Match Preview: Ajax vs Marseille (UEFA Cup)

Ajax vs Marseille, UEFA Cup 4th round second-leg, March 18, 2009

Two of the great names of European football meet at the Amsterdam ArenA on Wednesday night, with Marseille looking in confident mood to finish what they started when they beat the Dutch club 2-1 last week.

It has been a tough season for Ajax. Marco van Basten had watched his side underperform for the majority of the Eredivisie season, never in touching distance of runaway leaders AZ Alkmaar and constantly looking a relic of their former past glories.

The pressure refuses to let up, as Wednesday poses severe selection headaches for the Amsterdammers. Rasmus Lindgren, Jan Vertonghen and Gabri have all been ruled out due to injury, while defensive duo Gregory van der Wiel and Thomas Vermaelen are unavailable due to suspension. Under-manned at the back and in midfield, Ajax will be looking to forwards Luis Suarez and Dario Cvitanich to lead the way up top, both strikers having got on the scoresheet during Saturday’s 3-nil defeat of De Graafschap.

In contrast to Ajax’s stuttering season, things are being to rev up for Marseille. Erik Gerets watched his side win in Paris with a huge confidence-boosting 3-1 defeat of PSG at the weekend, which saw OM close the gap on Lyon to just one point in Ligue 1’s most exciting season for years.

And the Frenchmen have more reason be upbeat ahead of their UEFA Cup tie. The recent form is excellent, unbeaten in six match of which four were wins. And their important attacking duo of Mamadou Niang and Hatem Ben Arfa (six goals each so far this season) should both return refreshed to the first team having been given a rest at the weekend.

It is not all doom and gloom for Ajax though. First off, they can feel secure in the knowledge that no French team has ever won the UEFA Cup. Second, they can be bouyed by the fact that they only narrowly lost the first leg despite being down to 10-men for the whole of the second half. And lastly, while Ajax’s season can now be geared towards winning the UEFA Cup as their only realistic source of silverware, Marseille’s focus may be slightly distracted by their title showdown back home.

Ajax’s slew of absentees makes it unlikely that the hosts will be able to keep a clean sheet and the score draw looks favourable.

101gg predicts: Ajax 1 – Marseille 1 (11/2) & Luis Suarez to score first (5/1)

Full match odds can be seen here.