Chelsea travel to Amsterdam looking to make it back to back wins in the Champions League Group Stage following a 2-1 win over Lille in the previous round of fixtures.
Ajax sit top of the group after dispatching Lille and Valencia 3-0 in their opening games, and will be full of confidence heading into this one, sitting top of the Eredivise, unbeaten in ten league games. However, Ajax rode their luck in both of their Champions League games, and as a result Chelsea will have confidence of being able to trouble the Dutch side.
Chelsea head into the game on the back of a hard fought 1-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday courtesy of a Marcos Alonso goal, whilst a much-changed Ajax side required a late goal from Quincy Promes to come out on top 2-1 away at RKC Waalwijk.
N’Golo Kante is still doubtful for Chelsea, whilst both Ross Barkley and Cesar Azpilicueta went off injured on Saturday to add to Chelsea’s injury concerns in a thread-bare squad.
Ajax have looked to line up in a 4-3-3 formation this season domestically, as they look to find the best way to utilise their impressive attacking talent this season. They have been scoring goals for fun, with Dusan Tadic, Quincy Promes and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all netting five in the league. Tadic has been the driving force creativily with 8 assists, whilst they are racking up in impressive 23.9 shots per game. However, in their opening two Champions League games, this has switched to a 4-2-3-1, with midfielders Alvarez and Martinez employed in more defensive roles to try and add solidity to the Ajax midfield.
Ajax look to retain possession for long periods, and possess a side who are all comfortable in possession. Domestically, they are averaging 61% possession, however in their two Champions League games, this has dropped to 51.7%, as they come up against a higher calibre of opposition. Daley Blind is imperative to the side playing out from the back alongside Joel Veltman, and are averaging 92 and 73 passes per game respectively. This highlights how comfortable they are on the ball, and how they will fancy their chances of playing through Chelsea’s high press, which will be led by the in-form Tammy Abraham. These numbers do drop in Champions League games as Martinez and Alvarez are expected to dominate the ball more, but they should still feel comfortable playing through the Chelsea press.
If able to play through the press as the statistics suggest, it will expose Chelsea’s midfield and defence, and could potentially lead to a very open game. Ajax do look to
employ a high line when in possession themselves, and have shown that they do leave themselves open to counter attacks, particularly against Lille, who were very wasteful in their 3-0 defeat. The pace of Lille’s attack worried the Dutch side, who let up an xG of 2 in that game compared to Ajax’s 1.51, highlighting the ability other sides have had in terms of chance creation. It was a similar story against Valencia, who managed an xG of 2.04, including a missed penalty, overperforming Ajax’s 1.55, so it is fair to say that Ajax’s 3-0 wins have flattered them both times.
Frank Lampard has looked to adapt his side tactically throughout the season as he juggles a stretched squad with injuries and domestic/European competitions. On Saturday, he opted to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, as they looked to break down a resolute Newcastle side. In their two previous Champions League games, Lampard has opted for a 3-4-2-1 formation, and he could look to do so once again in an attempt to deal with the fluid front four of Ajax. Allowing Alonso and James a license to roam forward, it creates further defensive solidity in the midfield, whilst Mount and Willian provide more central support for Abraham. Whether he looks to adapt to include Hudson-Odoi is an option, however his defensive work rate is at times questionable, and could leave the wing backs exposed against the likes of Neres and Ziyech, as well as the two full backs for Ajax who press on to provide further width.
In games against the likes of Wolves, Lampard has been more than happy for his side to sit deeper and hit the opposition on the break, and the pace of Tammy Abraham through the middle could be key. Veltman currently possesses strong aerial statistics, winning 4.1 aerial duels per game, and although Abraham does have the ability to cause the Dutchman problems, he will look to isolate Daley Blind in the high line. Furthermore, the Ajax full backs are expected to push high and provide width in attacks, similar to that of Chelsea’s, and will leave space in the channels for Chelsea to exploit, particularly through the in form Willian and Mason Mount.
Injuries are restricting Chelsea’s ability to rotate, and Ross Barkley was the latest to go off. His replacement Matteo Kovacic himself was a doubt for the game after picking up a knock for Croatia, and fatigue could play its part in what should be another open, attacking game. N’Golo Kante is expected to miss out, and the energy in Chelsea’s midfield will have to come from Kovacic and Jorginho, and as alluded to previously, if looking to press high through Mount and Abraham, could leave the midfield open.
The open nature of the game suggests that cards could come into play for this encounter, and in stretched games where Ajax and Chelsea are both susceptible to the counter, cynical fouls are often dished out. Ajax have racked up 7 yellow cards in their opening two games, including two for goalkeeper Andre Onana, and this is in part down to the cynical challenges required with their high line and open play.
Nicolas Tagliafico is a stand-out in the cards market, and has already picked up 4 yellow cards for Ajax domestically this season, and a further one in the Champions League has followed. and he could be of interest at 3.25 (William Hill), coming up against the in-form Willian on the right wing. Daley Blind, coming up against Tammy Abraham, could also be left exposed, and if so, looks a big price at 8.0 (Bet365) on the card markets.
When factoring in both the tactical and statistical side of the game for both sides, it points in the direction of an attacking, open game. Ajax are particularly susceptible to the counter and have been lucky to keep clean sheets in their opening two games, whilst Chelsea should’ve beaten Valencia and impressed against Lille.
Ajax have been over-performing their xG in both group games this season, and are very lucky to still not have conceded a goal. Chelsea are in form and settling nicely to Lampard’s tactics, and will fancy their chances of nicking a result at the Amsterdam Arena. Priced at 5.5 (William Hill), Chelsea and both teams to score does take an interest in terms of a value punt.
Priced at 1.83 (Bet365), the safer option if fancying goals is Over 2.5 goals and both teams to score, and the tactics and statistics of both sides reinforce that this looks a strong option.
Given the potentially stretched nature of the game, and Ajax’s ill discipline so far in the Champions League campaign, Nicholas Tagliafico definitely takes appeal at 3.25 (WilliamHill) to be carded. Referee Ovidiu Hategan has averaged 4.8 cards across 10 games this season, and isn’t shy to dish out the cards, and as a result simply taking a number of cards for either side would be advised. However, at the time of writing the markets weren’t available, so will be worth checking out closer to the match.