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Champions League 2018/19 Ajax Juventus tactical analysis preview

Will Ajax take advantage of Juve’s defensive switch?

The upcoming tactical battle between Ajax and Juventus will see Erik ten Hag and Massimiliano Allegri try to outplay each other in every possible way. With both teams extremely motivated to reach the semi-finals, Juventus are thought to have the bigger advantage. They play well-balanced football implementing a strong defensive structure and an undeniable striking force.

Ajax on the other side are one of the most exciting teams to watch lately with their young and talented squad which ruined all expectations and knocked Real Madrid out of the competition.

This tactical analysis will explore the teams’ tactics for the first leg.

Juventus team news: the good and the bad

The biggest question around Juventus’ squad is whether Cristiano Ronaldo recover in time for their trip to the Johan Cruyff Arena. The virtuouso has been a key player for the Bianconeri, and not only when it comes to scoring. His contribution to the team’s performance is immense.

Despite being good enough to only stay in the box and wait for a delivery he makes a great contribution dropping back and going wide too. Of course, scoring goals is still what he does best. Ronaldo has scored 19 goals and assisted 10 in Serie A so far, adding four goals and two assists in seven Champions League games.

Ajax Juventus Champions League tactical preview analysis
Ronaldo is waiting in the half-space while his teammates attack through the middle. In this case, Mandžukić makes an off-the-ball movement in order to drag a defender with him and open space for Matuidi to operate in. Once Matuidi reaches the edge of the box Ronaldo moves into it, receives the ball and scores.

Other breaking news, although not so pleasant, is that one of Juve’s veterans Giorgio Chiellini is out with an injury. This is a huge confidence boost for Ajax, as their opponents’ well-known defensive structure might be shaken up.

This becomes especially true when one considers the likes of David Neres, Hakim Ziyech and most worryingly Dušan Tadić. The Serbian has scored 20 goals for Ajax this season with Ziyech and Neres adding 15 and eight respectively.

Without Chiellini, the team would lack experience. It is expected that Daniele Rugani is going to replace him which raises a lot of questions. The young player doesn’t have enough playing time this season and his partnership with Bonucci is questionable too.

With Ajax’s expected 4-2-3-1 formation, which includes Neres and Ziyech operating on the flanks and delivering the ball to Tadić, there is a lot to worry about.

Ajax Juventus Champions League tactical preview analysis
In this situation, Ziyech attacks down the wing. Before going deeper he notices Tadić is available for a short pass combination. They usually use these combinations in order to open space for each other – in this case, Tadić opens space for Ziyech and then gives the ball back to him while moving off the ball towards the box.

Back three for Juventus?

Massimiliano Allegri might try to overload the midfield area and use a three-man defence in a 3-1-4-2 formation. This would create a diamond-shaped midfield which could be a little problematic for the Black and White’s defensive transitions.

Ajax Juventus Champions League tactical preview analysis
Juventus’ diamond-shaped midfield with Miralem Pjanić at the bottom of it.

In that scheme, Miralem Pjanić would be the only defensive midfielder. Stopping Frenkie de Jong contributing to Ajax’s build-up might turn out to be his stepping stone. The Bosnian is not the only one that needs to support the three-man backline though. Using this formation suggests the wing-backs, for example – João Cancelo and Alex Sandro – might have to drop back while out of possession.

With that strategy, they conceded their first and only defeat in Serie A this season (against Genoa). The main problem was Cancelo leaving too much space behind while marking the opposition players more centrally, or while trying to get back after his attacking ventures.

This is what could make or break the game for Juventus. It is clear that the Portuguese is going to be the main weapon when forming attacks down the flanks, but he needs to find a balance with his defensive responsibilities.

Ajax Juventus Champions League tactical preview analysis
Juventus’ players create a 3v1 situation in order to break their opponents’ defensive structure. Similar to Ajax, they use short pass combinations in order to free up some space.

Another issue that the team had while playing in a 3-1-4-2 was defending long balls. Genoa would often send long balls to their front two which would create dangerous 2v3 and 1v2 situations. Ajax could use the goalkeeper André Onana for sending long balls to the wings. This could drag the defenders to Ziyech for example, which would in turn create space for Tadić to operate in using his outstanding off-the-ball movement.

Ajax Juventus Champions League tactical preview analysis
One of the crucial moments for Genoa against Juventus. The Bianconeri defensive line was highly positioned and one long-distance pass to Kouamé made their life miserable.

Ajax’s defensive plan

With Juventus surely overloading the midfield area Erik ten Hag’s players should be extremely careful when losing the ball in the middle as this would immediately turn into a dangerous attack. Frenkie de Jong will definitely need some support to keep the ball, although their usual strategy of playing short pass combinations using the centre-backs and De Jong won’t work out against this opponent.

As the full-backs position themselves a little further up while the defensive line stays pretty compact, they should be aware of the danger that’s hiding in the half-spaces. Using Cancelo, Juventus might try to stretch the back four out wide which would open spaces. These spaces could be easily exploited by Ronaldo.


This fixture is worth keeping an eye on. Both teams have strategies that have earned them the leading positions in their leagues, but when it comes to meeting in the Champions League, they will need to outwit each other. The managers will be completely prepared with the opposition analysis and the key would be to either surprise their counterparts with a new change in their tactics, or be extremely focused and take advantage of every little mistake.

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