Ajax v Roma: Italians can avoid defeat

Two European heavyweights do battle in Amsterdam, and Kevin Hatchard doesn't think there's much to choose between them...

Ajax looking to add to domestic dominance

There's no doubt that Erik ten Hag's spell as Ajax coach has been a roaring success. The former Utrecht boss delivered the league and cup double in 2019, and is on course to add another Eredivisie title this term. However, there will always be the regret of the 2019 Champions League semi-final, when Ajax were 3-0 up on aggregate against Tottenham with 35 minutes left, only for Lucas Moura to score one of the most memorable hat-tricks in the competition's history.

That fateful night in Amsterdam will always sting, but lifting the Europa League would at least partially atone for it. Since dropping into the UEL from the Champions League, the Dutch giants have beaten Lille home and away and have done the same to Swiss champions Young Boys. In all competitions, Ajax have won 18 of their last 19 matches, and they haven't lost a game since their crucial Champions League defeat to Atalanta in December.

This is a different Ajax side to the one that had that storming Champions League run. Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek have all moved on (with varying degrees of success), and there are new names like midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, Brazilian winger Antony and striker Brian Brobbey.

The list of absentees is long. First-choice keeper Andre Onana is banned after accidentally taking medication that had been prescribed for his wife, Daley Blind is injured and the club inexplicably and unforgivably failed to register winter signing Sebastien Haller for this competition.

Roma have saved their best for the UEL

Roma are in a group of clubs that doesn't just want to win this competition, but really needs to. The race for Champions League football in Italy is incredibly competitive, and a run of three wins in nine in Serie A has seen the Giallorossi slip five points behind the pace in the race for fourth. However, in this competition, Paulo Fonseca's side has shone.

Roma have beaten a very good Braga team home and away, and they did the same to Shakhtar Donetsk. Both are old clubs of coach Fonseca, who is still trying to prove he can be a success as Roma boss. Roma's problem is that they have failed to perform in the big games against top opposition, and that will have to change if they are to win this competition.

Dutch defender Rick Karsdorp is suspended, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling and Nicolo Zaniolo are all out injured. Spanish striker Borja Mayoral is expected to spearhead the attack, with Edin Dzeko kept in reserve.

Ajax a little too short

Both teams have been playing really well in this competition, and both have key absentees for this one. I don't see that there's a huge amount between them, so I can't really get on board with backing Ajax at 2.08 to win the game. Roma have only lost one of their last six on the road, and in this competition they have won four of their five away matches. Without the usual backing for Ajax at the Johan Cruyff Arena, this won't be as intimidating for Roma as it otherwise might be.

I'll back Roma/Draw Double Chance here at 1.92.

Market expects goals

Entertainment is anticipated here, with Over 2.5 Goals trading at 1.68 and Both Teams To Score priced at 1.63. That makes sense - Roma have seen six of their eight games in this tournament feature three goals or more, and they have the worst defensive record in Serie A's top eight, while Ajax have scored at least twice in 15 of their last 16 games.

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