Manchester City v Ajax Preview
Etihad Stadium, Manchester
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has challenged his players to deliver “three big performances” in the Champions League, knowing a loss at home to Ajax on Saturday could signal the Premier League champions’ exit from Europe’s premiere club competition.
BREAKDOWN: Manchester City are still unbeaten in the Premier League, but they’ve also drawn four of their 10 matches—a record, when combined with their Champions League and Capital One Cup results, means they’ve won only six of 14 matches in all competitions this season.
Their play has been especially poor in Europe, where they sit bottom of Group D after three rounds with only a single point to their name. Roberto Mancini is baffled that his side haven’t been able to adjust to the rigours of Champions League football, but when asked on Sunday if the problem was psychological he was quick to dissuade the notion.
“The pitch is the same; the players are the same; the referees [are the same],” the City manager told reporters. “It’s not this. We need to improve; we need to play better; we need to score when we have the chance.”
He also admitted City were perhaps not as prepared as their opposition, or at the very least had to pay their dues in order to be taken seriously at continental level.
“We are not ready like the other teams,” he said, adding, “Chelsea were probably the best team in Europe for 10 years and they won the champions League after 10 years, probably when they didn’t deserve it. “
On the other side of the ball, Frank de Boer is confident of his team’s chances at Eastlands on Tuesday, telling UEFA.com that Ajax more than deserved their 3-1 win at home to City on Matchday Three.
“I get tired of people saying it was because our opponents playing badly [that we won],” he remarked. “Our players were dominating. City had no answer.”
That said, Ajax have been anything but dominant in the Eredivisie this season and currently sit fifth in the standings after 11 rounds—a whopping 10 points back of leaders Twente. They’ve won just one of their last six league matches and come into Tuesday’s match on the back of a disappointing 2-0 loss against Vitesse Arnhem at Amsterdam Arena on Saturday.
Still, de Boer sees positives, one of which is the play of right-back Ricardo van Rhijn.
“[Van Rhijn] looks like he is experienced, but he has just made it to the first team and is already part of the Dutch national side,” he said.
ESSENTIALS: City are still without defenders Micah Richards (knee) and Maicon (leg), while David Silva failed to make the matchday squad at West Ham due to a hamstring injury on Saturday and is unlikely to feature against Ajax.
City haven’t lost in 18 home matches in European club competition—a streak that goes all the way back to a 1-0 defeat against FC Midtjylland in 2008.
Ajax were 2-1 winners against Manchester United in the first knockout stage of the Europa League last season.
KEY BATTLE: Tobias Sana has been a revelation at Ajax this season. The 23-year-old Sweden winger combines well with forward Siem de Jong and has also contributed five goals of his own so far this term. He was a handful for Gael Clichy in Amsterdam, and he’ll give the City left-back some good exercise again on Tuesday.
FORMATIONS: Mancini will deploy a 4-2-3-1, likely with James Milner, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri playing in support of Sergio Aguero. De Boer will use his favoured 4-3-3 with Sana, De Jong and Ryan Babel across the forward line.
BETLINE: Manchester City 2/5; Draw 15/4; Ajax 7/1. Edin Dzeko leads City with six goals this season while Sana and De Jong each have five.