Two teams down, just two spots remained in Group F. After Fernando Hierro drew FC Barcelona into the same group as Ligue Un champions, Paris Saint-Germain, we were facing the prospect of a "Group of Death", depending on the identity of the team drawn from Pot 3. Would Barça be placed into a Group of Death, or would there be some brief respite?
I think this qualifies as respite, right? Ajax were one of football’s greatest sides, but nowadays, they act as a feeder club – but not even for Europe’s elite. This year’s biggest sale saw Siem de Jong leave for Newcastle, which just goes to show how far the once mighty have fallen. Despite constant change in personnel, Ajax have won the last four Dutch titles and are favourites to claim a fifth straight this season – can they upset the odds and reach the UEFA Champions League knockout stages as well?
Unfortunately, the average football fan will only remember Cillessen’s name as a by-product of Louis van Gaal’s irritating substitution against Costa Rica at the World Cup, but the Dutch shot-stopper is fantastic keeper, deserving of recognition on talent alone. His emergence as Ajax’s number one last season helped them secure that fourth successive title and he will have to be on top form to help Ajax get anything against the Blaugrana.
Another one whose stock rose exponentially during the World Cup, Daley Blind is the son of former Ajax legend Danny Blind, and on current trajectory, he’s well on his way to becoming one too. Despite his versatility, expect Blind to line up in a central midfield role, tasked with the impossible challenge of stopping Andrés Iniesta, Ivan Rakitić et al from running riot.
The Danish wonderkid arguably regressed last season, but was still one of Ajax’s better performers, contributing seven goals from the flanks. Tipped for the top, Ajax may be reliant upon Fischer to provide that spark of brilliance that they will ultimately need to stand a chance against Lucho’s Barcelona.
Another former Barcelona defender? So much for originality huh...Frank de Boer played over 200 games for Barça over a five year spell in Catalunya before moving onto Galatasaray at the tail-end of his career. As a manager, de Boer has been wildly successful and while it isn’t particularly well-known, de Boer was also Bert van Marwijk’s assistant during the 2010 World Cup. Certainly, Frank has the credentials and was reported to be one of Barça’s targets this summer – does he have the know-how to be able to go toe-to-toe with Enrique?
This is a redundant question, right? Ajax will play in a free-flowing 4-3-3, or at least they will try to before FC Barcelona overpower and dominant them with their own, better, 4-3-3.
History with FC Barcelona
Who made up these sections anyway? Michels, Cruyff, now Suarez...everywhere you look at FC Barcelona has been influenced by Ajax, so there’s that – and there’s also the recent matches between the two sides, as the clubs were paired together in last season’s draw with Barça winning one, and Ajax claiming the victory in the other.
I’m happy with this one, but what about you Culés?