AMSTERDAM: Manchester City visit Ajax on Wednesday knowing that they can afford no further setbacks if they are to avoid a painful repeat of last season’s Champions League group-phase exit.
Dealt another fiendish draw, City find themselves in third place in Group D after two matches, five points behind leaders Real Madrid and three points adrift of Borussia Dortmund.
Both games to date have left the English champions in rueful mood.
The opening 3-2 loss in Madrid came courtesy of a 90th-minute winner from Cristiano Ronaldo, while City needed a last-minute Mario Balotelli penalty to snatch a 1-1 draw at home to an enterprising Dortmund side three weeks ago.
Although Ajax are the Dutch champions, they are the weakest team in the group, and City will hope to reignite their push for a last-16 place by winning both games of their double-header against the Amsterdam club.
Even then, it might not be enough.
Drawn alongside Napoli, Villarreal and eventual finalists Bayern Munich last season, City managed to amass 10 points but still failed to progress, becoming only the fifth team to achieve that unenviable feat.
They will nonetheless be buoyed by the manner in which they fought back from a goal down to win 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
City had James Milner sent off mid-way through the first half but rallied to win through a late brace from substitute Edin Dzeko.
The Bosnian striker has had to content himself with the role of impact substitute this season, but with five league goals, he is City’s top scorer in the league, and will hope to start in the Netherlands.
“Edin won’t have that tag (super-sub) either, because he will get his starts, like every other player will get their starts,” said assistant coach David Platt.
“We’ve got 24 players and four of them are on the treatment table, so we had a squad of 20 to pick from (against West Brom).
“Edin came on and got his two goals and has put himself firmly in the manager’s thoughts for Wednesday night. But we will pick a team on what we think is right for Ajax and the one after that.”
City will probably be without midfield schemer David Silva, who injured his hamstring in Spain’s 1-1 draw with France last week, while Maicon (foot), Jack Rodwell (hamstring), and Javi Garcia (thigh) are definitely out.
Despite their comeback at the Hawthorns, City remain four points below Premier League leaders Chelsea in third place, and Ajax are also having to work to keep pace with their domestic rivals.
Like City, Frank de Boer’s young side are still to lose in the league, but they have won only four of their nine games and trail leaders FC Twente by five points after conceding two late goals in a 3-3 draw at Heracles on Saturday.
“We weren’t man enough,” said de Boer of his side’s performance.
“When you’re ahead by two goals twice, you just can’t give it away. That’s not worthy of Ajax.”Beaten 1-0 at Dortmund in their first Group D outing, Ajax crashed 4-1 at home to Real Madrid last time out and their need for points in Wednesday’s game at the Amsterdam ArenA will be equally pressing.
Mancini pledged after the draw with Dortmund that he “knew the problem” and would “resolve it very quickly”, but a slip-up against Ajax will bring a second successive early exit from the Champions League looming alarmingly into focus.