After their outstanding run to the semi-finals last season, Ajax begin their Champions League campaign with a trip to PAOK Salonika in the third qualifying round. Kick-off in Greece is 6pm BST.

Ajax were a revelation in the competition last season, coming through three qualifying rounds before seeing off Juventus and Real Madrid to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s biggest competition. A meeting with Liverpool in the final was within reach but the dream was cruelly ended in injury time against Tottenham Hotspur.

Erik ten Hag’s side are aiming to make a big impression in Europe once again but despite winning the Eredivisie last season they must start in the third qualifying round.

Standing between Ajax and a tie against either APOEL Nicosia or Qarabag in the playoff round are Greek champions PAOK Salonika, who remained unbeaten in their league campaign last season to claim their title.

Erik ten Hag is expecting a tough game, “It’s the toughest draw we could get. They became undefeated champions in Greece and won the double. An excellent opponent. I think PAOK is also stronger than Standard Liege and Dinamo Kiev.”

Ajax began their domestic campaign at the weekend with a 2-2 draw away at Vitesse Arnhem. PAOK’s league campaign doesn’t get underway until the end of August but the Greek side have looked very good in friendlies recently, beating Anderlecht 3-1, Fortuna Sittard 5-1 and Cluj 5-0.

The game will be Abel Ferreira’s first in charge of the Greek side and he has big ambitions, “Our goal is to write history and reach the group phase. Then we also have to pass Ajax. The players will do everything to write that history. We will show passion, but not let our emotions prevail. “

Team News

Ten Hag has no fresh injury concerns after the weekend while Donny van de Beek is set to be available despite links with Real Madrid. New signing Edson Alvarez is in the squad too and could make his debut.

Lasse Schone was in the squad against Vitesse but he has now moved to Italy with Genoa. Kasper Dolberg started against Vitesse but after a poor performance he may be dropped to the bench with David Neres coming into the attack.

Possible Ajax line-up: Onana, Veltman, Tagliafico, Schuurs, Martinez, Marin, Blind, Van de Beek, Neres, Ziyech, Tadic

Dutchman Diego Biseswar could feature for PAOK along with winger Lazaros Lamprou, who made a big impression on loan with Fortuna Sittard last season.

Ten Hag identified Biseswar, midfielder Dimitris Pelkas and winger Chuba Akpom as PAOK’s danger men.

Odds

PAOK 11/4 Draw 12/5 Ajax 1/1

Previous Meetings

Ajax and PAOK have met four times in two legged matches in the Champions League before.

Both times Ajax have triumphed over two legs. Only one of those games ended in a victory for Ajax (2-1), the other three were draws.

Can Ajax get off to a good start?

PAOK are the toughest test Ajax could have got at this stage and they will need to be at their best to get a result in Greece.

The Greek side were unbeaten in their league campaign last season but under a new coach and having not started their season yet, questions can be asked of their readiness for this tie. Ajax already have two competitive games under their belt and should be more prepared.

PAOK will have an organised defence and dangerous players on the counter attack. Ajax will need to stay strong at the back and hope the likes of Ziyech and Tadic can make an impact going forward.

With APOEL Nicosia and Qarabag awaiting, Ajax have an excellent chance of progressing to the Champions League group stages. A draw in Greece would give them a great platform to finish the job in Amsterdam next week.




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