A big challenge faces Ajax on Tuesday evening. A match against the Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona awaits in Camp Nou. The Spanish leader has been struggling recently, but needs to post a good result in this third UEFA Champions League group match after their defeat at the hands of PSV. Frank de Boer: “We need to be in top form to defeat this Barça.”
Ajax and FC Barcelona have many things in common. A rich history, a world famous youth academy and several players who have played both in Barcelona and Amsterdam. Still, the teams only have a scant history against each other. Last season, Ajax and Barcelona met for the first time in an official capacity. And just like then, these words were spoken by Frank de Boer: “I want to see some fun tomorrow evening. But most of all, the players need to give their maximum. This is the kind of match where you need to show what you can do.”
Ajax fans will remember very clearly how the previous two meetings went. Thirteen months ago in Camp Nou, Ajax went down 4-0 after playing a good first half. The 2-1 win against Barcelona is noted in golden letters in the archives of the 2013-2014 season. De Boer: “Last season’s matches prove that we can give pretty much anyone a hard time – even to Barcelona, on their home turf. Look at the first 45 minutes of last season’s match. But after that strong first half, we lost our grip through sloppy loss of possession after the break. That’s fatal against this kind of team. In order to beat this Barça, we need to be in top form during the entire match tomorrow.”
Davy Klaassen was absent from Camp Nou last season due to injury. He watched the game at home. The 21 year old midfielder is now looking forward to his debut against Barcelona. As an A-junior, he played with Ajax in the nearby Mini Estadi, but that experience will be dwarfed by what he will experience on Tuesday evening. “Everything is big in the Champions League”, said Klaassen. “That’s totally clear when you enter this stadium. These stadiums belong in the Champions League. Barcelona is a very big club. I’m counting on a great match. Obviously I’m going to enjoy it, but everything is dependent on the final result. That will determine how I will remember this match.”
On the eve of his eighth appearance at the highest European level, Klaassen was asked his opinion of Barcelona star player Lionel Messi. “It was all a bit less intense last season, but despite that he was still very important for Barcelona. This season, he’s in great form, I think.” Frank de Boer continued: “Messi is a player who wants to play anywhere, anytime. He never wants to be substituted. He breaks all of the records. And he’s still pretty young. It’s not a coincidence that he’s been selected as the best player in the world for four straight years.”
It will be very difficult to sneak points away from Barcelona on Tuesday evening. Especially since the Primera Division leader absolutely needs to win after a 3-2 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain. The difference between number two Barcelona and number three Ajax is one point after two group matches. Messi and company are eager to expand that lead in the upcoming double confrontation against Ajax. “In European play, we grew last season. We’ve shown several times that we’re no less than the big teams, at least when we’re in good form. Especially in the past two seasons, we’ve come close to making it past the winter break. But we’ve not been able to grab that elusive prize yet.”
It’s a loss for De Boer that he won’t have experienced players Nicolai Boilesen (concussion) and Thulani Serero (hamstring) at his disposal against Barcelona. And as hard as it will be for Ajax to play in Camp Nou without the injured Dane and South African, De Boer sees opportunities for other players. “It’s a real shame for them and for the team. Besides them, we’re also missing a few players who have left. On the other side, now other players now have the opportunity to show what they can do.” And there is no better setting imaginable than Camp Nou.