Ajax 0-0 Aston Villa: Both sides reduced to ten as a goalless draw in Amsterdam sets up scintillating second leg

Ominously on the losing side on each of their last five matches at the Johan Cruyff ArenA against English opponents, and having failed to score in the most recent four, Ajax remained unchanged from their Eredivisie victory over Utrecht at the weekend.

Conversely, Aston Villa had already emerged victorious on Dutch turf this season after comprehensively sweeping past AZ Alkmaar in the group stages.

AJA: Ramaj; Hato, Kaplan, Rensch; Sosa, Henderson, Mannsverk, Gooijer; Hlynsson, Taylor, Brobbey

AVL: Martínez; Lenglet, Torres, Konsa, Digne; Luiz, Iroegbunam, Diaby, Tielemans; Rogers, Watkins

Unbeaten across their last six away days in all competitions, Villa introduced an exciting pace almost immediately from the get-go that matched the fearsome fireworks display at the Johan Cruyff ArenA before kick-off, as the recalled figure of Moussa Diaby fired straight at Diant Ramaj.

In response to their visitors’ encouraging engagement to a highly-anticipated match-up between two former European champions, Emiliano Martínez had to be on his toes as he raced from his goalline to prevent Brian Brobbey from getting his boot to the ball.

Ajax’s goal machine this season, with 19 goals thus far across all competitions, thought he had called Villa’s deputy skipper into action long after. However, the offside flag popped up in the background to cancel out his effort – although it never looked like beating the FIFA World Cup winning goalkeeper.

Clearly in the mood to get his name onto the scoresheet, the Netherlands international’s expert knowledge of how to lead the line continued to cause Unai Emery’s customary high defensive line problems approaching half-time, as he fired his one-on-one disappointingly the wrong side of the post.

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Keen to take a slender lead back to Villa Park for next week’s second leg, Emery called upon club captain John McGinn and the in-form figure of Leon Bailey into the fray for the final half-hour or so. Despite the alterations to the visitors’ eleven, it was at the other end of the Johan Cruyff ArenA where Ajax came close to breaking the deadlock in the 67th minute as Kenneth Taylor’s first-time effort was well-saved at his near post by Martínez.

With Pau Torres already forcibly withdrawn at half-time due to injury, Villa were dealt another blow in the central defensive department with seven minutes left in regular time as Ezri Konsa was shown a second yellow card for bringing down Brobbey as he menacingly made his move towards goal. However, Ajax’s numerical advantage did not last long as Tristan Gooijer followed Konsa down the tunnel for an early shower 180 seconds later for an untimely late challenge.

Ultimately, two late red cards brought to life a scrappy second half, and Villa undoubtedly will be the happier of the two sides as they commence the second leg in a week’s time at a sold-out Villa Park on a level playing field.