AJC Ajax coach Ronald Koeman is in a cautious mood ahead of the visit of European champions AC Milan. The former Dutch international will have to juggle his side substantially as a number of key players will miss the UEFA Champions League Group H match through injury and suspension.
For starters, key defensive pair Hatem Trabelsi and John O'Brien are out with knee and achilles injuries respectively, while leg and back problems have sidelined South African midfield player Steven Pienaar and Belgian striker Wesley Sonck. Maarten Stekelenburg is also injured, while Zdenek Grygera and, perhaps most damagingly of all, captain Rafael van der Vaart, will sit out the match through suspension.
In addition, Maxwell and Swedish international forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic are doubtful, although Koeman believes both will be passed fit. "I expect them to play," he said. "Just in case, I have put Jelle van Damme on the bench. He is also injured but if Maxwell cannot play a whole game he will replace him."
Koeman admitted that the losses have hit his side hard, particularly Sonck's injury. "
Every player who is injured is a problem," said the Ajax coach. "Sonck has been a very important player for us in the Champions League so far but I can only work with players who are fit to battle against Milan."
Ajax are currently just a point behind section leaders Milan, who have seven points, but with RC Celta de Vigo on five points and Club Brugge KV four, Koeman is acutely aware of how precarious his side's position is, and how crucial the match at the Amsterdam ArenA is.
'Very difficult to win'
"If you look at our situation - we can't use some very important players - it will be very difficult to win," he admitted. "However I am convinced we will qualify if we take three points out of our last two matches. We have played Milan four times now and, although our play was not bad, the results could have been better and we did not score goals."
Milan also have defensive worries, with Alessandro Nesta suspended following his dismissal against Brugge on Matchday 4, but captain Paolo Maldini is in line to return to the squad having shaken off a thigh injury he picked up in the same game. However, he is likely to start on the bench, with Martin Laursen set to keep his place in the first eleven, with Alessandro Costacurta expected to be Nesta's replacement.
'Two qualification chances'
More good news for Carlo Ancelotti is that striker Filippo Inzaghi is back to full fitness after a muscle injury, but the Milan coach is taking nothing for granted. "We have to win in order to make our last game against Celta a simple training match in view of the [European/South American] Cup final against [CA] Boca Juniors in December," he said. "
We have two chances to qualify and this is our first. We arrive in good condition and we are playing well but it will not be easy.
'The same system'
"It's obvious they are missing quite a few key players and that might be to our advantage," Ancelotti continued. "However, Ajax will always play the same system. It doesn't matter which players are in the team."
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