Two teams of contrasting styles once again go head-to-head in the eagerly awaited second leg of their Champions League Quarter-Final bout. A week ago in Amsterdam, Ajax and Juventus played out a 1-1 draw at the Johann Cruyff Arena, goals courtesy of David Neres and Cristiano Ronaldo, respectively.
Ajax enjoyed the greater possession, which Juve were happy to concede though fortunate to just relinquish a single strike, the net and goalkeeper Wojech Szczęsny peppered by a disproportionate amount of shots by a team that has already scored 106 goals in the Eredivisie.
Blockbuster Bianconeri summer signing Ronaldo, with that vital away goal, has now extended a simply mind blowing goalscoring feat. The competition’s all-time top goalscorer is on 125 goals, achieved as part of the teams of Manchester United, Real Madrid, and now Juventus.
There was a time when fellow Los Blancos’ legend Raúl and his long-standing tally seemed unsurmountable; now Lionel Messi remains the only player within 50 goals of Ronaldo’s extraordinary achievement (the Argentine goes into his own second-leg with Barcelona against Manchester United registering 108).
The era of Messi and Ronaldo has taken the premier European competition into realms once deemed unthinkable. Whilst Messi has helped bring back four Champions League trophies to Barcelona, Ronaldo has one more with five over his time in both England and Spain.
With the purchase of the 33-year-old Portuguese from Real Madrid in that €100million deal in the summer of 2018, and after seven (soon to be eight) successive Scudettos, European glory seems to be at the forefront of Juventus’ minds.
Juventus haven’t won the elusive trophy in over two decades, the accolade completely bypassing the long and illustrious careers of such figures as Pavel Nedved, Lilian Thurman, and Gigi Buffon with the Old Lady, since the last triumph in 1996.
A goalless draw or a victory at home in the Allianz this week will not only secure Juventus passage into the semi-finals, but will mean that they are unbeaten in their last 11 meetings with Ajax in all competitions, the joint-longest such run for one side against another in European matches, alongside Bayern Munich against Benfica.
Juventus are looking to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the third time in the last five seasons, both previous times progressing to the final where they were ultimately defeated by a continental treble-winning Barcelona in 2014/15, and a Ronaldo led Real Madrid two years later.
Juventus have remained one of the favourites for the competition throughout the campaign, though hasn’t been ensured by their form throughout the tournament. Massimiliano Allegri’s side have suffered three defeats in their last six games, and two of their last five Champions League home fixtures, as many as they had in their previous 45 in the competition.
This year, Ronaldo waited until the round of 16 to truly open his account, only bagging two in the group stages before his hat trick against Atlético Madrid produced the staggering comeback from a 2-0 deficit and allowed Juventus to progress, his doggedness in securing a fourth straight medal in the competition staggering.
Ronaldo has also scored in his last five Champions League games against Ajax, for a total of eight goals. The Portuguese has also scored 51% of his total goals in the competition in the knockout stages - that’s 61 out of that accumulated 125 - and from the Quarter-Finals has an astonishing 100% progression to the next round from his 11 appearances, having assisted with 24 goals in that particular stage.
That’s more than 14 more than any other challenger. It’s hard to write off Ronaldo making the required impact for further individual glory, and fresh new for Juventus.