UEFA Europa League

FONSECA: DEFENSIVE SECURITY THE KEY HEADING INTO FIRST LEG

Coach Paulo Fonseca held his customary pre-match press conference ahead of Thursday's Europa League quarter-final meeting with Ajax.

Thursday's first leg at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam gets underway at 21:00 CEST.

Here's what the boss had to say going into the game...

How does the team look to you going into this game? And, if you look back over the season now, are there any things you would have done differently?

“I would make the same choices again – after games it’s always easy to make judgements on each decision.

"The squad, meanwhile, look motivated and confident to me.”

Tomorrow will require a high level of focus. Ajax are perhaps a more evolved version of Sassuolo – especially from a tactical perspective. In Reggio Emilia perhaps the concentration wasn’t as high as it needed to be – is that a fair assessment? And then another question on Edin Dzeko – has he struggled a bit ever since he had Covid?

“I think Edin is doing well, physically too. He’s been away with the national team recently, but he came back in good shape. He’s looking sharp ahead of tomorrow’s game, and he’ll start it.

“As far as tomorrow’s game goes, we will have to play a perfect match. They are a really strong side. It’s true, in some ways they have a similar approach to Sassuolo – especially in the build-up phase – but they have a different collection of players. We need to be focused defensively, it will be important that we avoid making any mistakes. Our opponents tomorrow are really good in attack.”

What sort of game are you expecting?

“We are expecting to go up against a really good side. In terms of their attacking quality, Ajax are one of the strongest sides in Europe. The key will be not to make mistakes defensively. We need to be focused at the back and stop them from getting in and around our area. That’s where they are at their most dangerous. Beyond that, it will be important to keep the ball as well as possible, given Ajax love to try and dictate games.”

Italian sides have not lost here at the Johan Cruyff Arena for 18 years…

“Let’s hope that trend continues tomorrow as well…”

How is Jordan Veretout – can he play tomorrow?

“He’s ready, he will start tomorrow. He’s in good shape, he’s been training really well.”

Which of the two sides is the favourite going into tomorrow?

“It doesn’t matter. Ajax are a really good side, it will be tough – but I expect it will be tough for them too. We cannot forget that it is not just about tomorrow’s game either – there is also the second leg to come at the Olimpico. They will be two balanced games – everything will hinge on the second leg.”

(Photo Getty Images)

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