Barca self-analyse ahead of clash with old friends Ajax

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

If there are two European clubs in separate countries with more links than Barcelona and Ajax, I personally can't think of them.

Wednesday's Champions League tie between the two conjures up all sorts of associations, going back to Johan Cruyff's move to the Camp Nou in 1973 from the club he grew up with in his native Amsterdam.

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Cruyff's influence brought a Dutch style of play that was to become the cornerstone of Barca for over 30 years, including, of course, the "Dream Team" that he coached himself. Since his arrival, 13 other players have moved in that direction, while six former Barcelona players have found themselves representing Ajax, including Bojan Krkic who could feature on Wednesday.

Those 13 include such players as current Ajax coach Ronald de Boer, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In addition, there is Louis van Gaal, who coached both sides, and Frank Rijkaard, who played for Ajax and then led Barca to a Champions League title as manager.

As Dutchmen became the norm in Catalonia, Cruyff's influence at the club grew, to the point that now when he speaks about the club he regularly overshadows those currently employed there.

So it is shame that the fixture will be overshadowed by a spat between Cruyff and Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, which culminated last week in the Dutch legend saying he will be supporting Ajax and will not set foot back in the stadium as long as Rosell remains.

Even Gerard Pique was questioned about it in Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"It is a mess because Cruyff is an important person for Barcelona, but it's his decision and we have to respect it."

Moving to the football, with two away games at Milan and Celtic completing the first half of the group, it is crucial that Barca, and Gerardo Martino in his first game in the competition, get off to a good start.

On Tuesday he said he was looking forward to it, but despite a 100 percent record in the league, the general impression is that all is not quite right at the Camp Nou. Apart from the first game against Levante, Barca has not been dominating matches the way it is used to doing.

Defensive frailties have been unearthed as a lack of control over games has allowed opponents who can break quickly the opportunity to compete.

Martino has admitted as much after Saturday’s match. "We have to correct some things, we need to close down matches and control the ball more in the second half," he said after the win over Sevilla.

On Wednesday he was more specific about what those problems might be.

"We've had problems at dead-ball situations, it's a question of size and we have to find a way to defend them the best we can.

"It's true in the last two games the defenders have had to run a lot, we will have to rotate players, but it's difficult to change the central defenders; we need to sort things out first and then look at our options."

Martino clarified that his defensive options currently stop at Carlos Puyol: "If he comes back well we will not need to buy any other centre-backs," he said.

Midfielder Sergio Busquets was also critical after the win on Saturday: "We can't seem to get to the end of games, our problem is sometimes we want to attack too much and we forget that there are only a few minutes left and we have the game won; let's hope we learn from it and it does not happen again."

On Tuesday it was Pique's turn to offer his version of how the season is panning out.

"We need a bit more time, it's been like this in recent seasons and Tata needs time to make changes, we're looking for a balance between direct play and different ways of playing the game. After only one month it is going well, but we can get better."

Alexis Sanchez came out of the Sevilla game with some credit, grabbing his second goal of the season, and he may be preferred over Pedro and Cristian Tello.

Realistically, Ajax will be looking to do little more than control Lionel Messi and Neymar, who showed more signs of developing a sort of understanding against Sevilla. Neymar had a great first half in which he began to show his full range of tricks from a position close to the left wing.

Messi was quiet throughout and almost looked sluggish once or twice as he tried to evade Sevilla's biting midfielders. But what he did in the last seconds of the game to earn the winner marked him down once again as the truly great player he is.

It is unlikely that a similar rescue will be required on Wednesday, but Messi, being Messi, will be there just in case.


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