AFC Ajax need a point against Group D winners Real Madrid CF to seal second spot and coach Frank de Boer knows how tough that might be regardless of the side the visitors put out.
Article top media content
Group D winners Real Madrid CF arrived in Amsterdam without seven key players – Cristiano Ronaldo among them – yet Frank de Boer says AFC Ajax's task is hardly made easier as they target the draw that will guarantee progress to the round of 16. The Spanish side themselves have sights on a club record-equalling 15th successive victory ahead of Saturday's mouth-watering meeting with FC Barcelona.
Coach Frank de Boer
Even when Madrid do not play their strongest team, they can still put out a strong lineup. We have just one goal and that is to reach the next stage of the Champions League. We will have to play well but I have a good feeling. We have to play our own game and we have done that every time so far.
We have a big [three-point] advantage over Lyon and I am convinced we will take at least one point against Madrid, so we won't need any help from Zagreb, although we will obviously keep an eye on their match. The importance of reaching the next stage has been spoken about a lot by the press and by ourselves. It would be great to still be in the competition after the winter break, and for the players it would be fantastic to play at least two more matches on this stage.
• Saturday: Ajax 4-1 SBV Excelsior (Vertonghen 11 38, Sulejmani 63pen, Lodeiro 67; Maatsen 45)
Vermeer; Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Blind; Anita, Enoh (Ligeon 42), Eriksen, Janssen; Sulejmani, Lodeiro (Klaassen 69), Aissati (Ebecilio 46)
• Ajax ended a run of four straight home league draws with only their third win in ten Eredivisie matches, beating an Excelsior side reduced to ten men by Samuel Scheimann's 37th-minute dismissal.
Toby Alderweireld (hamstring) has been ruled out after being injured in training, with Daley Blind, Gregory van der Wiel (back from a groin problem) and Vurnon Anita possible makeshift replacements at the heart of defence. Dimitri Bulykin (calf) has reported for duty, but Ismaïl Aissati (ankle) has joined long-term absentees Siem de Jong, André Ooijer, Derk Boerrigter, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Nicolai Boilesen on the sidelines.
Coach José Mourinho
It is always good to be back in Amsterdam – playing against Ajax is always a pleasure too. Both teams are stronger [than when they met in last season's group stage, Madrid winning both games]. Typically, the longer players and coaches are together the tighter the squad become. The coach improves the players, the players improve the coach.
I am not thinking about Saturday yet [when Madrid host Barcelona in the Liga]. We take all competitions seriously and there is a lot at stake, regardless of the financial or sporting side of things. Frank [de Boer, who believes a Madrid victory on Saturday would leave them with an unassailable lead] would be better focusing on the match tomorrow. The rest is not yet an issue.
• Saturday: Real Sporting de Gijón 0-3 Real Madrid (Di María 34, Ronaldo 64, Marcelo 90+2)
Casillas; Coentrão, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Diarra, Khedira; Di María (Albiol 74) Özil (Kaká 80), Ronaldo; Higuaín (Benzema 76)
• Madrid claimed their 14th consecutive win in all competitions and are now just one shy of their club record set in 1960/61. Sporting Gijón had Sebastián Eguren sent off ten minutes from time.
Mourinho confirmed that Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín will play after deciding to rest Ronaldo, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Pepe, Sami Khedira and Lassana Diarra. Álvaro Arbeloa is available after a hamstring complaint and Kaká returned on Saturday after a month out with a calf injury. Ricardo Carvalho (back, knee) is a long-term casualty.
In four years as a Barcelona player between 1999 and 2003, De Boer faced Madrid nine times in Liga and UEFA Champions League, winning two, losing two and drawing five. In the Dutchman's first term at Barcelona, Mourinho was an assistant to Camp Nou coach Louis van Gaal.