Ajax will try to end three weeks of frustration when it meets Real Madrid in Group G of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Ajax has failed to win in its last three Dutch league matches, losing to ADO The Hague and AZ Alkmaar before drawing 0-0 against PSV Eindhoven on Saturday, and is lying third in its Champions League group.
Star striker Luis Suarez is under pressure because of a goal drought and television images that appear to show him biting PSV midfielder Otman Bakkal in Saturday’s match.
Ajax gave Suarez a fine and dropped him for two Dutch league matches on Monday following the incident. But he will still be available for the match against Madrid.
And now it faces a Madrid side which can secure first place with a victory in Amsterdam or even a draw, depending on the result of AC Milan’s game at Auxerre.
The Amsterdam club, a four-time European champion, badly needs at least a point against Madrid to keep alive its hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages. It has four points from as many games, one point less than Milan and one more than Auxerre. Madrid has 10 points.
"We cannot afford to lose against Real if we want to maintain our prospects and name in Europe," midfielder Demy de Zeeuw said.
Coach Martin Jol has blamed the team’s loss of form on the departure of Marko Pantelic and Dennis Rommedahl in the off season, even though he has brought in Mido and Mounir El Hamdaoui.
Despite a promising start, El Hamdaoui’s partnership with Suarez in the Ajax attack has failed to sparkle over the last few weeks.
The problems have been followed by media reports that Jol is no longer on speaking terms with his assistant Danny Blind over the former Tottenham manager’s refusal to include Blind’s son, Daley, in the squad.
On the injury front, winger Urby Emanuelson could miss Tuesday’s match with an ankle problem while former Barcelona defender Oleguer has a hamstring worry.
Even though its chances against a free-scoring Spanish side aren’t promising, Ajax does have history on its side. The team has beaten Madrid four times in the two sides’ last seven encounters.
Also, Madrid looks set to rest some key players ahead of next Monday’s "clasico" in the Spanish league against Barcelona.
Assistant coach Aitor Karanka said: "Against Ajax there will be changes. Things are going well and we’ve got the players in this squad to play when called upon."
Madrid notched up its seventh straight league victory with Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Athletic Bilbao, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick despite a sore ankle. It hasn’t lost a game in any competition under coach Jose Mourinho, who returns to the sidelines after serving a two-game ban for insulting a referee.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain is out of Tuesday’s game with a back injury and will make way for Karim Benzema, while Sami Khedira has been ruled out by a strained hamstring. Defender Ricardo Carvalho was also ruled out by a leg injury.
The match sees former France great Zinedine Zidane begin his new duties as a link between team president Florentino Perez and Mourinho. Zidane will not form part of the coaching staff.