his ability to beat defenders or find runners with his through balls.
The Ajax attacker may also drift out wide, provide crosses for players inside the box as midfielders like Klaassen are more than capable of making those driving runs into the final third. It could indeed spell trouble for the Roma backline this midweek.
AS Roma 1-1 Ajax
AS Roma definitely weren’t the better side when these two teams met in the first leg. However, they do have effective attackers who can efficiently find the back of the net and we expect the hosts to score at least one such goals from counter.
Ajax, in contrast, might struggle with productivity once again in the absence of Haller. They are also missing key figures in defence – making the job all the more difficult for the Lancers to retain their solidity at the back.