Premier League champions Manchester City are in danger of a second successive group stage exit from the Champions League, when they entertain Dutch champions Ajax at the Etihad. Roberto Mancini's men were at the wrong end of a comprehensive 3-1 defeat in the last game between these sides and are still looking for their first win in Europe this year.
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Manchester City were admittedly unlucky to be drawn in the Group of Death - with the reigning champions of Spain (Real Madrid), Holland (Ajax) and Germany (Borussia Dortmund) respectively. However, the fact they are now in danger of a group stage exit is equally largely their fault.
Roberto Mancini's men were poised to make a historic and winning start to the European season, when they were leading Madrid 2-1 in Spain, with only minutes to go. However, they allowed Jose Mourinho's men too much time on the ball and the Spaniards hit back with two goals in five minutes, from French striker Karim Benzema and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. City then scraped a 1-1 draw at home to Dortmund, in a game England international Joe Hart saved for his club, with a series of magnificent saves and blocks. The 3-1 defeat in Amsterdam was, as Mancini later admitted, a fair reflection of the English club's shortcomings in Europe and the former Lazio and Inter Milan manager will want to see better performances from his talented squad.
Ajax, meanwhile, have had as poor a season as their hosts for this game... this could mean an open and free-flowing match. Former Dutch international Frank de Boer is in charge of this young but talented Ajax side, and the defeats to Dortmund (1-0 away) and Madrid (1-4 at home) were banished with the win over City. However, Ajax come into this game on the back of a 0-2 home defeat to Vitesse Arnhem. The Dutch champions are fifth in the Eredivise, 10 points behind early leaders FC Twente.
Dortmund, who travel to Spain to play Madrid on the same day, lead Group D with seven points from the first three games. Mourinho's men are second with six and Ajax third with four. City have just the one point and could be forced to do without European football this season, placed as they are outside the Europa League qualifying position.
- Last Five (most recent first): D W L W W
- Last Match: West Ham 0 - 0 Manchester City
- Last Five (most recent first): L W D W D
- Last Match: Ajax 0 - 2 Vitesse
Mancini will be without a number of key players. Right backs Micah Richards and Maicon are both unavailable, as are midfielders James Milner and Jack Rodwell and centre-back Joleon Lescott. The biggest blow, however, will be the absence of Spanish playmaker David Silva, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
The good news is that new signing Javi Garcia, a former Real Madrid youth player, and Argentine utility man Pablo Zabaleta are both back in contention; the latter will likely slot in at right-back, while Garcia will start from the bench.
Joe Hart will probably have Zabaleta and Frenchman Gael Clichy protecting the flanks, while Mancini will field club captain Vincent Kompany and Serbian youngster Matija Nastasic in central defence. Ivory Coast star Yaya Toure, who has confirmed he wants to end his career with the club, will be partnered by England midfielder Gareth Barry and the duo will support the attacking quartet of Samir Nasri (who has urged his team mates to rekindle the title-winning spirit of last season), Mario Balotelli and the Argentinean duo of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero.
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Yaya Toure, Barry; Nasri, Tevez, Balotelli; Aguero
The Dutch are without major injury or suspensions and will probably field the same side that beat City in the last game. Former Liverpool striker Ryan Babel, who was critical of City after the win at the Amsterdam ArenA, will lead the line for the visitors, with one-time Manchester United transfer target Christian Eriksen (also linked to Liverpool) and another ex-Liverpool player in defensive midfielder Christian Poulsen among those likely to start the game.
Ajax: Vermeer; Van Rhijn, Alderweireld, Moisander, Blind; Schone, Poulsen; De Jong, Sana, Eriksen; Babel