MX23RW : Tuesday, May 11 17:05:44| >> :60:1163:1163:
Apr 15, 2021 at 8pm UK at Stadio Olimpico
RomaRoma
1-1
AjaxAjax
Dzeko (72')
Ibanez (43'), Veretout (67'), Mancini (68'), Dzeko (79'), Cristante (86')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Brobbey (49')
Tagliafico (89'), Martinez (90+2')

Preview: Roma vs. Ajax - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Roma and Ajax, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Following a fortunate first leg win in Amsterdam last week, Roma welcome Eredivisie leaders Ajax to Stadio Olimpico on Thursday, with a place in the Europa League semi-finals at stake.

Having ended the Dutch giants' 10-game unbeaten home run in the competition, the Giallorossi now seek to capitalise on their advantage from the opening game, with two valuable away goals in hand.


Match preview

Roger Ibanez in action for Roma on December 6, 2020© Reuters

Despite an unconvincing display at the Johan Cruijff ArenA last Thursday, Roma earned their fifth straight Europa League win by coming from behind to beat a buoyant Ajax side which had previously gone undefeated in 2021.

Though both teams had several injury issues going into the high-profile clash, the hosts largely dominated - having two-thirds of possession and twice as many shots as their visitors - while failing to make the most of some presentable opportunities after taking the lead.

That lack of a clinical edge proved costly when rookie goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen then fumbled Lorenzo Pellegrini's free kick over the line for the Giallorossi's second-half equaliser, before Roger Ibanez - who had clumsily given away a penalty earlier on - swivelled to volley an unstoppable second into Scherpen's top corner late on.

A 2-1 triumph continued Roma's impressive dominance in continental competition this year, as since the knockout rounds commenced, Paulo Fonseca's side have routinely disposed of their European opponents despite some frustratingly inconsistent Serie A showings of late.

Having previously ousted two of his former clubs - by beating Braga in the last 32 and then Shakhtar Donetsk in the following round - Fonseca could now take Roma into the final four of the competition for the first time; staying in with a shot of securing the Champions League spot reserved for the side crowned Europa League champions next month.

The much-maligned Portuguese coach may well need to earn a place through that route, as in the closely-fought battle for a top four finish in the league, the Giallorossi's form has faltered recently, with successive defeats to relegation-threatened Parma and close rivals Napoli being followed by a draw with mid-table Sassuolo.

At the weekend, though, Roma did manage to edge past Bologna by a single Borja Mayoral goal, leaving them seventh in the standings but still in danger of missing out on a return to Europe next term - a minimum requirement for the club's ambitious hierarchy.

Dusan Tadic pictured for Ajax in December 2019© Reuters

In seeing their unbeaten home streak of 15 Europa League games ended last week, Ajax were left frustrated at being outfoxed by unconvincing opponents in the opening leg of the quarter-final.

Erik ten Hag's men had been relentless since the turn of the year - only dropping points to PSV in their last 13 league matches - and were hopeful of using that momentum to secure a semi-final spot in Europe's second-tier competition after dropping out of the Champions League last autumn.

Such a scintillating run of form has seen the squad skippered by 22-goal Serbian schemer Dusan Tadic - who saw Roma's Pau Lopez stand firm to save his centrally-struck penalty last week - open an 11-point lead at the top of the table, with a 35th domestic crown now looking increasingly inevitable.

However, having beaten Ligue 1 leaders Lille twice in the last 32 - before completing another double over Young Boys in the next round to reach the competition's quarter-finals for only the second time in nine knockout campaigns - De Godenzonen now face missing out on a re-match with their 2017 Final conquerors Manchester United in the semis.

With the victors on Thursday set to face either La Liga upstarts Granada or - more likely, given events in that tie's opening leg - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's in-form United side, motivation remains high in the Ajax camp.

Belief that they can overhaul their deficit at a venue where Roma have been largely imperious this season will be bolstered by the evidence of last Thursday, when the Italian outfit's defensive deficiencies were exposed, if not fully exploited.

The Serie A side have frequently gifted goals to the opposition by injudiciously playing out from the back this term, with several errors seeing them concede 44 times in the league - the second-worst tally in the top half of the Italian top flight.

Furthermore, ahead of their trip to the Eternal City, free-scoring Ajax are undefeated in their last six visits to Italy and - after a 1-0 weekend win over RKC put them within touching distance of the Dutch title - all focus now turns to pulling off a stirring fightback at the Olimpico.

Roma Europa League form:
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Roma form (all competitions):
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • D
  • W
  • W

Ajax Europa League form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L

Ajax form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L
  • W



Team News

Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action for Roma on January 3, 2021© Reuters

Both managers face a series of selection issues ahead of Thursday's encounter, as injuries and suspensions continue to restrict options on either side.

Roma's injury-plagued winger Leonardo Spinazzola will miss out after sustaining a muscle injury in the first leg. The Italy international was replaced by young Riccardo Calafiori after just half an hour in Amsterdam and the primavera graduate is set to start on the left of the hosts' 3-4-2-1 formation, as alternative option Bruno Peres is suspended.

Chris Smalling and Stephan El Shaarawy remain doubtful for Paulo Fonseca's side due to thigh injuries, while Albanian centre-back Marash Kumbulla and golden boy Nicolo Zaniolo are both likely to miss the remainder of the season.

Nonetheless, versatile midfielder Bryan Cristante should add some stability to the defence upon his return from suspension and - after also serving a ban last time out in Europe - former Feyenoord wing-back Rick Karsdorp is poised to play on the left.

In further positive news for Fonseca, key creator Henrikh Mkhitaryan is back from his calf injury and could even feature from the start, while the ongoing duel between Europa League specialist Borja Mayoral and experienced target man Edin Dzeko for the lone striker's role continues - with the former Manchester City forward currently favourite to start.

After recently losing veteran pair Daley Blind and Maarten Stekelenburg to injury, Ajax manager Erik ten Hag could also be without young striker Brian Brobbey on Thursday. The 19 year-old was not selected against RKC after suffering a muscle injury, leaving a potential quandary for the visitors up front.

As they erroneously omitted record signing Sebastien Haller from their Europa League squad due to an administrative error, Sunday's match-winner has had no part to play in the Amsterdam club's continental campaign. As a result, influential captain Dusan Tadic may operate as a false nine for the hosts, having done so last week and on several occasions in the past.

Due to suspension, Devyne Rensch will be unavailable to start at right-back, so Sean Klaiber is likely to come in as one of few changes to the lineup, as Kjell Scherpen stands ready to deputise in goal again if Stekelenburg cannot recover in time.

Roma possible starting lineup:
Lopez; Mancini, Cristante, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Diawara, Veretout, Calafiori; Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan; Dzeko

Ajax possible starting lineup:
Stekelenberg; Klaiber, J. Timber, Martinez, Tagliafico; Alvarez, Klaassen, Gravenberch; Antony, Tadic, Neres


SM words green background

We say: Roma 1-1 Ajax

As the nation's last remaining representatives in Europe this season, Roma can keep the Italian flag flying thanks to their first leg advantage - with experienced campaigners Dzeko, Pedro and Mkhitaryan all poised to play a role in steering their team to a potential semi-final date with Manchester United.

A possible striker shortage for Ajax could keep the scoreline down in what is likely to be an open affair, so they may be left ruing the oversight that sees Sebastian Haller watching on from the sidelines rather than offering a focal point in attack.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a double chance bet on a home win or an away win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home/Away:data


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How you voted: Roma vs Ajax

Roma
41.9%
Draw
16.2%
Ajax
41.9%
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Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring against Granada in the Europa League on April 8, 2021
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