After a thrilling Round of 16 matchup against fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke have been drawn against iconic Dutch club, Ajax. Arguably one of the most historic clubs in all of Europe, Ajax have an astonishing pedigree, winners of four Champion’s Leagues, a Europa League title from the 1991-1992 campaign, and also won the now-defunct Cup Winner’s Cup.
The Dutch side’s name is synonymous with attacking football and developing talented youngsters of both past and present.
The Amsterdam side have reached this stage following through a Europa League campaign that showed just one loss, a 2-1 defeat in the round of 16 to FC Copenhagen. The Dutch side won their group with 14 points, including earning a win and a draw against fellow quarterfinalists Celta Vigo of Spain.
A Look at the Opposition
So far Ajax’s leading scorer is 19 year old Danish striker Kasper Dolberg who has netted 13 goals in the Eredivisie, and another 5 in European play. Midfielder Davy Klaassen has added 12 goals in league play, and 4 goals during Ajax’s Champions League qualifiers, but none in the 8 Europa League matches. Another of Ajax’s youngsters is their goalkeeper, 21 year old Andre Onana from Cameroon, who has made 37 appearances across all competitions, keeping 19 clean sheets according to transfermarkt.co.uk.
I asked Priya Ramesh to answer some questions about Schalke’s opponents to get a better sense of what the Gelsenkirchen side would be up against. Priya has written about Dutch football for BeNeFoot, as well as FourFourTwo, The Guardian, and many other sites. You can follow her on Twitter: @Priya8Ramesh.
What formation do you anticipate Ajax playing against Schalke?
Ajax will likely stick to the 4-3-3 they’ve been playing essentially all season. Dolberg withdrew from the Danish NT with an injury recently but I expect he’ll be fit by the time the Schalke fixture comes along. Ajax still use their wings quite a bit but the midfield really is what drives the team forward — typically (Hakim) Ziyech, who offers creativity, (Davy) Klaassen, who offers a threat in movement and especially movement into space, and finally (Lasse) Schone, who is the all-action defensive midfielder, although he could also be easily classified as a deep lying playmaker as well.
Which players should Schalke beware of?
Klaassen is the one I’d say. He has a knack of scoring key goals and popping up in good spaces.
What does Ajax need to do to advance to the Semis?
I think Ajax need to focus and not lose their heads more than anything. The defence, especially down the right has a tendency to switch off sometimes so it will be key to retain concentration throughout the two legs. Ajax haven’t done as well away as they have at home, so it’s perhaps not ideal that the second leg is away. I do think there’s enough quality in Ajax to make the semis, but they haven’t been as good at creating chances over the last few weeks as they were earlier in the season.
What is your prediction of the 1st leg in Amsterdam and of the matchup overall?
I’m biased, so I’m going to go for Ajax 2-1 Schalke in the first leg and then 1-1 in the second leg. But if you want a more objective prediction, I’d go with the exact opposite score lines. 1-1 in the first leg and 2-1 or 2-0 to Schalke in the second leg.
What to expect from Schalke:
For the Royal Blues, they’ve used a couple different formations recently. While they played a 4-4-2 in one of the EL legs against Borussia Mönchengladbach, they’ve used a 4-2-3-1 in their last three Bundesliga matches, including the 4-1 victory over Wolfsburg at the weekend. Guido Burgstaller will be the one to watch as he’s scored twice last weekend and has become the club’s top choice striker in recent weeks over Klaus-Jan Huntelaar.
However, Burgstaller is helped by a balanced attack. Alongside the Austrian striker are Ukrainian Yehven Konoplyanka, German Leon Goretzka, and Algerian Nabil Bentaleb are the joint top scorers for the club in Europa League at two apiece. The balance is further shown when you see that an additional seven players have also scored in the clubs ten matches so far.
With the two legs to begin on Thursday at the Amsterdam Arena, both sides should feel they are more than capable of taking another step to the Europa League final set for Solna, Sweden on May 24.