Frank de Boer was a title winner as a player with Barcelona but defeat by the Catalans this evening could end his Ajax side’s Champions League hopes.
The Dutchman won La Liga with Barca in 1999 but now needs to find a way to topple them in Europe’s premier competition.
Barcelona are already through to the knockout stages and sit five points clear at the top of Group H, with Ajax third on four. With AC Milan second on five, a defeat for Ajax and a Milan win over Celtic would leave the Europa League as De Boer’s best remaining option.
De Boer is hoping that salvation can come in the form of Lionel Messi missing out for Barca through injury. Messi scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win when the sides met in September.
“We would like to be second,” De Boer last night. “And of course it makes a difference whether Messi plays or not. He scores lots of important goals and gets assists. On the other hand, Barcelona have not lost many points without Messi. They have many good players and are a nice team. We must arm ourselves as well as we can.
“Normally Barcelona have more quality but the best team does not always win.”
Barca have motivation of their own: by avoiding defeat, coach Gerardo Martino will tie the club’s longest unbeaten opening to a campaign – 21 matches set by Pep Guardiola’s 2011-12 side.