Ajax can steal top spot in Group D of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League away from Bayern Munich with a win over the German giants on Wednesday.
Ajax have already navigated the high waters of the Group Stage in the Champions League this season. Undefeated in five matches so far, their last match is of significance, both in terms of keeping their undefeated record intact for the entirety of the Group Stage and also going ahead in the knockouts.
Ajax are two points behind Bayern Munich and need a win over the defending Bundesliga champions to snatch the top spot away in Group D.
Bayern Munich have had a calmer Champions League group stage compared to their troubles in Bundesliga this season so far. Under a new manager in Niko Kovac, the players seem to be taking time to adjust to the new tactics while the manager himself is unlikely to have figured out his best eleven as of now.
However, they have started to become steady in recent times, notching up back-to-back league wins, which has propelled them up to third on the table.
Bayern Munich will hope to avoid finishing second in Group D, which could open up a far greater possibility of being drawn against one of the bigger clubs in Europe. Niko Kovac and his men were held to a draw earlier in the season when Ajax came to Germany and a point will be enough for Bayern to retain their top spot.
We now take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
With Ajax needing a win and a defeat not to have any negative impact apart from loss of form to an extent, Erik ten Hag is likely to go with an attacking 4-3-3 formation against Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Andre Onana and Donny van de Beek join Joel Veltman and Hakim Ziyech on the list of casualties.
The back four comprises of the perfect mix of youth and experience, especially in central defence, with the pairing of Matthijs de Ligt and Daley Blind commanding the available positions. Nicolas Tagliafico will be stationed on the left, with Noussair Mazraoui on the right. Andre Onana’s injury means a Champions League debut for Kostas Lamprou.
Lasse Schone and Frenkie De Jong are two players guaranteed to start in midfield. Carel Eiting should complete the midfield.
In attack, Hakim Ziyech will be missed. Dusan Tadic and David Neres should fill up the two wing spots, with Kasper Dolberg likely to lead the Ajax attack.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Lamprou; Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Schone, Eiting, De Jong; Neres, Dolberg, Tadic
James Rodrigues and Corentin Tolisso remain on the sidelines while Arjen Robben is doubtful and unlikely to be risked on Wednesday. Kingsley Coman is also a doubt, but did feature as a substitute during the weekend and should continue to be on the bench, building up his fitness.
Joshua Kimmich should return to the back four after being deployed in midfield, thanks to the availability of Thiago Alcantara and other midfield stars. Mats Hummels could also come into the back four to replace Niklas Sule, who deserves a rest, with Jerome Boateng partnering his compatriot in central defence.
Rafinha should complete the back four. Niko Kovac fields a 4-2-3-1 or an offensive 4-3-3 and should continue doing the same. Serge Gnabry and Franck Ribery should be the wide-men, especially with Coman and Robben not fully fit. Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara will likely be the midfield pairing, with Renato Sanches fielded in an advanced position.
Robert Lewandowski is the designated striker and is slowly building up form. The Polish forward would want to end the Group Stage on a high.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Hummels, Boateng, Rafinha; Martinez, Thiago; Gnabry, Sanches, Ribery; Lewandowski
1. Ajax’s attacking line is yet to open their account in the 2018-19 Champions League campaign.
2. Ajax have conceded just twice in five Champions League games so far this season, same as Bayern Munich.
3. Bayern Munich are on a seven-game unbeaten streak in Europe, with clean sheets in their previous two outings.
4. Dusan Tadic has recorded his best numbers for a season since the 2012-13 campaign for FC Twente, with 11 goals and 7 assists in 20 games in Eredivisie and the Champions League combined.
5. Robert Lewandowski is tied with Lionel Messi atop the Champions League scoring charts, with six goals to his name, having scored in each of his last three outings.
Player to Watch
Frenkie De Jong
All eyes will be on the Dutch international and we are not just talking about the people in the stadium or the players on the field. De Jong is on the radar of every top club in Europe and has been tipped for a move in the near future. A positive performance against Bayern Munich could see De Jong prove his credentials even more.
It could all be worth it for Ajax as well, as De Jong’s price in the auction could be further elevated with a good performance on Wednesday. Also, dominating an opposition midfield comprising of two of the most renowned players in Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez could serve as a statement.
Ajax 2-2 Bayern Munich
While Bayern Munich have stabilised themselves to a certain extent, Ajax are the the more in-form side going into the fixture. Ajax might have a couple of key players out for the cause, but Erik ten Hag would be aware that they can take advantage of a yet-vulnerable Bayern Munich and attempt to steal the top spot from the away side.
It is expected to be an entertaining fixture on Wednesday, with both sides already qualified. But, Ajax are likely to get a draw against Bayern Munich, which means the Bavarians will hold on to their spot atop Group D.