Barcelona need to avoid getting sucked into the Spanish obsession with El Clasico when they face Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League on Tuesday. All eyes in Spain are on leaders Barca’s visit to Real Madrid next Saturday which could see the possible debut of Uruguay forward Luis Suarez after his four-month ban for biting Italian Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.
With so much interest, there is a real risk that the visit of four-times European champions Ajax could take a back seat and be treated as a mere warm-up. However, defeat in their previous outing against Paris St Germain means that Barca cannot afford to be complacent, even if Ajax are nowadays a provider of young talent for other European clubs rather than a force in their own right.
Paris St Germain lead Group F with four points followed by Barca on three points and Ajax on two. “The most important game for us now is against Ajax and we want to play well in that so that we are in good condition for the El Clasico,” Javier Mascherano told reporters after Saturday’s 3-0 win over Eibar.
Lionel Messi and Neymar both started against Eibar despite long trips for recent international matches and between them they have scored 17 of Barca’s 25 goals so far. Barca coach Luis Enrique admitted that Messi’s value to the team made it difficult to leave him out.
Ajax are second in the Eredivisie and came from behind to draw 1-1 against Twente on Saturday with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson scoring in the second half.
No Costa for Chelsea
Chelsea will be without striker Diego Costa for their Champions League clash at home to Maribor on Wednesday. “He hasn’t trained because he’s not in condition to do so,” manager Jose Mourinho told a news conference on Monday. “It’s the same problem that he is having, it’s simple. Let’s see what happens for the next weekend.”
Costa, who has made a stunning start to his Chelsea career with nine Premier League goals since joining from Atletico Madrid, has been struggling with a hamstring injury and did not play in the 2-1 defeat of Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Chelsea are well-placed in Group G with four points from their opening two fixtures but have several players unavailable for the visit of the Slovenian outsiders to Stamford Bridge. Midfielders John Obi Mikel, Andre Schurrle and Ramires will all play no part while striker Didier Drogba is not fit enough to play for 90 minutes, according to Mourinho.
He confirmed that 17-year-old reserve team striker Dominic Solanke would start on the bench.
Totti takes aim at Bayern
If anyone can breach Bayern Munich’s apparently impregnable defence, then it is AS Roma and their talismanic forward Francesco Totti. Last year’s Serie A runners-up, who host Bayern at the Stadio Olimpico, have hit the target in each of their nine games this season, scoring a total of 20 goals with Totti providing three of those plus four assists. Just past his 38th birthday and in his 23rd season at his only professional club, Totti has been a fundamental part of Roma’s resurgence under French coach Rudi Garcia.
Totti, who became the oldest player ever to score in the UCL in the 1-1 draw away to Manchester City last month, scored the winning goal when Roma hit back from 2-0 behind to win 3-2 when they last faced Bayern, four years ago.
The Bavarians will provide the stiffest of tests for Roma. Unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions since losing to Borussia Dortmund in the German Supercup clash, they have kept eight successive clean sheets and have not conceded a goal since the 1-1 draw against Schalke on August 30.