UEFA Champions League Preview: Ajax v Barcelona
By Football News
An injury-hit Barcelona's 20-match unbeaten record this season will be tested at Ajax in Group H of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
Barcelona have not lost a competitive match since manager Gerardo Martino took over, and with three wins and one draw in their four group matches, the Spanish champions only need to draw in Amsterdam to secure first place and a berth in the last 16.
They strolled to a 4-0 La Liga win over Granada on Saturday, with first-half penalties from Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas setting them on their way.
Alexis Sanchez and Pedro wrapped up the points with strikes after the break as Barca remained top of the table.
It will be a slightly weakened side that makes the trip to the Dutch capital, though, with Lionel Messi (thigh) and goalkeeper Victor Valdes (calf) ruled out for the rest of the group stage.
Dani Alves sustained a calf injury on international duty and missed the win over Granada, left-back Jordi Alba (hamstring) has not played since September and midfielder Jonathan dos Santos (knee) could be out until April.
In addition, Isaac Cuenca has not played this season following knee surgery, Ibrahim Afellay is yet to return from a thigh operation and just to compound Barca's woes, Alexis is suspended.
The Chilean, who has scored 11 goals in his last 12 matches for club and country, has picked up three bookings in the group stages.
This fixture will be Barcelona's 250th in the history of the Champions League, while a draw would be their 100th in UEFA competition.
Barcelona - who have a pass completion rate of 87 per cent, the best in the competition - won the reverse fixture 4-0 at Camp Nou in September, with Messi scoring a hat-trick.
That defeat was Ajax's joint heaviest in the Champions League but they boosted spirits with a 1-0 home win over Celtic earlier this month that keeps their hopes of reaching the round of 16 alive.
Ajax have four points from as many matches and could go second if results go their way, but they could also be eliminated if they lose and Milan win at Celtic.
The Eredivisie champions, who have lost their last nine matches against Spanish opposition, climbed to second thanks to a 3-0 home win over Heracles on Saturday.
Niklas Moisander returned from a knee injury in that match but Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (ankle) and Siem de Jong (hamstring) missed out after picking up injuries on international duty.
Striker Bojan, who is on loan at Ajax from Barcelona, has not played since tearing his hamstring in September.