Ajax vs Real Madrid: Peer into the future as young stars like Vinicius Junior and Matthijs de Ligt collide

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Vinicius Junior

Real Madrid begin the serious phase of their Champions League title defence on Wednesday as they travel to Amsterdam to take on Erik ten Hag’s Ajax.

The Dutch side have always been the breeding ground for some of the best talents and the maturity shown by the youngsters is a smoke-screen for their age.

Madrid endured an underwhelming first half of the season, but have sprung to life in the past few weeks and will be looking to get half the job done on the road.

We examine some of the players who could make the difference in this exciting fixture.

DUSAN TADIC 

Tadic’s spell with Southampton failed to turn out like he would have expected. But the Serbian has enjoyed a career revival in Amsterdam, performing brilliantly in Europe.

The winger has scored five goals and provided one assist in the Champions League this season. He also scored a brace in Ajax’s 3-3 draw against Bayern Munich in their last game of the Group stages.

Bare in mind he’s not even known for being particularly prolific. Tadic is the player who has a keen eye for through-balls and boasts of an impressive 2.6 key-passes every 90 minutes in the Eredivisie and 2.0 in the Champions League.

He will fancy his chance against a shaky Daniel Carvajal and the right-back could do with an extra pair of legs to help him overcome the Serbian.

Dusan Tadic

Dusan Tadic

KARIM BENZEMA 

The Frenchman showed clear signs of decline after a disastrous start to the season. Yet, he looks to have got his mojo back in the past couple of games and the tie against Ajax could be the perfect way to make a loud and clear statement that he is not done yet.

Benzema is back to doing what he does best – linking up with the midfielders, holding off defenders, creating space for the attackers and fundamentally, finishing off chances that ought to be finished.

The four-time Champions League winner will have to channel his inner virtuoso if Madrid are to progress any further.

Karim Benzema

Karim Benzema

VINICIUS JUNIOR 

The Brazilian boy wonder has been performing at a higher level than normal in the games that preceded this crucial tie. At the age of 18, he’s running circles around some of the best defenders in Spain.

Vinicius started the move that led to Lucas Vascquez’s opener in El Clasico and won Madrid an important penalty in the derby. He will be looking to make it three big-game performances in a row as he takes on an Ajax defence that conceded six goals to Feyenoord not long ago.

The Brazilian’s duel with Ajax starlet Matthijs de Ligt will be one to watch out for.

Vinicius Junior has been a bright spot for Real Madrid.

Vinicius Junior has been a bright spot for Real Madrid.

MATTHIJS DE LIGT 

An undisputed starter and a crucial element of the crux of the team for club and country at country, de Ligt will have to play one of the best games of his career so far to stop a red-hot Madrid side.

The Dutchman has attracted interests from top European clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain. A solid performance against the defending champions could do a lot of good to his stocks in the summer transfer market.

De Ligt was able to comfortably ward off any threat Kylian Mbappe posed when the pair met in the UEFA Nations League in 2018 and completely kept the youngster out of the game. But how he responds to Vinicius – another young talent on the wings – remains to be seen.

Matthijs de Ligt

Matthijs de Ligt

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Video: Data preview as Man United welcome PSG in Champions League last 16

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When the Champions League draw was made in December few doubted that Paris Saint-Germain would get the better of a Manchester United side labouring under Jose Mourinho.

But since he was sacked and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as caretaker there has been something of a revolution at Old Trafford, while PSG arrive in Manchester for the first leg of the last 16 showdown with star strikers Neymar and Edinson Cavani sidelined by injury.

United, meanwhile, have been transformed since Solskjaer replaced the Portuguese, winning 10 and drawing one of his 11 games in charge.

And Solskjaer believes his side are facing PSG at the perfect time as their outstanding run of form continues.


Ahead of what now promises to be a mouthwatering tussle, here is a data preview.










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Manchester United vs PSG: Thomas Tuchel will look at Kylian Mbappe for inspiration

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Thomas Tuchel

We’re one sleep away from having the biggest club tournament in Europe back into our lives and one of the best ties awaits us on Tuesday night as Manchester United take on an injury-ridden Paris Saint-Germain.

When the draw results were first public, this match-up was seen to be one that favoured the French outfit. But recent developments including United’s resurgence and PSG’s injury crisis has opened up this fixture.

Neymar and Edinson Cavani – two of PSG’s best players – will miss the tie due to injuries and United will find the odds to be on the level.

We take a look at the key tactics Thomas Tuchel could employ in this key tie.

IMMOBILISE POGBA

Paul Pogba is the most creative player in United’s three-man midfield, with Ander Herrera operating in more of a controller’s role and Nemanja Matic acting as a screen in front of defence, often dropping deep to support the back-line.

Clearly, the Frenchman has been the linchpin of the rejuvenated United and keeping him silent could do a lot of good for the visitors.

Easier said than done, but PSG must use as many resources as possible to crowd Pogba out of the game. While this might provide some freedom for Herrera, United’s major creative outlet will be blocked.

Tasking Marquinhos with man-marking the World Cup winner can also help PSG cut the supply to United’s forwards and force them to play long balls from deep.

1102 Man United v PSG3

MBAPPE AS A FUSION OF NEYMAR AND CAVANI

Tuchel is likely to play Kylian Mbappe as a number nine given Cavani’s absence calls for the need of a goal-scorer to spearhead the side. But Mbappe is also the best creator for PSG with Neymar on the sideline.

Playing the Frenchman as a striker in a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2 formation could be worth a shot, given their current situation. This will allow the youngster the freedom to drift wide and play to his strengths and pop up as a threat to United’s goal from the half-space.

This tactic provides more freedom than that of a pure nine and tasking Mbappe with playing the role of both Cavani and Neymar could be the key.

1102 Man United v PSG4

This is definitely a tough ask, but if the 20-year-old manages to pull it off, it could go down as one of the best performances of the season.

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