Ajax vs. Manchester City: 3 Battles That Will Decide Champions League Clash
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Manchester City have started their Champions League campaign in the same manner as the Premier League, which will be their undoing if allowed to continue.
The late goals conceded against Real Madrid will have acted as a lesson to play the full 90 minutes against Ajax. It all comes down to three key battles which are outlined below.
Vincent Kompany vs. Ryan Babel
This is the one that could decide the whole contest. Having failed in his bid to remain relevant at Liverpool, Babel went back to Ajax, where he has attempted to revive his career. This may sound strange considering Babel is only 25, but time is no longer on his side.
Babel will go up against a man who was imperious last year, but hasn't lived up to that this season. Kompany has struggled for form and if Babel is able to get the better of him early, it could be a long night for City fans.
In his limited career at Liverpool, we saw that Babel is a dangerous player if given space to run at a defence. He has a good shot from distance, too, so Kompany must stay tight on him and deny him time to look up and set himself to shoot.
Babel will see the game as an opportunity to prove himself to the people who watched him in the Premier League, so he'll aim to start fast and unsettle the City defense. Kompany has to be alert from the first whistle, which means that this is the battle to keep an eye on over the course of the game.
Yaya Toure vs. Christian Poulsen
Another Liverpool burnout, Christian Poulsen was brought to Anfield by Roy Hodgson and lasted about as long as the England boss. Ajax, however, have brought out the best in him and he has rewarded them with some good, if erratic, performances.
Toure holds the key to the midfield, and on paper this looks like a battle that the City player wins comfortably. However, Poulsen is not to be underestimated, and the Dane has the ability to dictate the game if allowed to settle.
Pressure is the key for Toure and the City midfield. Although Ajax are at home, they cannot be allowed to dictate the tempo or possession; City must hurry them into mistakes, seize on loose passes and press the Ajax midfield back in their own half.
Joe Hart vs. Ajax
Although that is a slightly exaggerated heading, Joe Hart has kept the Citizens in contention for most of their Champions League campaign. Another good performance from him could again be the difference between points and defeat.
Toure and Kompany must do their respective jobs in front of him, but if they are put under pressure, it all depends on Hart. City are five points behind Real Madrid at this point in the competition, so any more setbacks could result in another embarrassing Champions League exit.
The Dutch team's problem has been a leaky defence, so City will fancy their chances. However, with the City defence itself having problems, Hart is integral to the success of his team.
The game against Borussia Dortmund was an abject lesson in defending against European opposition. Hart performed to near-miraculous levels, but cannot realistically be expected to do so again.
There aren't many goalkeepers who could have survived such an onslaught, let alone come out of it as the winner. It's City's job to make sure it doesn't come to that tonight.
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