Ajax, who have turned the wheel after a nightmare start to the season, will look for their third win in a row when Brighton & Hove Albion visit the Johan Cruyff Arena on Thursday.
The Dutch giants will also look to avenge last month’s defeat to the Seagulls, who defeated the hosts 2-0 at the Amex to earn their first continental victory at the third attempt.
If you’ll excuse the pun, John van ‘t Schip has certainly calmed the ship since stumbling into the Ajax dumpster fire, taking over a team that had suffered four consecutive defeats and dropped 10 games in a row on their sleepwalk to the Eredivisie basement.
However, as Halloween passed, so did Ajax’s horror show, and the hosts entered Thursday’s game having won back-to-back Eredivisie games for the first time this season, first defeating Volendam with two unanswered goals before comfortably defeating Heerenveen.
After Steven Bergwijn and Brian Brobbey propelled Ajax into a two-goal lead, Luuk Browers’ late first-half strike set up a nail-biting second half, but an inspired substitution from Van ‘t Schip saw ex-Middlesbrough man Chuba Akpom net a brace in the final 10 minutes to seal a comprehensive 4-1 rout.
Ajax have risen to 11th in the Eredivisie rankings as a result of their mini-revival, having surrendered just once in their past 180 minutes of football after shipping 24 goals in the eight matches prior to Van ‘t Schip’s appointment, and their Europa League last 16 fate is still in their own hands.
Ajax currently sits at the bottom of the section with two points, but the Sons of the Gods have the opportunity to draw level on points with section leaders Marseille if they avoid starting a continental campaign without a win after four games for the first time since the 2015-16 Europa League.
Roberto De Zerbi’s lively offensive powers scored two goals in each of Brighton’s Europa League games against AEK Athens and Marseille, only to be let down by rearguard indiscipline as they walked away with just one point.
The Seagulls, on the other hand, had little issue stopping Ajax’s attack last time out and continued their multiple-goal streak through Joao Pedro and Ansu Fati to make it third time lucky in Group B, ensuring their place in Brighton history with their first-ever win in European competition.
The third-placed visitors are still playing catch-up in the section, as they are one point behind Marseille and below AEK Athens on head-to-head points, but if their two opponents draw in Thursday’s top-of-the-table clash, they will take first place if they can do the double over Ajax.
Brighton’s domestic record has been mixed, with De Zerbi’s club failing to win any of their past five Premier League games and relying on an Ashley Young own goal to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw with Everton at the weekend, where profligacy deprived them a much-needed maximum.
Brighton’s scoring streak in all tournaments now stands at seven games, but Dutch teams have frequently had their English counterparts’ number in that department; Premier League teams have failed to make the net bulge in each of their last three Europa League visits to Eredivisie soil.
Bergwijn was a little sore after being taken off at the Amex two weeks ago, but the ex-Tottenham Hotspur man has recovered and should start on the left side of an Ajax frontline with Brobbey and Steven Berghuis, unless Akpom’s brace puts him in Van ‘t Schip’s thoughts.
Geronimo Rulli (shoulder), Sivert Mannsverk (leg), Jay Gorter and Amourricho van Axel Dongen (both unidentified) are expected to miss the visit of the Seagulls due to injury.
Van ‘t Schip should find little reason to disrupt a winning team’s cohesion, although the seasoned Borna Sosa is a candidate to replace academy product Arjany Martha at left-back.
De Zerbi has a similar number of fitness issues for Thursday’s game against Brighton, including knee injuries Solly March, Julio Enciso, and Jakub Moder, though the latter is at least beginning to establish match fitness with the Under-21s.
Danny Welbeck is also expected to miss a significant amount of time due to an injury acquired around the end of October, while De Zerbi is not hopeful about Pervis Estupinan’s chances of returning from a thigh injury before the November international break.
The Seagulls manager has not shied away from rotating his resources to meet the demands of Premier League and Europa League games, and planned adjustments should result in Fati and Pedro both getting recalls to the frontline as they aim to haunt the Ajax rearguard again.
Ajax possible starting lineup:
Ramaj; Rensch, Sutalo, Hato, Sosa; Taylor, Tahirovic, Van den Boomen; Berghuis, Brobbey, Bergwijn
Brighton & Hove Albion possible starting lineup:
Steele; Veltman, Van Hecke, Dunk, Milner; Fati, Gross, Gilmour, Mitoma; Pedro, Ferguson
Ajax Europa League form:
W L D D L
Ajax form (all competitions):
L L L L W W
Brighton & Hove Albion Europa League form:
L D W
Brighton & Hove Albion form (all competitions):
D D L W D D