Ajax vs. Roma Odds
|Over/Under||2.5 (-150 / +123)|
|Day | Time||Thursday | 3 p.m. ET|
|Odds updated Wednesday afternoon via DraftKings.|
While the Champions League often steals the spotlight from the Europa League, Europe’s second tier international club competition has some scintillating quarterfinal matchups, highlighted by Ajax and Roma.
Roma has fallen off in league form and their best shot to qualify for the Champions League next year might be through winning this competition, but Ajax will be their toughest test yet.
Dating back to the Champions League group stage, Ajax has had little issue creating plenty of chances in Europe. Despite being in a tough group with Atalanta and Liverpool, Erik ten Hag’s side posted 1.9 xG against Atalanta, 1.4 at home vs. Liverpool and 1.3 at Liverpool. They steamrolled through the first two rounds of the Europa League knockouts too despite facing two solid defenses. Lille is one of the best defenses in Europe but Ajax posted 3.7 xG over two legs and advanced rather comfortably. Against Young Boys, Ajax totaled more than 3 xG in each leg.
The Ajax attack plays a lot of quick passes and aims to possess and pass through opponents, rather than rely on crosses or creation from the wings. Roma allows the third fewest crosses into the penalty area in Serie A, which is fine because it’s not how Ajax will look to attack anyway.
Roma does allow the fifth-highest pass completion rate in the division, which is a concern for trying to defend Ajax and their team of plus passers.
Defensively, Ajax will be without first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana and could be without its second-choice keeper Martin Stekelenberg, too. Daley Blind, who is excellent at ball progression and ball-winning as a center back, is unlikely to feature. Fullback Noussair Mazaroui is also out, so ten Hag will have no choice but to start some backup defenders.
Roma is dealing with plenty of injuries at the back entering this match which could weaken their defense even further. They’ve dealt with subpar goalkeeper play and inconsistent defending in Serie A all season. Chris Smalling, Roger Ibanez and Marash Kumbulla are all out. Manager Paulo Fonesca doesn’t have three healthy centerbacks to play his customary 3 at the back formation because of suspensions and injuries.
That’s especially troubling when you examine how Roma has defended in recent games. Sassuolo picked apart Roma’s defense with 3.2 xG and two goals. Prior to the international break, Napoli scored two early goals and sat on its lead comfortably. Parma posted more than two expected goals in the match prior to that. Roma is dealing with significant xG regression in attack and that’s worrisome given how vulnerable they may to Ajax’s pressing and possessing.
Inexperienced center backs against ten Hag’s side is a recipe for a defensive error or two leading to chances.
Betting Analysis & Pick
There’s no reason that this shouldn’t be a free-flowing and attacking first leg. In normal years, first legs tend to be a bit more cautious from the home side to prevent conceding the away goal. But because of limited crowds or no crowds at all, the home-field advantage has been significantly less.
This changes how teams approach the first legs and Ajax will be willing to play open in this game. While the number is right with Ajax as solid favorites, the total is showing too much respect to the defenses.
Roma is more vulnerable to teams passing through them rather than crossing, and Ajax should be able to exploit Roma’s recently leaky defending. At the other end, Roma has found success in the past playing over the top of high presses and should be able to do so again.
Pick: Over 2.75 (-130 or better) or Over 3 (+100 or better)