Hakim Ziyech, David Neres give Ajax Champions League semi-final hope after battling draw with Juventus

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David Neres and Hakim Ziyech starred for Ajax.

Ajax gave themselves a fighting chance of a spot in the Champions League semi-final after coming from behind to get a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the quarter-final at home against Juventus.

The Dutch side dominated the game in a way that belied the gulf in experience between the two sides, as Juve were left hanging on after David Neres’ equaliser after half-time cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener. Ajax may wonder how they didn’t end up the winning side.

Here, we rate the Ajax players’ performances.

STARTING XI

Andre Onana 6 – Could do nothing for Ronaldo’s goal, as Ajax’s defence was simply broken down by the Portuguese’s movement. Onana’s distribution was poor at times, which was cause for concern.

Joel Veltman 7 – Given that his chief task was to deal with the dual threat of Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic, Veltman acquitted himself well on Wednesday. Stood up to Juve’s feted attackers.

Matthijs de Ligt 6 –  Matured display from the Dutchman. Read the game well and moved at the right time without getting caught out of position. Bernardeschi and Mandzukic had nothing to work with such was his overall dominance.

Daley Blind 6 –  The former Manchester United man led by example at the centre of the defence. Kept Ronaldo in check for most of the game.

Nicolas Tagliafico 6 – Lucky to not have given away a penalty for a second-half foul that would also have seen him sent off. But he’ll also rue his team-mates’ inability to find him in space – there were plenty of times Tagliafico had stolen a few yards on the left wing only to go unnoticed.

Lasse Schone 6 – Not the best display from one of the stars of the last-16 win over Real Madrid, as his set-piece deliveries were lacking their usual quality. Helped Ajax control midfield but it was no surprise when he was taken off.

Frenkie de Jong 8 – Produced one brilliant last-man tackle that showed a side to his game many may not have seen before. His usual qualities were on display as well.

Hakim Ziyech 7 – Ajax’s most consistent threat on the ball, and on this display a club looking for a right-winger should definitely have perked up. Sent one wild shot wide, but drew a smart save out of Wojciech Szczesny and was lively throughout.

Donny van de Beek 6 – An eager presence in Ajax’s attack, though his runs lacked the timing that could have made this a lethal display instead of merely an encouraging one. But his ability on the ball had Juve on their toes.

David Neres 7 – This game showed the best and the worst of the Brazilian winger. His goal was supremely well-taken, an excellent finish that gave Ajax a deserved leveller. But on other occasions, Neres’ inexperience showed in his eagerness and poor decision-making on the ball.

Dusan Tadic 6 – A quiet night from the man who has graced Ajax’s best performances of the season with his own sprinkles of stardust. This was not one of those occasions, as Tadic was well-marshalled by Juve’s defence and looked off-colour throughout.

SUBSTITUTES

Jurgen Ekkelenkamp 6 – It may not have been a surprise when Schone was taken off but the identity of the substitute certainly was. The 19-year-old’s most significant contribution was to haul down Ronaldo on a break, but it was certainly an eventful Champions League debut.

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Juventus player ratings as Rodrigo Bentancur scores an 8 while Cristiano Ronaldo gets a 7

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Juventus got a crucial away goal thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo‘s away goal in Amsterdam has given Juventus the edge in their Champions League quarter-final against Ajax after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

Juve were often under the cosh as Ajax put in a robust, thrilling display, but the veteran Italian side held on for a draw after Ronaldo’s header had given them the first-half lead.

Here’s a closer look at how the players performed.

STARTING XI

Wojciech Szczesny 7 – Made one excellent first-half save. Could do nothing for Ajax’s goal, and was assured otherwise.

Joao Cancelo 7 – Contributed to what has fast become a typical Juventus goal: Cancelo cross, Ronaldo scores. Good going forward as always, and dealt with Ajax’s attacking threat well.

Daniele Rugani 6 – Actually looked the more assured centre-back between himself and senior colleague Bonucci. Together, their experience helped keep Ajax at bay when Juve were under the cosh.

Leonardo Bonucci 6 – Bonucci is a great defender on his own right but nights like these show how much he relies on his partnership with Giorgio Chiellini. He was the weaker Juve centre-back on Wednesday, if only by a little.

