Barcelona were undone by a far superior Bayern Munich in last year's Champions League and now they are back to prove that this team -- beset by injuries and age -- is not done competing for European titles. And then there is the matter of maintaining the upper hand on Real Madrid.
Unfortunately for the Blaugrana, they can't stake their claim to a Bayern challenger or fight off the speculation that their domestic reign will end on Wednesday. Such is the nature of playing Ajax.
Ajax, as historical and wonderful a team as they may be with an attractive style and a seemingly endless supply of skillful players ready to play for the biggest clubs in the world, are not an especially good team. They play in a league that is just barely among Europe's top 10 and haven't made it out of the group stage since 2006, when they beat out Sparta Prague and Thun.
Making matters worse for Ajax is the collapsed lung of Siem de Jong, sidelining the club's best player for six weeks. He made his return to the field over the weekend, but 90 minutes is probably too much to ask from him, forcing Ajax to play without him from the start. That is essentially a death blow to a team that barely had a chance to begin with after Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Miralem Sulejmani all left the team this summer, leaving the next wave of Ajax stars -- led by Viktor Fischer -- with a task too tall in Europe.
Finally, there is the style of play. Ajax, long praised for their attacking and fluid style, refuse to drop men behind the ball or play negatively, almost as much out of pride than principle. And unfortunately for them, trying to play pass for pass with Barcelona will only end up going poorly for them.
So Barcelona, despite presumably giving Xavi Hernandez a rest, will likely boss the match and score a handful of goals. They may even match the six Real Madrid put up against Galatasaray. Neymar should shine, showing the signs of a budding partnership with Lionel Messi, and they may be so good that the injury ravaged and vulnerable defense might never be tested. But it won't sent shivers down their rivals' spines -- Madrid or Bayern.
Wednesday is a romp in the making for Barcelona, not a chance to make waves. Their statement will come in a month, when the Champions League heats up in Milan and Real Madrid visit the Camp Nou.
Barcelona injuries and suspensions
Ajax injuries and suspensions
Out: Joel Veltman (knee)
Match Date/Time: Wednesday, 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
TV: Fox Sports 1 (U.S.), Sportsnet One (Canada)
Online: Fox Soccer 2Go (U.S.)