It is difficult not to think about Saturday’s clásico at the Bernabéu but first Barça face an important Champions League game against Ajax at Camp Nou (Tuesday 8.45 pm). Following defeat at Paris Saint Germain in the second round of matches in Group F, Barça need a victory against the Dutch team to keep PSG in sight, anything less and Barça’s qualification for the last 16 could be in danger.
Luis Enrique will again name the squad after training on the morning of the game but Adriano has already been ruled out with a thigh strain. Sergio Busquets is doubtful with a groin problem so Sergi Samper has been training with the first team. The youngster was rested for Barça B’s 4-1 win over Alcorcon on Sunday and looks a good bet to feature as it would be a risk to aggravate Busquets’ injury at this point of the season. Vermaelen and Douglas are still training apart from the group and neither seem ready to be called up.
The Barça coach knows the importance of the Ajax game and will want to put out a strong team, but there are bound to be changes to the team that beat Eibar on Saturday. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen should continue as the Champions League keeper despite his unconvincing performance in Paris. There could also be a chance for Martin Montoya if Luis Enrique wishes to rest either of his first-choice full-backs. The centre-back pairing is anyone’s guess but we will almost certainly see a return in midfield for Rakitic and Iniesta. Messi and Neymar seem likely to continue in attack with the other place going to Pedro, Munir or Sandro. Despite Pedro’s disappointing performance against Eibar I think Lucho may stick with the Canarian.
The two sides met in last season’s group stage with Barça gaining a 4-0 victory at Camp Nou with a Messi hat-trick while Ajax got revenge in Amstersdam, winning 2-1, the first defeat of Tata Martino’s season in charge. Frank De Boer continues as Ajax coach and the core of his team has not changed much since last year, but 20-year-old Danish winger Lucas Andersen has earned himself a starting place while another Dane, Niki Zimling, has recently signed on loan from Mainz 05 and could start in midfield. Left back Nicolai Boilesen is injured so Nick Viergeven is most likely to come into defence, while young star striker Viktor Fischer has been injured since February and will miss the game.The Dutch side’s form is not great as they have only managed draws in their last three games against Apoel, Zwolle and Twente. De Boer will be hoping that a good result tomorrow can turn their season around.
Ajax play a high pressing game so it is likely to be frenetic in midfield. Barça will be looking to exploit Neymar’s pace to get in behind the Dutch defence. If Messi, Rakitic and Iniesta can supply the through balls the Brazilian looks set to continue his excellent scoring run.
Group F after two games: PSG 4pts +1, Barça 3pts 0, Ajax 2pts 0, Apoel 1 pt -1.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Montoya, Bartra, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Samper, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Ajax: Cillessen; Van Rhijn, Veltman, Moisander, Viergever; Klaasen, Zimling, Serero; Schone, Sigthorsson, Andersen.
Prediction: Barça 4 Ajax 1
Date: Tuesday 21 October 2014. Kick-off 8.45 pm local time.