A mouth watering contest if ever there was one, Ajax come up against Real Madrid in a battle of European greats.
Both clubs have 13 European Cups between them, nine for Madrid and 'just' the four, for AFC Ajax. But the Dutch title holders will be looking to make it third time lucky when Group D rivals Madrid travel to the Amsterdam Arena. For two seasons running Madrid have beaten Ajax home an away racking up 12 goals and conceding none in the process. Consigning them to third place and an early exit.
Ajax got off to a losing start in this seasons group stage, succumbing to an 87th minute goal against German Champions Borussia Dortmund. Madrid hosted Manchester City for their first outing into Europe this season, beating the Premier League winners with a late goal from who else but Cristiano Ronaldo to take them top of the group.
Many would argue Madrid haven't hit top form yet, after losses in La Liga against Getafe and Sevilla but when it comes to Europe Madrid are always favourites. Mourinho will be looking for more consistency from his team as he looks to continue their run of three consecutive wins including a 5-1 thrashing of Deportivo at the weekend, which showed glimpses of Ronaldo at his best as he bagged a hat-trick, that combined with Real's recent record against Ajax means things are looking ominous for Frank de Boer's side.
Last Five Results: W-L-W-W-W
Ajax, currently placed 3rd in the Eredivisie have had an inconsistent start to their season. Drawing two of their last five league games and losing to Dortmund in the Champions League, but the Dutch team will be buoyed by their recent victory over rivals FC Twente. Frank de Boer will be looking to guide his team out of the group stage in Europe this season after Ajax failed in their previous two attempts to seriously challenge for the cup that they were so accustomed to winning in the past.
Last Five Results: D-W-L-D-W
With a team like Real Madrid it's nearly impossible to pick one stand out player when arguably any of their starting XI could walk in to almost any team in the world. An obvious choice would be Cristiano Ronaldo, the worlds most expensive footballer and one of the most impressive players to grace the game. He has it all: strength, power, vision, accuracy and agility. These attributes make him a deadly strike force, who can change a game in the blink of an eye. His late goal against Manchester City in the previous group match highlights that. But I'm going with Xabi Alonso, when he plays well, Madrid play well, pulling the stings from the centre of the pitch. The former Liverpool man has been a first team regular since his move from Liverpool in 2009. Making over 100 appearances for the Spanish Champions.
Christian Eriksen is my man to watch from Ajax, and although he isn't a direct product of the famed youth academy which has produced an amazing array of talent such as Van Basten, Rijkaard, Bergkamp, Van der Vaart and Wesley Sniejder he has still benefited from their expertise in nurturing young players and moulding them into potential world beaters. He joined the club in the October of 2008 from Odense Boldklub after reaching the semi-finals of the Danish youth championships and being named 'Best Technical Player' going one better a season later to win the tournament where he scored the only goal in the final. He is now a regular in the first time at Ajax and attracts scouts from the biggest clubs in the world with impressive performances in the Dutch league and in Europe.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho typically favours the 4-2-3-1 formation. With Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira sitting in front of the defence, spraying passes across the pitch and cutting off opposition attacks with their tough tackling. The attacking midfield trio is usually formed of Mesut Ozil in the centre with Cristiano Ronaldo on the left flank and Argentine international Angel Di Maria on the right. In the centre of attack will be Higuain or Benzema who rely on the service from the wide men and the creative midfielders behind them.
Likely Line-up: Casillas – Sergio Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo – Xabi Alonso, Khedira – Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo - Higuain
Ajax have been using a fluid 4-3-3 formation, reverting to the 'Ajax way' says Frank de Boer. The forward Siem de Jong plays as a false number 9 while Eriksen is the most attacking of the midfield three, often overlapping de Jong. The two full backs are positioned very high up the pitch. Christian Poulsen usually plays as the deepest of the three midfielders who often drops back between the two central defenders who spread out to cover wide positions.
Likely Line-up: Kenneth Vermeer – van Rhijn, Alderweireld, Moisander, Blind – de Jong, Poulsen, Eriksen – Sana, Babel, Boerrigter
The two European giants have crossed swords on no less than ten times, five two leg ties in the Champions League and European Champion Club's Cup have seen Madrid edge Ajax in the head to head stats, winning five out the ten games losing four and drawing one, scoring 16 goals in the process. The last time Ajax beat Madrid they went on to win the Champions League in 1996, maybe that will act as an extra incentive to this young Dutch side.
Ajax have a prestigious history in Holland and in Europe, winning the Dutch title 31 times. Along with the KNVB Cup 18 times, the Johan Cruijff Shield 7 times, the Intercontinental Cup two times, the Champions League four times, the European Club Winner's Cup once, the UEFA Cup once and the UEFA Super Cup twice. Quite a haul of trophies by anyone's standards.
Real have an equally impressive if not more so trophy cabinet than Ajax with nine European Cups two UEFA cups, 32 La Liga titles, 18 Copa del Ray titles, nine Spanish Super Cup wins and also the trophy for Best club of the 20th century.
Madrid will be hoping this seasons outing into Europe will prove more successful than the last after being knocked out by Bayern Munich and with the Madrid faithful waiting a decade for another European victory Jose Mourinho wont want to disappoint again.
Prediction: Real Madrid 3 Ajax 1
While I think Madrid will win this tie, they wont have it as easy as in previous years. But a win for Real will put them firmly in control of the group and a draw the likely outcome for Dortmund against City, a sizable gap should appear between 1st and 2nd place.