Ajax has been drawn with Chelsea, Lille, and Valencia for this season’s Champions League group stages and will be looking to surmount the challenges that these teams will pose in their path to the knockout rounds.
Ajax will be going into the Champions League campaign on an impressive league form, having scored a whopping 19 goals in just five matches and dropping their only points in their first match of the season.
They will be going into this Champions League campaign with a fresh team, however, having lost Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona and Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus – both key components of the squad that made it to the Champions League semi-finals last season.
We take a look at how the seasons of Chelsea, Valencia, and Lille have begun to have a view of their form going into the first round of group stage matches in the Champions League.
Chelsea, who will be playing Ajax on matchday three of the group stages, will be making an appearance after a one-year absence from the Champions League and will be coming into the season on the back of their triumph in the Europa League last year.
Their pairing with Ajax, Valencia, and Lille looks to be the most balanced among all the Champions League group, but they will have a bigger obstacle to face with Ajax than with Copa del Rey 2018/19 champions and Ligue 1 2018/19 runners-up, Lille. Newbie coach and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard can ride with his training wheels in this group stage, to get a feel of what it is to coach in the Champions League as he makes his managerial debut in the competition.
Chelsea has had an average start to the season, drawing two and winning two of their four matches thus far in the Premier League, and displaying the kind of defensive frailty that Ajax would love to exploit – they have conceded seven goals in four matches. However, they warmed up for their encounter with Valencia with a 5-2 victory over Premier League side Wolves on Saturday and will be beginning the tournament with a lot of oomph.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tammy Abraham
The 21-year old Chelsea striker has been in impressive form this season despite Chelsea’s defensive performances, and is currently the top goalscorer in the premier league, with seven goals from four matches. Although Chelsea has more experienced strikers in their ranks like World Cup-winning striker Olivier Giroud (who also finished last season as the top goalscorer in the Europa League), Lampard may just be looking to unleash the new and hungry Abraham on the Europa League to keep his momentum going for the Premier League.
Valencia, who will play Ajax on matchday two, will begin their Champions League campaign on the back of a poor league form and an internal crisis within the club. They have won one, drawn one and lost the other two (both away games) of their opening four La Liga games. Coupled with these troubles, there is disharmony in the club over the firing of Copa del Rey winning coach Marcelino, who took them back into the Champions League after a pronounced hiatus four seasons ago and has kept consistently doing so for the past four seasons.
Chelsea will be welcoming Valencia to Stamford Bridge, and Valencia will be going into the encounter on the back of a 5-2 loss on Saturday to Barcelona.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Gameiro
The French striker has been a bright spark in a dull Valencia attack, scoring two goals in four league games. He will be looking to add to his season tally against Chelsea and will be out for blood in the Champions League.
Ajax will kick off their Champions League campaign against Ligue 1 runners-ups, Lille, who will be coming into the Champions League on the back of strong Ligue 1 performances. Their sale of Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal in the summer transfer window hasn’t weakened them as many believed it would, as they have made a decent start to the season.
Although their three wins in the five games they have played so far have been at home, their losses away betray the football they played in those games. However, Ajax will see this as a positive and will hope to continue Lille’s poor run of form away from home as they will be welcoming the French club to the Johan Cruijff ArenA.
Ajax will also want to capitalise on their Champions League freshness against a Lille side that is just returning to the competition for the first time since 2012.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Victor Osimhen
The Nigerian came into the Lille side as an unknown but in just five games, he has announced himself to Lille fans and the world. De Godenzonen will find the striker who has scored five goals in five games (even though all were at home) hard to keep quiet.