Ajax stunned Juventus to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 comeback win in Turin.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave Juventus the lead after 28 minutes with a record 126th goal in the competition, his ninth in seven meetings against Ajax.
But goals from Donny Van De Beek and Matthijs De Ligt gave Ajax a thoroughly deserved 3-2 aggregate success.
Onana 6: Not much he could have done to prevent Ronaldo’s perfect header. Not tested as much otherwise.
Veltman 7: Had to deal with the threat of both Alex Sandro and Ronaldo. Was pushed to the ground by De Ligt during Ronaldo’s goal, but he should have positioned himself better in the first place.
De Ligt 8: Solid game in defence and scorer of the winner. Was partly at fault for Ronaldo’s goal though, pushing Veltman to the floor.
Blind 6: Didn’t really put a foot wrong, but wasn’t as impressive as the other other defenders on the night.
Mazraoui N/A: Was taken off after 10 minutes due to an injury.
Van de Beek 9: Scored the opener and was a constant threat, probably the best player on the pitch.
Schone 8: Perfect corner for De Ligt to head home the winner, maintained tempo in midfield.
De Jong 7: Far from his heroic performance in the first leg. Did enough to get the job done, though.
Ziyech 8: Always a threat on the break, set up Van de Beek with what was a shot. But does it really matter? Also, he had a goal ruled out as he was marginally off-side.
Tadic 6: Out-performed by his team-mates up-front, some of his link-up play was impressive in patches though.
Neres 6: Promising runs and a constant threat, but also guilty of poor decision-making and a lack of end product.
Sinkgraven 7: Was tasked to fill in at left-back and did well to keep wonder-kid Moise Kean out of the equation.
Magallan N/A: Was only on the pitch for eight minutes, replacing first-half substitute Sinkgraven.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar N/A: Took the field for the last two minutes or so.
Szczesny 7: Two brilliant saves to keep Juventus in the tie until De Ligt headed home.
De Sciglio 4: Didn’t get the memo about the offside trap for Ajax’s first goal, clearly a game-changing moment.
Bonucci 5: Was played around with by Ajax’s attack. Probably should have conceded three more if not for poor conversion by the away side.
Rugani 5: Looked lost at times, especially against an advancing Van de Beek.
Alex Sandro 6: Provided some threat in attack and allowed Ronaldo some freedom, nothing exceptional though.
Emre Can 6: An average game by the German, started attacks well but was insipid in the final third.
Pjanic 7: Best player for the hosts, did everything he could in midfield to keep the tie alive and even produced a crucial block to prevent a third goal.
Matuidi 5: Bursts of productive runs followed by large spells during which he just went missing.
Bernardeschi 4: Looked lost throughout the game and failed to provide Ronaldo much support like he usually does.
Dybala 5: Looked out of touch and was subbed off at half-time due to an injury.
Ronaldo 6: Opened the scoring, but failed to provide anything else, one of those off-nights for the Portuguese.
Kean 5: Not one of those glorious nights for the youngster. Failed to trouble Onana in goal.
Cancelo 6: Provided some threat in the last 30 minutes after he came on, should have started.
Bentancur N/A: Took the field for the last 10 minutes, barely involved.
United will go away wondering what might have been after making a great start and twice coming close to taking the lead, but in the end they were comprehensively outplayed by Barca over the two legs.
Lionel Messi delivered another masterclass to propel his team into the last four, and the Catalan club must be confident about their chances of going all the way.
Let’s look back on all the key action from a topsy-turvy nighty at the Camp Nou.
VALVERDE OPTS FOR CONTROL…AND GETS IT, BELATEDLY
👏 W H A T. A. T E A M.— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) 16 April 2019
😍 Best fans in the world.
🔵🔴 Força Barça! pic.twitter.com/OOBzG7jgmw
The first tactical blow was struck before kick-off when Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde opted to field Philippe Coutinho on the left wing and Sergi Roberto at the right, with Ousmane Dembele and Nelson Semedo restricted to the bench.
In doing so, Valverde was probably expecting a closely contested and cagey opening half, with United getting plenty of men behind the ball, and therefore expecting the more careful skills of Coutinho and Roberto to provide a greater sense of control – with the option of introducing Dembele, in particular, if the game opened up in the second half as United upped their efforts for a goal.
If that was the expectation, though, the reality was very different because United’s start was anything but cagey, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men flying out of the traps with crisp, confident and incisive passing which could have yielded two goals in the first three minutes.
Firstly, Marcus Rashford – lining up on the right with Jesse Lingard surprisingly playing through the middle – raced clear to shoot against the crossbar after 35 seconds, before Scott McTominay failed to control when wide open inside the penalty area.
Barca’s start to the game was woeful and they looked dazed for the opening ten minutes…but then a familiar face stepped up to restore the anticipated state of affairs and the rest of the game was a breeze.
MESSI DOES IT AGAIN
United’s fine early work was undone with a flash of genius from Lionel Messi, who opened the scoring after 15 minutes to give his side total command of the tie: he took advantage of some sloppy work from Ashley Young to win the ball on the right corner of the box, beat Fred with a sublime nutmeg and cut inside to unleash a brilliant strike into the far corner.
Messi pounced again minutes later, although his second strike owed a lot to a terrible error from United keeper David De Gea, who somehow allowed Messi’s half-hit right-footed strike from the edge of the box to squirm through his grasp and roll apologetically over the line.
