Champions League Group H Preview : Barcelona v Ajax
The breathtaking Group of Champions kicks off tonight with most observers thinking that three of the four clubs in the group are simply playing for 2nd place behind the might of Barcelona however, with a new man at the helm of the Catalan giants, a man with no Champions League experience whatsoever, maybe the group winners won’t be as much of a foregone conclusion as many expect.
Despite both clubs illustrious history and outstanding European pedigree (both clubs having won the tournament 4 times) tonight’s game at the Camp Nou will, incredibly, be the first time the teams have faced each other in competitive action. Frank de Boer returns to the club he made over 150 appearances for which included a La Liga title win in 1999, the Dutchman has a wealth of European experience as a player and can boast Champions League and UEFA Cup winners medals, in contrast the man who will prowl the home technical area is taking his first tentative steps into the European Arena.
Argentinian Gerardo Martino, commonly known as “Tata” has an impressive record in South America and recognises that participation in Europe’s premier club competition is another step forward in the 50 year olds coaching career, he recently said
“It is clear that to be able to participate in the Champions League is an important point in the career of any coach“
Tata has won all four La Liga games since his move to The Blaugrana in July however after the 7 – 0 demolition of Levante in their opening league fixture Barca have not been convincing winners in the subsequent three games conceding four goals including allowing Sevilla to come back from two-nil down in the last game at Camp Nou before a last minute Alexis Sanchez goal clinched victory. Many thought Barcelona would secure the services of at least one commanding centre half during the transfer window to shore up a susceptible defence however despite being linked with various defenders and rumours of a failed bid for Chelsea’s David Luiz the only new arrival was the incredibly talented but sometime inclined to be a horrible little cheat, Neymar.
Its clear to many that Pele’s penchant for little blue pills caused him to have a rush of blood to the head when he claimed that Neymar was better than Messi however no one could argue that having the Brazilian magician and Argentinian maestro in the same team would terrify any defence they came up against. The pair have had relatively limited time together so far but are already showing that they could be as domineering and entertaining for football fans as the The Krankies are to devotees of panto, oh yes they could!
Ajax have conceded in their last five league games and its unlikely they will be able to keep a clean sheet when they visit Catalunya. De Boer has secured a hat trick of Eredivisie titles since being appointed head coach however de Godenzonen have not been convincing so far this season and seem to be suffering from their summer player departures including Alderweireld and talisman Christian Eriksen. The Amsterdam club are still full of internationals however realistically would be delighted if they manage to take a point from this game. De Boer admitted his teams clear deficiencies in recent games when he said
“If Messi has seen these images of us, I doubt he’ll be too concerned“
Despite being strangers on the field there are huge ties between the clubs perhaps none more so than 3 times world player of the year, Ajax legend and the man who led Barcelona to their first European Cup win Johan Cruyff. Cruyff’s imprint on Barcelona is clear and was particularly evident in Pep Guardiola’s all conquering team who epitomised the Dutchman’s footballing philosophy however Cruyff has a strained relationship with the current Barcelona board and recently told Dutch TV
“I will support Ajax. I have had some differences with Barca’s president, and I will not set foot in the Camp Nou as long as he is there“
Cruyff is a hero to fans of both clubs however his support of the men from Amsterdam, while possibly having a positive influence in the away dressing room, is unlikely to have any impact on the outcome of the game. Ajax have a chance to score against a suspect Barcelona defence however the home teams incredible attacking options will simply be too strong and they will secure a comfortable win in the opening group fixture.
Possible Starting XI
90 Minute Cynic Prediction
Barcelona 4 Ajax 1
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