Twenty players have made the trip to Holland for Barça’s Champions League game with Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena tomorrow night (Wednesday 8.45 pm). Sergi Roberto with a pulled thigh muscle joins Jeremy Mathieu, Andrés Iniesta and Thomas Vermaelen on the injured list so Luis Enrique has recalled Gerard Piqué, Douglas Pereira and Martin Montoya to include all available first-team players plus Munir El-Haddadi for the match.
Two consecutive defeats means there is growing pressure on the Barça coach as many begin to question his ability. I have no doubt that Lucho has the character to deal with the pressure, however, the tactical side of things is less clear. At times the team seems too stretched which makes pressing more difficult and subsequently leaves too much room to the opposition midfield.
Barça’s past problems have not improved. Celta’s goal on Saturday shows we are still vulnerable to the long punt down the middle, we continue to have problems defending set pieces while at the other end we have failed to score a goal all season from a total of 96 corners. Some things never change!
However, we must remember that Luis Enrique has started the season with more changes in the squad than usual and some things take time to click. In his previous jobs at Barça B, Roma and Celta his teams have often started slowly and improved as the season progressed. For now I feel we should be patient with the coach, time will tell whether the players are with him or not, and if they are then I’m sure we’ll see improvements. He hasn’t been helped by the relative instability of the current board with a recent poll in Sport showing 92% in favour of new elections.
One of the biggest disappointments this season has been Sergio Busquets’ drop in form and Luis Enrique will have to decide what to do about it. In an interview yesterday Busquets claimed that he does not have an injury and doesn’t know where the rumours have come from, but footballers will rarely admit it when they are carrying an injury as it’s not wise to show the opponent any weakness. Whatever the case we need more from the player in this position and at the moment Mascherano seems a better option for the job.
Where El Jefecito plays tomorrow is probably the biggest selection doubt. We could play Piqué and Bartra in central defence with Mascherano as defensive midfielder. Or if Luis Enrique continues to insist with Busquets then we’ll see Masch at the back with either Piqué or Bartra. Elsewhere, Ter Stegen will return in goal, Alves and Alba seem likely to continue as full-backs while Xavi looks likely to return to midfield with Rakitic. Up front it will certainly be a big surprise if we don’t see a third straight game for the Suarez-Messi-Neymar trio that is still looking for its first victory.
With only two points in Group F there is little to lose for Ajax tomorrow and coach Frank de Boer will almost certainly continue with an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Nicolai Boilesen will return to left-back while there is a chance that Thulani Serero, who scored in Ajax’s 2-1 victory over Barça last season, will be fit enough to start in midfield. The other likely change from the game at Camp Nou two weeks ago is a start for Ajax’s substitute scorer in that 3-1 defeat, the 19-year-old Anwar El-Ghazi. Ajax’s in-form man is Lasse Schöne who scored twice in the Dutch side’s 4-0 win over Dordrecht at the weekend.
Barça’s 20-man squad: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Masip, Alves, Montoya, Douglas, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Xavi, Rafinha, Pedro, Luis Suarez, Messi, Neymer, Munir.
Ajax: Cillessen; Van Rhijn, Moisander, Veltman, Boilesen; Klaassen, Serero, Andersen; Schöne, Sigthorsson, El Ghazi.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Alba; Xavi, Mascherano, Rakitic; Suarez, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Ajax 2 Barça 3
Date: Wednesday 5 November 2014. Kick-off 8.45 pm.