Ajax face Celtic at the Amsterdam Arena on Thursday, in the opening round of the group matches in this season’s Europa League. Drawn in Group A with Turkish side Fenerbache and Norwegian team Molde, both Ajax and Celtic will be looking for a winning start to their Europa League campaign.
Ajax are a changed club from the side that dominated the European football scene in the 1970’s, exiting this seasons Champions League at the play-off round to Rapid Vienna. They then negotiated a tense play-off round against Czech side FK Baumit Jablonec to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League. Managed by former Dutch internationalist Frank De Boer, Ajax have begun to build for the future, focussing on young players with the average age of the side in recent weeks being just 21. The Ajax team is now built on young hungry players, who may not win all their matches, but are focussed fully on learning and progressing as players. The first names on De Boer’s teams sheet are 21-year-old Poland internationalist Arkadiusz Milik, 18-year-old midfielder Riecheldy Bazoer and 20 year-old Daley Sinkgraven. Despite now lacking the big names of recently departed stars such as Daley Blind and Christian Eriksen, the most successful club and now one of the youngest teams in Holland, have potential to cause Celtic problems.
Celtic go into tomorrow’s match on the back of a league defeat to Aberdeen last weekend. Having failed to negotiate the Champions League qualifying for a second season, manager Ronny Deila knows only too well the importance of a strong showing in this season’s Europa League. Having reached the last 32 of the tournament last season before succumbing to Inter Milan 4-3, Deila and his players know that a repeat of this performance is the minimum target. Celtic will be without versatile defender Charlie Mulgrew as well as midfielders Stuart Armstrong and Scott Allan for tomorrow’s match. The loss of Mulgrew could see transfer deadline day signing Jozo Simunovic making his debut at the back for Celtic. The Croatian under-21 player was signed as a replacement for Virgil van Dijk who made a move to Premier League team Southampton. Celtic will again look to striker Leigh Griffith as a goal scoring threat, with the Scotland internationalist having scored 5 goals in his last 6 matches.
Ajax and Celtic have never met in the Europa League before but did meet in the Champions League in 2013 with Ajax recording a 1-0 win in Amsterdam after losing 2-1 in Glasgow.
Ajax are 1.80 (4/5) to win on Thursday with Celtic 5 (4/1) and the draw 3.8 (14/5). The football tip for tomorrow’s match is the draw at 3.8 (14/5).
By: Scott McGlynn