Ajax vs Roma | Thursday 8th April 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
The Champions League football this week has been absolutely electric, but it was merely a precursor to Europe’s real premier competition – the Europa League.
AS Roma travel to the Dutch capital to take on AFC Ajax in their quarter final first leg, and they’ll be looking to leave their dismal away league form back in Italy.
Paulo Fonseca’s have won just five of their 14 games on the road in Serie A, including not winning any of their seven games away to sides in the top ten.
I Giallorossi have failed to score in four of those seven games, but have conceded at least twice in every single of them (at an average of 3 goals per game).
It leaves a lot to be desired for the Italian side, though their Europa League form is a little more encouraging. They’ve won eight of their 10 games (including four of five away) across the continent this season, but they’ll have to be at their best when they take on this all-conquering Ajax side.
Erik ten Hag’s men have been formidable since the winter break; winning 18 of their 20 games on the way to opening up an 11 point gap at the top of the Eredivisie, and have already booked their place in the final of the KNVB Beker.
De Godenzonen’s rich vein of form has been accompanied by a plethora of goals, which has seen them net 17 times in their last five home games – and 34 in their last 11.
No player exemplifies that uptick in performances more than Serbian international Dusan Tadic, who has been almost replicating his output from the season in which Ajax made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
The former Southampton forward has nine goals and 14 assists in 18 appearances for club and country since January 28th and he’ll fancy his chances against Roma’s worryingly shaky defence.
I’d expect him to cause major problems for Roma’s right-sided centre-back Gianluca Mancini, who has been no stranger to a card this season.
The Italian defender has picked up 11 yellow cards in 30 starts for his side in all competitions, including two in three Europa League starts.
He’s currently committing an average of 3.0 fouls per game in Europe (2.1 in Serie A) and will be up against Ajax’s most fouled player (2.8) in Tadic who, despite being the centre forward in all four of his Europa League starts, often occupies the space that Mancini is asked to defend.
Unfortunately the bookies are all too aware of this, and it means he’s as short as 11/8 for a card in some places. Thankfully, not everyone is that stingy, so I’ll be taking Gianluca Mancini to be carded at 7/4 with bet365.
The price is still a little on the short side but I was won over by the appointment of Sergey Karasev as referee.
The Russian official has dished out a whopping 104 yellow cards and nine red cards in 20 appearances this season – including 19 yellows and one red in his three Europa League outings this term.
Looking into him further and in the 10 Europa League games he’s taken charge of since the start of the 2017 league season, he’s shown an astonishing 62 yellows and four reds at an almost unbelievable 72.0 booking points per game.
Another selection I like the look of is the aforementioned Dusan Tadic to Make An Assist at 9/4 with William Hill.
No player in the ‘Top 15’ Leagues has made more assists in all competitions than the Serb, and his current run of 14 in 18 games for club and country is simply sensational.
Four of his assists this season have come in European competition, as well as creating three ‘big chances’ in four Europa League games, while he’s registering 3.8 key passes per game.
It’s hard to see past Ajax to win this game to be honest, with Roma dealing with several injuries to important players and discontent within the club building every day.
The Dutch side should fancy their chances of heading to Rome next week with the advantage, and will back themselves to make it to the semis against a side that has lost five of its last six quarter-final ties.
Ajax vs Roma – Dusan Tadic to make an assist (9/4 William Hill)
Ajax vs Roma – Gianluca Mancini to be carded (7/4 Bet365)