By Tim Hanlon
Barcelona need to avoid getting sucked into the Spanish obsession with El Clasico when they face Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League on Tuesday.
All eyes in Spain are on leaders Barca’s visit to Real Madrid next Saturday which could see the possible debut of Uruguay forward Luis Suarez after his four-month ban for biting Italian Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.
With so much interest, there is a real risk that the visit of four-time European champions Ajax could take a back seat and be treated as a mere warm-up.
However, defeat in their previous outing against Paris St Germain means that Barca cannot afford to be complacent, even if Ajax are nowadays a provider of young talent for other European clubs rather than a force in their own right.
Paris St Germain lead Group F with four points followed by Barca on three points and Ajax on two.
“The most important game for us now is against Ajax and we want to play well in that so that we are in good condition for the El Clasico,” Javier Mascherano told reporters after Saturday’s 3-0 win over Eibar.
“You cannot live in the past or for games that are going to take place in the future,” he added.
“The match against Ajax is important for us and we need to be fully focused on that. If we don’t play well on Tuesday then that can also change the mood and we want to play well and be ready for the El Clasico.
“We need to continue improving aspects despite the win,” he added. “Even when we weren’t able to score we did not panic and kept on trying.
“There is also a physical element as well because in the second half our rivals have problems against us. Playing with intensity and forcing the opposition back into their own area means that they tire.”
Lionel Messi and Neymar both started against Eibar despite long trips for recent international matches and between them they have scored 17 of Barca’s 25 goals so far.
Barca coach Luis Enrique admitted that Messi’s value to the team made it difficult to leave him out.
“I look at who to give a break to including Messi but later I think to myself if you don’t play him you will miss out on the goals he scores,” he said.
“I think over what they say and how the players are feeling. During the season he will have a break but I think it is a special moment for the team and him at the moment.
“Sometimes I sit there on the bench and think to myself how lucky I am to have Messi. It is not just what he can do but also the stimulus he provides for the others.”
Ajax are second in the Eredivisie and came from behind to draw 1-1 against Twente on Saturday with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson scoring in the second half.