Ajax will take on Lille at the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie on Thursday, 25 February 2021.
The Amsterdammers have now extended their winning form against Lille to three matches, winning the two of their previous meetings in the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage.
Both sides are top of the table in their respective domestic leagues and whereas Ajax are red-hot favorites to retain their Eredivisie title, Lille still have a long way to go if they are to conquer the French Ligue 1 in a fierce competition alongside Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco.
Ajax earned a hard-fought 2-1 lead after their visit to North France last week.
Timothy Weah took advantage of an error by Ajax’s defense and when it seemed that the French side would maintain their impressive defensive performance, Ajax reacted in an admirable manner to mount a late comeback and thus claimed a 2-1 lead before the second leg.
Thanks to Weah’s opener, Lille were leading until the closing minutes of the first leg when, some would say, Slovak referee Ivan Kurzliak awarded a controversial penalty for the away side, which eventually inspired their comeback.
Ajax Betting Preview
The Amsterdammers are enjoying a 10-game winning streak and a 15-match unbeaten run (13-2-0) since they lost three consecutive games in early-December, including a crucial 1-0 home defeat to Atalanta in their last match of the Champions League group stage.
As a result of the aforementioned defeat to Italian Atalanta, Erik ten Hag’s side finished third in the group and will seek consolation in the UEFA Europa League, where they have reached the final in 2017, but lost to José Mourinho’s Manchester United side.
Following a 4-2 home win against Sparta Rotterdam at the weekend, Ajax remains six points clear of rivals PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie and also have a game in hand.
Dutch teenager Brian Brobbey scored a late winner for Ajax’s 2-1 win at Stade Pierre-Mauroy and could be an option to lead the line on Thursday, particularly considering that winter signing Sébastien Haller had been mistakenly omitted from Ajax’s squad list for the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League and therefore would be unable to play.
However, Erik ten Hag could also opt for captain Dusan Tadic’s experience and Brobbey can be introduced late in the game.
Ajax’s first-choice goalkeeper André Onana is banned for twelve months and veteran Maarten Stekelenburg will once again start in goal.
Nicolas Tagliafico and Noussair Mazraoui had injuries with Perr Schuurs stepping into the centre-back role and Daley Blind going to the left and Jurrien Timber to the right. With Tagliafico and Mazraoui both doubts for the coming game, Erik ten Hag could use the same core of players that won at Lille last week.
Moreover, the hosts are boosted by the return of Ryan Gravenberch, who was ruled out of the first leg through suspension, so his presence would allow Daley Blind to drop back into Ajax’s back four.
Mohammed Kudus was fit enough to start in the midfield on Sunday and the talented Ghanaian attacking midfielder could also be in contention to start against Lille in midweek.
Lille Betting Preview
Les Dogues finished fourth in Ligue 1 last season but their progress over the past couple of months has been really remarkable, considering that Christophe Galtier’s side are now top of the table, three points above Lyon in second and four points above the defending champions PSG in third.
Lille’s home defeat to Ajax ended an eight game unbeaten run (7-1-0) for the French side – since a surprising 2-1 home defeat to Angers in Ligue 1 on 6 January. However, Christophe Galtier’s men were reluctant to slow down following some unpleasant results in the past week regained their winning momentum with a 4-1 win at an in-form Lorient side over the weekend and also benefited from PSG’s mistake on Sunday, when the Parisians suffered a disappointing 2-0 home defeat to AS Monaco.
All in all, Lille are enjoying a marvelous form and have won their last eight away games, keeping six clean sheets in the process.
Domagoj Bradaric could start at left-back instead of Reinildo Mandava, who picked up an injury in the first leg but it wasn’t something serious and he featured at Lorient on Sunday. Bradaric even scored the fourth goal against Lorient and the Croatian could get more minutes in Amsterdam.
Lille’s top goalscorer Burak Yilmaz still recovers from a calf injury and the Turkey veteran will likely miss out here, though Christophe Galtier still has some excellent forwards at his disposal, including Yilmaz’s fellow compatriot Yusuf Yazici, as well as talented youngsters like USA international Timothy Weah, Jonathan Ikone and Canadian Jonathan David.
Fellow midfielders Xeka and Benjamin Andre are both back from suspension and should be in contention to feature in central midfield for Lille.
Once recognized as one of the biggest talents in European football, Renato Sanches was the Best Young Player at the UEFA Euro 2016. However, almost five years since Portugal’s unforgettable triumph in France, the Portuguese midfielder struggled with his development but it seems that he now revives his career at Lille and despite some injury setbacks in the past few months, he could get the nod over countryman Xeka, who started in central midfield at the weekend.
Possible Starting Lineups of Lille and Ajax
Lille: Mike Maignan – Zeki Celik, José Fonte, Sven Botman, Domagoj Bradaric – Timothy Weah, Renato Sanches, Benjamin Andre, Jonathan Bamba – Yusuf Yazici, Jonathan David. (4-4-2)
Ajax: Maarten Stekelenburg – Daley Blind, Lisandro Martinez, Perr Schuurs, Jurrien Timber – Ryan Gravenberch, Edson Álvarez – David Neres, Davy Klaassen, Antony – Dusan Tadic. (4-2-3-1)
Spooky Express Betting Prediction
Lille were furious with the referee’s decision to award a penalty for Ajax which clearly proves how devoted they are to the UEFA Europa League commitment, even though the competition sometimes remains underestimated for sides coming from Europe’s top leagues.
We have two excellent squads involved in one of the fascinating Europa League round of 32 ties and to be honest, this seems to be a matchup that was ideal for a more advanced stage of the competition. However, the draw wasn’t favorable for either side and one of them will have to leave the competition so early, while the winners will boost their hopes to reach the final in Gdansk.
Spooky Express Free Play: Over 2½, 3 (2.75 Goals) -107 @ BetOnline for 7/10 Units