Ajax Amsterdam and AC Milan will square off on Tuesday night in the Netherlands in what will be the second group match for both clubs in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League draw.
Milan powered their way to a 2-0 victory over Celtic to earn three quick points in the group table, but Ajax felt the full brunt of Barcelona's prowess in a 4-0 loss that threatens to doom the Eredivisie outfit the rest of the way.
The Serie A side will be the favorite, but manager Massimiliano Allegri is refusing to give his club the benefit of the doubt heading into a crucial contest. Football Italia noted as much with this Twitter post on Monday:
Massimiliano Allegri has insisted there are ‘no easy games in Europe’ as Milan prepare to face Ajax tomorrow http://t.co/dMuTPBaZMF— footballitalia (@footballitalia) September 30, 2013
While Ajax haven't beaten an Italian league side since 2002 (AS Roma), Milan enters this battle with only one loss (Napoli) in their last seven outcomes. Between road draws with Torino and Bologna and a 1-0 win over Sampdoria, Allegri has his men in good shape as they prepare for a pivotal road match.
On the opposite sideline, Frank de Boer and the Lancers outscored FC Volendam and Go Ahead Eagles 10-2 in their last two matches after consecutive defeats to Barca and PSV Eindhoven. That momentum will face its toughest test to date against Milan.
We'll prepare you for this UCL match below.
Who: Ajax Amsterdam vs. AC Milan
What: 2013-14 UEFA Champions League Group Stage
When: Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. BST)
Where: Amsterdam Arena; Amsterdam, Netherlands
Watch: MSG Plus, Fox Sports Florida/Ohio, Sky Sports Red Button
Live Stream: FoxSoccer2Go
Odds*: Ajax Amsterdam (32.3 percent), AC Milan (40.3 percent), Draw (27.4 percent)
*Odds via Bloomberg Sports, as of 9/30/13.
2013-14 UEFA Champions League Group H Table
*via Fox Sports.
Mario Balotelli Back in the Spotlight
The man, the myth, and the legend that is Mario Balotelli is set to be in Allegri's starting lineup on Tuedsay evening.
AC Milan News had this tweet with Balotelli and a few other Milan players expected to grace the pitch before kickoff:
Allegri: "Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant, De Jong, Montolivo, Balotelli and Robinho will play from the start against Ajax."— AC Milan News (@Milanello) September 30, 2013
After missing Milan's last two league matches as part of a three-game ban for a run-in with a referee during a 2-1 loss to Napoli, Balotelli will be well-rested and motivated to prove to doubters that his antics have not crippled his ability to contribute on the pitch.
Fox Soccer's Amy Lawrence is among the doubters:
Mario Balotelli's antics continue to overshadow brilliance on the pitch. Lawrence: http://t.co/Z8ST9q7zk4— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 26, 2013
With quotes like the one shown below in this Football Italia tweet, it's hard to disagree with her assessment:
Milan will benefit from Balotelli's presence on the attacking half of the field, but he's been a ticking time bomb for drama that seems to be activated at the slightest movement. Back in the spotlight of European competition, it remains to be seen if his maturity level can match his play moving forward.
AC Milan 2, Ajax Amsterdam 1
Ajax were clearly distraught at their performances against Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven. In losing those matches by an combined score of 8-0, the Lancers looked overmatched and outclassed by better competition.
What is your prediction?
They've rebounded well in big victories since, but still find themselves in an underdog role despite hosting the match.
Milan is showing strong form of late, and this is a victory they desperately need to move on to the Round of 16 with Barcelona still on the group schedule and table points not easy to come by.
Behind a goal from Balotelli and a defensive effort that is just good enough, Milan keeps pace with Barca in the table.
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