Last Updated: 12/02/19 5:56pm
Frenkie de Jong is fit to play for Ajax against Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 first leg on Wednesday night, boss Erik ten Hag confirmed.
Ajax enter the last-16 clash for the first time since the 2005/06 season and have never progressed to a further stage.
However, last season’s Eredivisie runners-up are unbeaten in the competition this season and finished just two points behind Bayern Munich in Group E on 12 points.
They will face Madrid with De Jong, who will join Barcelona for an initial £65m fee in July, confirmed as fit enough to play at least some part in the game after exacerbating an adductor injury at the weekend.
Ten Hag said: “Frenkie [de Jong] is fit; he is looking forward to the game, just like we all are.
“Top teams can play very offensively, but also shut up tight and then break at pace. Real Madrid have a very experienced team, with guys like (Sergio) Ramos, (Toni) Kroos, (Luka) Modric and (Karim) Benzema, but also a good mix.
“It is going to be a great challenge for us to achieve something positive. We know we can be strong on this stage, and certainly in Amsterdam.”
Madrid are looking to win their fourth straight Champions League trophy this season and Santiago Solari says his side will be fully focused on the match amid reports Marcelo could be on his way out of the club.
He said: “Marcelo is a great player. He’s our vice-captain and he always puts Madrid first. He’s training very well.
“When you lose everything’s bad and when you win everything’s good. Tomorrow is an important game and that’s what our focus is on.”
“We have great memories of this stadium. Let’s hope that continues tomorrow. They’re a side who link up well, build the play well and have good players. You have to respect every opponent. I hope we produce a performance as serious as we did three days ago.”
De Jong is set to feature in Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg against Madrid.
The 21-year-old was forced off the pitch 10 minutes from time as Ajax lost to Heracles Almelo in the Eredivisie on Saturday. He had been struggling before the game with injury but was passed fit to play.
Ajax also have concerns over the fitness of Nicolas Tagliafico, who completed Saturday’s match but has been battling with a knee complaint, local media reported.
Solari could name an unchanged side to the one that beat rivals Atletico Madrid 3-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.
Jesus Vallejo and Luca Zidane are both ruled out (hamstring). Isco was not included in Real’s 23-man squad as he has a back and neck injury.
- Ajax have lost their last six games in European competition against Real Madrid, scoring only two goals and conceding 20. Ajax’s last victory against the Merengues dates back to November 1995, a 2-0 Champions League group stage victory at the Bernabeu with goals from Jari Litmanen and Patrick Kluivert.
- There’s only ever been one draw between Ajax and Real Madrid – it came in their first ever competitive encounter, a European Cup first round match in Amsterdam back in 1967/68 which ended 1-1. The opening goal of the game was scored by Johan Cruyff.
- Ajax were one of five teams to remain unbeaten in this season’s Champions League group stages, along with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Lyon and Porto.
- Ajax have lost just one of their last 21 European home matches (W13 D7), winning five of their six matches at the Johan Cruyff Arena so far in 2018/19, qualifiers included.
- Ten of Ajax’s 11 goals in this season’s Champions League have been scored in the second-half (91%). Meanwhile, 80% of goals conceded by the Dutch side have come from set-piece (4 out of 5).
- It’s been 22 years since Ajax progressed through a Champions League knockout stage – it was in the 1996/97 campaign when the Dutch side overcame Atlético Madrid in the quarter-finals before being eliminated by Juventus in the semi-finals.
- Real Madrid have won the Champions League four times in the last five seasons. In fact, Juventus were the last team to eliminate Real in a Champions League knockout phase, back in the 2014/15 semi-finals.
- Real Madrid have reached the Champions League knockout stages for the 22nd consecutive season, a record run in the history of the competition. This includes making it to the semis in each of the last eight campaigns, also a record run.
- Real Madrid had more shots (120) and touches inside the opposition box (237) than any other team in this season’s Champions League group stages.
- Dusan Tadic has scored five of Ajax’s last six goals in the Champions League. He has the best conversion rate of any player with at least five goals in this season’s competition, finding the net with 45% of his shots (5 out of 11).
- Gareth Bale has scored five goals in his last six Champions League games, that’s as many as in his previous 32 appearances in the competition. However, he’s found the net in only two of his last 23 knockout games, both times in the final (2014 and 2018).
Ajax have found their mojo and are a decent force again, but there is a combination of old and young. Tadic has the creative spark. Hakim Ziyech and Klaas Jan Huntelaar are scoring. They have never changed their philosophy on how they wanted to master the art of entertaining football.
Young players are probably not as good as they should be, but they are covering it with Daley Blind, who is back now. It is about understanding the club and integrating young players into the football club that they know. I have always had a lot of respect for them. They have a lovely stadium in the centre of the city, and one of the most iconic kits.
They have the history behind them and I would love to see them back among the best. They are capable of upsetting Real Madrid but it’s great to see them here. This is the game to watch.
CHARLIE SAYS: 2-3 (18/1 with Sky Bet)