As is customary on the eve of a European match, the Ajax players familiarized themselves with their surroundings. The eighteen Ajax players made use of the field of the Etihad Stadium in Manchester on Monday evening, which was Guy Fawkes Day.
Ajax has of course been in Manchester last February, but at that time it was Old Trafford in south west Manchester that was their venue. Etihad Stadium is around five miles from there, in the east. And the atmosphere is completely different. Old Trafford breathes history; Etihad is much more modern. Manchester United is a world class team; Manchester City hopes to become one. But if it’s up to the Amsterdammers, that ambition will be postponed one season. Because if Ajax wins in east Manchester on Tuesday evening, then coach Roberto Mancini’s team will remain in fourth place of pool D, with Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid fighting for first place.
Ajax was successful in the Amsterdam ArenA. Frank de Boer’s young team posted a surprising 3-1 win, and to help prepare the players as well as possible for this return, the trained in the Etihad Stadium on Monday evening. At around 8p.m. local time, the Ajax players came onto the field in the quiet stadium, where a large group of fans, sponsors and press watched on as De Boer let his team warm up.
After two small rounds, it was time for a big session of keep-away. As Bonfire Night fireworks went off outside the stadium – to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes’ attack on the Parliament buildings in 1605 – Ajax did their last fine tuning to ensure some fireworks of their own in Tuesday’s game.
Once Ajax had warmed up in the freezing cold stadium, De Boer had another exercise ready. Veltman, Alderweireld and Moisander put on orange jerseys. Their job was to defend attacks which mainly came from the flanks. Blind and Babel started as a pair on the left and Boerrigter and Van Rhijn attacked from the right. The best goal came courtesy of Christian Poulsen, who scored with both feet at the same time.
Ajax left the field after about one hour. They know how the mat feels and how the lighting is. Tomorrow at this time, they’ll be here again. But then, they’ll need to perform against The Citizens.