AMSTERDAM – AFC Ajax head coach Erik Ten Hag said on Tuesday that he hoped his midfielder Frenkie de Jong would be able to make the UEFA Champions League last-16 first leg match against Real Madrid.
De Jong, who signed a five-year contract to join FC Barcelona at the beginning of the 2019-20 season for 86 million euros ($98 million), is suffering from an adductor injury that he sustained Saturday during Ajax’s 1-0 recent defeat to fellow Dutch club Heracles Almelo.
Ten Hag said at a press conference that De Jong was “in good physical condition” and was excited to play Wednesday against Madrid, but stressed that the Ajax coaching staff needed to hold off before deciding if they would play the Netherlands international.
“At first, it seemed that he was fine, but then not so much,” the coach said, adding that De Jong had been able to rest in recent days.
Ten Hag denied that De Jong’s upcoming departure to Barcelona would have an effect on how hard the 21-year-old performed on the pitch, stressing that the Dutch midfielder would be focused on “closing the season (with Ajax) in a good way.”
Regarding his opponents, the manager stated that the three-time defending champion Spanish team “is still the favorite” to win the Champions League.
Ten Hag also said that Madrid “is having a great run recently and its play has been much improved.”
“I think Madrid is playing very strategic soccer and they know how to make the necessary changes,” Ten Hag stated.
“They know how to attack, but they also sit back when necessary,” the coach explained, praising the combination of veteran players such as Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos with other, younger players such as the 18-year-old Vinicius Jr.
Asked about Vinicius, Ten Hag underscored that the Brazilian had a great chance to become a major soccer star.
The Ajax coach acknowledged that his team is not playing its best presently, having lost two of the last three games in the Dutch Eredivisie, however Ten Hag said that “it is not possible to claim success all the time... sometimes it is necessary to lose so that you will come back, because that is what makes you stronger.”
The Madrid squad arrived Tuesday afternoon in Amsterdam and was set to go through a training session at the Johan Cruyff Arena later in the day, before the Spanish club’s coach Santiago Solari of Argentina was scheduled to deliver his pre-game press conference.