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Europa Conference League | Round of 16 | 2nd Leg
Mar 14, 2024 at 8pm UK
Villa Park

Aston Villa
4 - 0

Watkins (25'), Bailey (60'), Duran (75'), Diaby (81')
Rogers (11'), Watkins (19')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Mannsverk (14')
Mannsverk (66')

Preview: Aston Villa vs. Ajax - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Aston Villa vs. Ajax - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa Conference League clash between Aston Villa and Ajax, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

After cancelling each other out last week, Europa Conference League heavyweights Aston Villa and Ajax reconvene on Thursday, when only one can progress to the quarter-finals.

Two former European Cup winners will go head-to-head at Villa Park, following a tense goalless draw in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Match preview

Having come through Group E as winners and avoided a potentially hazardous playoff, Aston Villa kicked off their first venture into the spring phase of a UEFA competition since 2009 last Thursday.

For only the third time in 25 European matches, Villa failed to find the net, as Ezri Konsa and Ajax defender Tristan Gooijer were both sent off for second bookings towards the end of a close-fought game that sets the stage for this week's return in Birmingham.

If boss Unai Emery was hoping to receive a morale boost ahead of the Dutch giants' arrival, he was sorely disappointed at the weekend, when his team went into a crucial clash with Tottenham Hotspur aiming to move eight points clear in the race for Champions League qualification.

Instead, Villa succumbed to a bitter 4-0 defeat on home turf, conceding all four goals after the break as captain John McGinn saw red in more than one sense. They still sit fourth in the Premier League table, but such a loss will surely have stung.

Clean sheets are at a premium for Emery's men at the moment, but until their recent downturn, Villa Park had been a real fortress; and as Ajax failed to win any away games en route to elimination at the Europa League's group stage, the hosts may still expect to progress.

A renowned specialist in continental competition, Villa's Basque boss has yet to taste success in the Conference League, but a place in May's final will move one step closer if he can engineer a win over one of Europe's traditional powers.

While Aston Villa lifted the European Cup in 1982, Ajax have been crowned champions of the continent four times to date - but their current predicament sits in stark contrast to those long-gone glory days.

Not only are the Amsterdam club occupying fifth place in the Eredivisie, with time running out to make up ground lost during a disastrous start to the season, but they recently had to rely on luck to come through a playoff tie with Bodo/Glimt that booked their spot in the last 16 of UEFA's third-tier competition.

Interim coach John van't Schip has certainly steadied the ship, but following back-to-back clean sheets, his young team were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw by Fortuna Sittard on Sunday, when Brian Brobbey's late leveller rescued a point at Johan Cruijff Arena.

The 36-time Dutch champions also made an embarrassing exit from the KNVB Beker at the end of last year, so their only remaining hope of silverware is in the Conference League.

As Ajax have scored three or more goals in four of their European fixtures this season, they can clearly pose a threat on their day - but it remains to be seen how such an inexperienced squad would handle a top Premier League team in full flight.

Aston Villa Europa Conference League form:

Aston Villa form (all competitions):

Ajax Europa Conference League form:

Ajax form (all competitions):

Team News

Although inspirational skipper John McGinn will be available on Thursday, for the final time before beginning a domestic suspension, Aston Villa defender Ezri Konsa must serve a one-match ban following his dismissal in Amsterdam.

Unai Emery remains without long-term absentees Emi Buendia, Boubacar Kamara and Tyrone Mings, while Jhon Duran is still sidelined by a hamstring injury and Jacob Ramsey may not recover in time to feature.

Amid a packed schedule, Emery may promote Moussa Diaby, Alex Moreno and Diego Carlos from the bench, but top scorer Ollie Watkins is unlikely to be rested - particularly with Nicolo Zaniolo also suspended.

Meanwhile, Ajax can call upon Devyne Rensch at Villa Park, after the full-back served a suspension on Sunday, but Tristan Gooijer is ruled out by his late red card last week.

Netherlands internationals Steven Bergwijn and Steven Berghuis are absent again, though Josip Sutalo returned to action at the weekend and should start in the visitors' defence, alongside young centre-back Ahmetcan Kaplan, who excelled in the first leg.

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Martinez; Cash, Carlos, Torres, Moreno; McGinn, Luiz, Iroegbunam, Tielemans; Diaby, Watkins

Ajax possible starting lineup:
Ramaj; Sutalo, Kaplan, Hato; Rensch, Mannsverk, Henderson, Sosa; Hlynsson, Taylor; Brobbey

We say: Aston Villa 2-1 Ajax (Aston Villa win 2-1 on aggregate)

The prospect of extra time and penalties will surely concentrate tired legs and minds in the Aston Villa camp, so Unai Emery's men will go all-out to decide their destiny within 90 minutes. With home support and much more experience at their disposal, the hosts should progress past an Ajax team in development.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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