Having effectively settled the contest, Messi proceeded to torment the visiting defence with a motivated and high-tempo display, with a particular highlight coming just before half-time when he twisted Phil Jones inside-out with a sensational dribble which nearly led to a goal for Roberto.
This must have been the hardest he was worked off the ball in a long time, giving weight to the idea that he is reserving his energies for the competition Barca crave more than any other. With Messi in this mood, they must be favourites.
COUTINHO STATES HIS CASE
Valverde’s decision to start with Coutinho ahead of Dembele will have been badly received by many Barca supporters considering the Brazilian’s ineffectual form during the majority of the campaign, but he responded with an excellent performance capped by a magnificent third goal, thundered into the top right corner from long range.
There has never been any doubt over Coutinho’s talent, but the question of where he fits into the team tactically has been less clear. On this occasion, though, he looked perfectly comfortable on the left of the front three, linking well with Jordi Alba on the overlap and regularly coming inside to team up with Messi and midfield general Arthur.
With the end product of his outstanding goal added in, this was undoubtedly one of Coutinho’s best performances in a Barca shirt and it gives Valverde an interesting and welcome dilemma ahead of the semi-finals.
Dembele is regaining full fitness and was in the team on merit before getting injured, but Coutinho playing like this is also well worth a start – and if Liverpool also advance, he will naturally be desperate to shine against his former club.
The youngest-ever captain in a Champions League knockout game rose into the heavens like Cristiano Ronaldo and came back down with a fairytale semi-final berth for Ajax in Turin.
Matthijs De Ligt, who turns 20 in August, scored a thunderous header in the second half to deservedly secure safe passage for his side in a 2-1 victory against an underwhelming Juventus.
Ronaldo had opened the scoring with a header of his own after a unfortunate coming together between De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong from a corner, but Donny van de Beek soon levelled with a smart finish.
Juve well and truly lost their way in the second half as Ajax spurned a hatful of chances, but De Ligt had the final say.
Acres of internet space have been dedicated to the rising fame of Dutch starlets De Ligt and De Jong, with Donny van de Beek the footnote.
Not any more – not after this performance. While De Ligt delivered a headbutt to Juventus’ Champions League dreams for another year, and a half-fit De Jong imposed his will in midfield, Van de Beek drew most of the eyeballs.
Though usually a No6, Erik ten Hag has pushed the 21-year-old up-field in the Champions League knockouts thus far and Juventus couldn’t cope up with his hyperspeed decision-making.
Donny van de Beek has now scored or created a goal vs. Bayern, Real Madrid & Juventus in the UCL this season.— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 16, 2019
Indeed so high did Van de Beek play he was the furthest forward at times, finding pockets of space behind Daniele Rugani and Leonardo Bonucci, with the central pairing drawn into Hakim Ziyech and David Neres’ bursts on the wings.
Van de Beek took down Ziyech’s errant shot expertly – and remained onside – to slot past Wojciech Szczesny.
Neres, Ziyech and Dusan Tadic were also superb, but if they had shown half the composure of Van de Beek in the final third, Juve would have been utterly humiliated.
JUVE GOT PROBLEMS
The year 1996 should be a joyous one in Juventus’ history, but time has tinged it with bitterness. It’s been that long since the Old Lady lifted the Champions League trophy – the irony that it came against Ajax should not be lost – and not even Ronaldo could take them all the way during another futile campaign.
This one could mark the end of Max Allegri, despite building a fine reputation in Turin. Ultimately, Juve looked bereft of ideas and their tactics were puzzling to say the least.
The Bianconeri committed to attacking from out wide despite the absence of Douglas Costa and Joao Cancelo, and a sluggish Mattia De Sciglio at right-back.
Two-legged xG map for Ajax - Juventus. This isn't one of those underdog runs where you defend like hell and get a little lucky. Ajax are running folks over playing their game. pic.twitter.com/pDmWVPNtZ7— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) April 16, 2019
Federico Bernardeschi had one of the poorest games he’ll ever have in a central midfield that were so ponderous up against a vibrant Ajax.
Where they’ve added Ronaldo they’ve also lost Paulo Dybala, the nominal striker who was only nominally on the pitch. Wonderkid Moise Kean added some impetus in the second half but it was all disjointed behind him.
Where to next for Juve?
With the clamour from fat cat clubs for a European Super League building by the week, it is always a refreshing sight to see relatively impoverished sides punching above their weight.
Except Ajax aren’t defying the odds. At least not in terms of their playing personnel. De Ligt is every inch the peer of any defender left in the competition,
De Jong is as metronomic as a (soon-to-be) Barca midfielder at his best, while Tadic, Van de Beek, Neres and Ziyech are options any top side would crave.
It's almost like the Champions League is better when teams from more than just the five countries with the largest TV markets do well and we shouldn't just cram the competition full of as many of them as possible.— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) April 16, 2019
Thanks to savvy spending and a once-in-a-generation academy output, Ajax should be seen as the equals of any club in Europe.
It’s a shame that the inevitable break-up will start this summer, with De Jong’s departure to Barca only the start of an inevitable exodus.
As it is though, Manchester City or Tottenham would be foolish to think that a semi-final against Ajax is an easier prospect than facing Barca or Liverpool.
Ajax fans, and neutrals the world over, should dare to dream like it’s 1995 again.