Barcelona visit Amsterdam to take on Ajax in the Champions League Group H clash on Tuesday night, looking to extend their 20-match unbeaten run this season.
The Spanish giants have already qualified for the Round of 16 with two games to spare, and can secure top spot in the group if they avoid defeat at the Amsterdam ArenA tonight. Gerardo Martino's men have gotten off to a terrific start this season, winning 13 of the 14 matches played so far in La Liga.
Barca warmed up for this game by beating Granada 4-0 at the weekend and are currently on a five-match winning streak, scoring 15 goals and conceding just two. Talisman Lionel Messi has been ruled him out of action till January with a thigh injury but the Blaugrana still remain strong side.
"In my eyes we're missing the best player in the world so that's always a bit difficult, but we have other players who can play and maintain the quality of our team. So if we don't win tomorrow it's not because [Lionel] Messi isn't playing," Martino stressed.
"I always considered Ajax a great team who know what they need to do on the pitch. They are technically skilled and they know how to play. Ajax like to have the ball, they play quickly, so it won't be easy to get the ball off them. They aren't afraid to take risks, so we have to put pressure, get the ball and maintain ball possession," the Argentine added.
Ajax, on the other hand, are currently third in the group; a point below AC Milan and one above Celtic. Frank de Boer's side will be keen to pull off an upset tonight and stay alive in the competition, with a potentially decisive trip to Milan coming up in the last gameweek.
The Dutch side have won four of their last five matches and beat Heracles Almelo 3-0 at the weekend. A defeat to Barca, combined with a Milan win over Celtic tonight, would leave the Europa League as Ajax's only remaining option.
"We want to be second in the group but even without Messi they have dropped very few points in both the league and the Champions League. He's a very important player who doesn't only score but also gives a lot of assists, but even without Messi they have a lot of great players," de Boer stressed.
"We have the same philosophy as Barcelona, we play technically, we want to play in attack. We always think more offensively than defensively and this is similar. I'm used to playing like this as a player and as a coach I want to play the same and show that tomorrow," the former Barca star added.
Ajax: Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (ankle) and Siem de Jong (hamstring) missed the weekend game - after picking up injuries on international duty - and are doubts for this tie. Bojan Krkic (hamstring), on loan from Barcelona, has not played since September and will miss out, while Niklas Moisander has returned from a knee injury.
Barcelona: Apart from Messi, Victor Valdes (calf) is injured and Alexis Sanchez is suspended. Adriano suffered ligament damage to his left ankle against Granada and was not part of the travelling squad. Dani Alves (calf), Jordi Alba (hamstring) and Jonathan dos Santos (knee) are also unlikely to feature in this clash.
Where to Watch Live
The game is scheduled for a 1.15 am IST start on Wednesday morning, with Ten Sports providing live coverage in India. You can catch the action live online by clicking the link HERE. To live stream the action in North Africa and the Middle East, click HERE. To watch the match in the U.S. via Fox Sports click HERE. To catch all the action via live streaming in the U.K., click HERE.
Ajax: Cillessen; Van Rhijn, Moisander, Veltman, Boilesen; Blind, Klaassen, Serero, Schone; Hoesen, Fischer
Barcelona: Pinto; Montoya, Mascherano, Puyol, Planas; S Roberto, Xavi, Fabregas; Pedro, Neymar, Tello
Prediction: 2-0 to Barca