Schalke v Ajax
Thursday April 20, 20:05
Live on BT Sport 1
Ajax have one foot in the final four after a thrilling displayin Amsterdam last week. I'll freely admit that I expected the weight of the occasion to hamper such a young side, but they played a full-throttle attacking style that simply overwhelmed the Royal Blues. Had it not been for a virtuoso display from Schalke keeper Ralf Fahrmann, the German side would already be out of this tie.
Sunday's limp 2-1 defeat at virtually-relegated Darmstadt was hardly ideal preparation for Schalke, who are starting to look as though a long and injury-plagued campaign is catching up with them. Markus Weinzierl's side are still without some key players in attack and defence, and a suspension for young defender Thilo Kehrer hasn't done them any favours.
Schalke have won just one of their last five games overall, and just two of their last six at home. I don't doubt that the crowd at the Veltins Arena will create an extraordinary atmosphere, and it may drive a talented Schalke side to produce a fine display, but I can't back the hosts at 1.95with any conviction.
After a very shaky start to the campaign under new coachPeter Bosz, Ajax are motoring along smoothly. They have cut Feyenoord's lead at the top of the Eredivisie to just a point, and they sparkled against Schalke last week. Davy Klaassen scored twice and was a muscular presence in midfield, winger Amin Younes was simply too hot to handle (he won the penalty for Klaassen's first goal), and 19-year-old Donny Van de Beek was a superb stand-in for the suspended Lasse Schone in central midfield.
Ajax now have Schone back, and teenage striker Kasper Dolberg is fit enough to start. With Justin Kluivert, Bertrand Traore and David Neres all excellent options on the right, Bosz is spoilt for choice in attack. Nick Viergever may move to left-back to replace the injured Daley Sinkgraven, with outstanding 17-year-old prospect Matthijs De Ligt poised to continue a fine recent run of form.
I was so impressed by Ajax last week, and Schalke barely laid a glove on them. It would take a ginormous improvement from the hosts to win the second leg, let alone turn the tie in their favour. Ajax have lost just one of their last nine away games in all competitions, and they are chasing a sixth consecutive win in all competitions. I'm happy to oppose Schalke at 1.95.
Lay Schalke at 1.95
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