Barca welcome Ajax for historic first clash
MADRID - Agence France-Presse
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (C) is congratulated by Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar da Silva Santos Junior (R) and teammates after scoring during the Portuguese super league football match Porto vs Gil Vicente at the Dragao stadium in Porto on September 14, 2013. AFP PhotoFor two sides with such a great history in European football, the meeting between Barcelona and Ajax on Wednesday night will remarkably be the first ever competitive match between the two clubs.
The feeling that this is an historic occasion is felt even more strongly in the Catalan capital given the huge influence the Ajax model has had on the incredible success Barcelona have enjoyed over the past three decades.
Both sides have four European Cup titles to their name but it wasn't until 1992 that Barca won the famous trophy for the first time when Johan Cruyff, who as a player had guided Ajax to their first three European titles, was the Barca coach.
Since then Cruyff's influence has continued at Barca in the 4-3-3 formation that they still use and most notably in the success of a former Cruyff pupil in Pep Guardiola during his period in charge.
Despite currently being an advisor to the Dutch club, Cruyff won't be at the Camp Nou on Wednesday due to an on-going bust up with Barca president Sandro Rosell, which prompted Cruyff to claim he will not step foot in the Camp Nou until Rosell's term in charge comes to an end.
On the field, Barca have had an uncertain start to the season despite winning all four of their league games and reclaiming the Spanish Super Cup.
The Spanish champions needed an injury time winner from Alexis Sanchez to beat Sevilla 3-2 on Saturday after spurning a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes.
However, winger Cristian Tello believes it is a positive sign that they have continued to win whilst adjusting to new coach Gerardo Martino's methods.
"It is good to be critical of ourselves and even more so when we have taken 12 points from a possible 12 and won the Super Cup," he told a press conference on Monday.
"Martino is adding new facets to our game that perhaps we lacked so that we are not predictable." There are defensive concerns for Martino as left-back Jordi Alba has been ruled out for three weeks due to a hamstring injury.
Carles Puyol is also still unavailable, although he is nearing full fitness following knee surgery, but otherwise Martino has a fully-fit squad to choose from.
Pedro Rodriguez is expected to come back into the side in place of Tello to partner Neymar and Lionel Messi in attack after being rested against Sevilla, while Adriano will deputise for Alba at left-back.
Ajax, meanwhile, also warmed up for the game in unconvincing fashion with a 2-1 win over PEC Zwolle on Saturday.
Coach Frank de Boer, a former Barca player, rested a host of first team players for the match and afterwards admitted that his side had been lucky to take all three points.
On-loan Barca forward Bojan Krkic is free to play against his parent club and is expected to return to the starting line-up, whilst captain Siem de Jong should also feature after making his comeback from a collapsed lung as a substitute at the weekend.