In a repeat of last season, Manchester City head into their third match of the Champions League group stage knowing that a victory is all but essential if they are to keep their hopes of making the knockout phase alive.
After conceding two late goals to fall to defeat at Real Madrid, City produced a disappointing display at home to Borussia Dortmund and, in truth, were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw. For boss Roberto Mancini there is no longer any room for error and the Italian will surely accept that his team needs to win both games of the double-header with the Dutch Champions.
The pressure on Mancini is particularly intense as the former Inter Milan boss looks to dispel the notion that he cannot cut it in European competition. But City’s record of three defeats from four away games in the competition does not make for positive reading.
City will be missing key creative presence David Silva, who has yet to recover from a hamstring injury picked up on international duty with Spain last week. Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell and Maicon have also missed out on the trip to Amsterdam.
Mancini’s main selection dilemma concerns which combination to start with up front. Edin Dzeko scored twice in victory at West Brom on Saturday and dismissed his burgeoning reputation as a super-sub, suggesting that he is intent on gaining a regular starting place.
Mancini, then, faces a choice of two from four of Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli.
Those are options that Ajax manager Frank de Boer can only dream about. The former Netherlands international defender is likely to again have former Liverpool man Ryan Babel leading the line as they look to improve on scoring just one goal in the competition so far in defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.
Ajax’s domestic form has also dropped off after suffering a 4-1 loss at home to the Spanish champions, as they have recorded two draws that leaves the side sitting third in the Eredivisie.
An unlikely place in the next round already looks beyond Ajax and De Boer will know that a win is likely to be essential even to try and secure third spot in the group and a Europa League place.
D: Van Rhijn, Alderweireld, Moisander, Blind
M: De Jong, Poulsen, Eriksen
F: Sana, Babel, Boerrigter
Manchester City (probable)
D: Zabaleta, Nastasic, Kompany, Clichy
M: Toure Barry
Milner, Tevez, Nasri
Prediction: This truly is a must win game for City and they will have to show that they can cope with the pressure. The Premier League champions have continued to be poor in the Champions League this season, failing to display any real control against either Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund. While Siem de Jong and Christian Eriksen have real potential, Ajax are a side that City really should be beating. However, given what is at stake and City’s performances in the competition it could well be a nervy occasion with the result in doubt right until the last. But City should just scrape a vital three points.
Ajax 1-2 Manchester City
Coverage: The Champions League Group D match kicks-off from the Amsterdam Arena at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available via FoxSoccer2Go.