Ajax and Liverpool are set to do battle at the Johann Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening, as part of the fourth round of the Champions League group stages.
The season has been going pretty much routinely for Ajax. With nine wins, one draw and one defeat, they top the Eredivisie table after 11 rounds with a four-point advantage over second-place PSV Eindhoven, and they obviously remain the favourites to retain the crown in Dutch football.
But over in the Champions League, they face a tough battle to progress from the group stages, and it is absolutely imperative for them to beat Liverpool if they intend to enter the final round, when they face Rangers in Glasgow next week, with any mathematical chance. At the moment, they only have three points to their name, six less than Liverpool.
Even their recent form suggests that the domestic scene and the Champions League are two different worlds for Ajax. Their last-six run consists of a 1-1 draw at home against Go Ahead Eagles, a 1-6 defeat at home to Napoli, a 2-4 win over FC Volendam, a 4-2 defeat to Napoli in Italy, a 7-1 thumping of Excelsior at home, and a 1-4 win away to RKC Waalwijk.
But whatever happens in the Champions League, Ajax have to be commended for the way they keep regenerating after losing key players year after year. This time, they lost the head coach too as Erik ten Hag made his way to Manchester United to be replaced by Alfred Schreuder.
Liverpool seemed like they were starting to find their feet after a pale start to the campaign, but they suffered an unexpected setback on Saturday, and their recent form is anything but conclusive at this point. They are now the only team to have beaten Manchester City in any competition this season, and they’ve done so twice already, and they’re now the second team to lose a match to newly promoted Nottingham Forest. A spectacularly strange combination.
Liverpool’s last-six run consists of a 2-0 win at home over Rangers, a 3-2 defeat away to Arsenal, a 1-7 thrashing of Rangers in Glasgow, a 1-0 home win over Manchester City, a 1-0 win over West Ham also at home, and a 1-0 defeat away to Nottingham Forest.
Unlike Ajax, Liverpool stand better in the Champions League than in their domestic league at the moment. They are second to Napoli, with nine points from three wins, and a point in Amsterdam is all they need to secure a place in the knockout stages with a trip to Naples still to come next week.
But in the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp’s men are currently eighth, two points behind last season’s Championship winners Fulham. There may have been talk about them challenging for the title again this term, but right now, it seems they face a desperate struggle to finish inside the top four.