Alex Sandro 7 – A quiet but solidly assured performance at left-back. Many of Ajax’s attacks came down his side, but none succeeded, and even the chances created were because the Dutch were overloading on Cancelo on the other flank.

Rodrigo Bentancur 8 – Juventus’ best player in midfield. The Uruguayan mopped up Ajax attacks and shielded his back four with determination, and was a threat going forward as well.

Miralem Pjanic 6 – Slightly below his best from the Bosnian, whose passing was occasionally sloppy. In the second half he struggled to keep Juve in control in midfield, though he did a good job of protecting his defence.

Blaise Matuidi 7 – Solid if unspectacular in midfield, as he carried out his box-to-box role with typical industry. Was a little unlucky to be the man subbed off when Massimiliano Allegri decided to make an attacking change.

Federico Bernardeschi 5 – It was his error that led to Ajax’s equaliser. Though he was full of energy, this wasn’t a good performance from the Italian – no player lost possession more times than Bernardeschi’s seven.

Cristiano Ronaldo 7 – Scored the crucial goal of the evening, giving Juventus their away goal, but as Ajax became more dominant he saw little of the ball, and tried too hard to pull off the extraordinary when he did get possession.

Mario Mandzukic 6 – Captain on the night in the absence of Chiellini, Mandzukic did his usual job of being a good support act for Ronaldo in attack. Though he was typically strong in the air, he had a strangely quiet game otherwise.

SUBSTITUTES

Douglas Costa 7 – A livewire in attack during an excellent cameo. Spoiled one good run by drifting in a poor cross, but ended another with a fierce shot that struck the post.

Paulo Dybala 6 – The Argentine will have been disappointed not to start – but his second-half cameo did little to convince Allegri he’d made the wrong call.

Sami Khedira N/A – Came on with barely any time left to have an impact on proceedings.

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Ernesto Valverde tactics give Barcelona advantage, but keep Man United in the tie

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An 12th-minute own goal from Luke Shaw condemned Manchester United to a 1-0 defeat against Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.

Luis Suarez’s header across goal from Lionel Messi‘s cross took a deflection off Shaw and wound up in the far corner as the Catalans took the lead at Old Trafford.

Diogo Dalot missed a glorious opportunity in the first half, but United failed to create much else. Barca seemed content with their solitary away goal as well, settling for the narrow win.

Here, we analyse Ernesto Valverde’s tactical input.

BASIC STATS

Goals – 1

Shots – 6

Shots on target – 3

Possession – 64%

Dribbles – 7

Tackles – 9

Aerials won – 4

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Lack of pace

United were chasing the game for the last quarter of an hour and as the final whistle approached, they committed more numbers forward. They had even switched from three to four at the back and got men in the box to attack crosses.

Barcelona dealt with the aerial assault exceptionally, but when the opportunities to break quickly arrived, they weren’t equipped to punish United and perhaps even kill off the tie. Ousmane Dembele is on his way back from injury and was deemed unfit to start.

But he was on the bench so Valverde may have missed a trick by not introducing him for a cameo in the closing stages. Failing that, even Malcom would’ve added a bit of zip on the break.

GOT RIGHT

United were steadily growing in confidence, especially at the start of the second half. Valverde reacted by throwing Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto on for Philippe Coutinho and Arthur.

That brought a shift in formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2.

Granted, they sacrificed a bit in attack but a compact midfield was able to contain United and on the ball, play it around them albeit with little penetration.

GOT WRONG

The suspicion with this Barcelona side is that they can be pretty ordinary in the absence of Messi. The Argentine was on the field on this occasion and played a part in his side’s goal but was otherwise largely anonymous.

With Messi not at his best, Valverde needed to help his side create different avenues to goal. He might’ve done so by calling on Carles Alena earlier in the game.

The midfielder is a fine dribbler and his ability to carry the ball into enemy territory would’ve asked more questions of a makeshift United back-line. Instead, the Barca boss played it safe and hoped Messi would conjure a moment of manage while focusing on negating United’s threat.

VERDICT

A win away from home is an excellent result, but Barca fans will feel Valverde could’ve encouraged his side to do even better. There are question marks over his substitutions as well which were rather safe.

That said, he left nothing to chance defensively and ensured his team left Old Trafford with the advantage.

Rating 7/10

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