The Champions League third round qualifiers get started this week and one of the main attractions occurs on Tuesday night as Ajax make the journey to Stadio Toumbas where they’ll meet PAOK for a 6pm BST kick off. The pair have done battle before, with the most recent encounter taking place in July of 2017, finishing 4-2 in favour of the Dutch side. That was a friendly, but this game has much, much more on the line.
PAOK are joining the Champions League qualifiers for the first time this season, having only played friendlies prior to this matchup. The first of those outings came away at AZ Alkmaar which ended 1-0 to the hosts, however they soon bounced back from that with a resounding 0-3 result against Nordsjaelland. A stalemate at PEC Zwolle was succeeded by another victory, this time versus Anderlecht by three goals to one. It was PAOK’s last outing that was most successful though, as Fortuna Sittard were handed a 1-5 crushing by Razvan Lucescu’s men. Those games pale in comparison to the importance of this one though, and supporters should expect a fiery atmosphere.
Last season’s Champions League semi-finalists began pre-season in mid-July against Istanbul Basaksehir, in which they were victors by two goals to one. That result was repeated in their favour when they met Watford four days later, and a 6-2 seeing off of OFI Crete took place on the same day as their loss against Panathinaikos, 1-2. Ajax were then crowned Super Cup champions when they beat PSV Eindhoven 2-0 thanks to goals from Dolberg and former Manchester United man Daley Blind, while two draws on the bounce when playing Sivasspor and Vitesse precede this matchup. Nothing should be read into the score-lines from pre-season, but with some big players from last season leaving during the summer it’s difficult to see Ajax going on a similar run this time around.
Mauricio, Vieirinha and Pontus Wernbloom are all out of this game due to their respective injuries, with the first two expected to return later this Autumn. Goalkeeper Zivkovic could make his competitive debut for PAOK on Tuesday, while Varela, Crespo, Giannoulis and Rodrigo are all fighting for a starting spot in defence. With two defensive midfielders out injured, Esiti will likely get the nod along with Kace, and Misic or Moulin should begin the match in the centre of the field. In attack, fans can expect to see Henrique on the left and either Limnios or Jaba to the right hand side, supporting striker Chuba Akpom.
There’s just one injury doubt for Ajax as they continue preparations for this one, with Hassane Bande missing out due to fibula shaft fractures. As goalkeeper, Onana will keep his spot as the club’s main number one, protected by a back line of Blind, Alvarez, Magallan, Tagliafico, with Mazraoui hopes to start in right back. Schone enjoyed a fantastic season in 2018/19 and will probably play alongside Donny van de Beek in midfield, as a forward threat of Dusan Tadic, David Neres, Hakim Ziyech and Kasper Dolberg will look to terrify opposition defenders in Europe for a successive season.
Ajax are heavy favourites ahead of this one, and understandably so. With a brilliant experience during last campaign there’s no reason for them to lose any belief, although this tie will be very tough. @ 2.00, Ajax to win isn’t looking a bad bet at all for our first tip. We can see a couple of goals flying in due to the attacking nature of both teams, particularly the visitors, with virtually none of their star-players of last season leaving the club during the summer. With odds of 2.10 for over 2.5 goals, we think everyone should get right on it. In the end, Ajax will prove too much for their opponents and in spite of some defensive-minded men finding new teams, the attack looks as good as ever. Our final tip is Ajax to win and BTTS @ 3.20.