Ajax will endeavour to keep their slim hopes of reaching the Europa League knockout rounds alive when they travel to the Stade Velodrome to face Marseille in their penultimate Group B fixture on Thursday.
The hosts, meanwhile, are looking to claim their third group-stage victory in a row and boost their chances of finishing at the summit.
After playing out successive score draws with Brighton & Hove Albion (2-2) and Ajax (3-3) in their opening two Group B matches, Marseille have since taken control of the group after winning back-to-back matches against AEK Athens by an aggregate score of 5-1.
A 2-0 success in Greece on matchday four, thanks to goals from Chancel Mbemba and Ismaila Sarr, helped Les Gones maintain their position at the summit of Group B, just one point clear of second-placed Brighton who will play host to Gennaro Gattuso's men in a potentially pivotal contest in two weeks' time.
Marseille have since failed to build on their win over AEK Athens as they have dropped five points out of six in Ligue 1 away fixtures against Lens and Strasbourg, with a 1-0 defeat to the former before the international break followed by a 1-1 draw with the latter last weekend.
Although a strike from Jonathan Clauss was enough to rescue a point against Strasbourg, Les Gones were wasteful in attack as only three of their 16 shots hit the target, and a winless run of four matches in Ligue 1 has seen them slip to 12th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone.
Marseille will welcome a return to the Stade Velodrome where they are unbeaten in their last six games across all competitions, and a victory on Thursday against Ajax – whom they beat 2-1 in their last home meeting in March 2009 – will be enough to secure their spot in the Europa League knockout rounds.
Ajax have endured a bitterly disappointing season so far, and not only are they already playing catch-up in the Eredivisie, but they are on the brink of exiting the Europa League group stage after failing to win any of their first four matches.
Draws with Marseille and AEK Athens were followed by back-to-back 2-0 losses to Brighton on matchdays three and four, leaving the Dutch giants rock bottom of Group B and five points adrift of the Seagulls in second place with just two games remaining.
Interim boss John van 't Schip is aware that his Ajax side need to claim maximum points in Thursday's clash with Marseille if they are to have any chance of miraculously finishing in the top two or at least securing third spot to drop down into the Europa Conference League playoffs.
Since taking the reins at the end of October, Van 't Schip has steadied the ship at Ajax and has won three of his first five games in charge, including a comprehensive 5-0 home victory of Vitesse last weekend which helped his side move up to eighth in the Eredivisie table; a whopping 24 points still separate them from leaders PSV Eindhoven, though.
Ajax head to the Stade Velodrome having failed to win any of their last eight European fixtures as well as any of their last seven matches in any competition away from home, but they have won on their last two visits to France – beating Lille on both occasions – which bodes well ahead of Thursday's contest with Marseille.
Azzedine Ounahi recovered from injury to feature as a second-half substitute in last weekend's draw with Strasbourg, and the Moroccan midfielder is in contention to feature again on Thursday, although Jordan Veretout and Geoffrey Kondogbia are expected to link arms in the engine room once again.
Right-back Clauss and versatile attacker Amine Harit have registered three assists in the Europa League this term – only Florian Wirtz and James Ward-Prowse have assisted more (both four) – and both players are expected to retain their places in the first XI, as is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who scored a brace against Ajax in the reverse fixture.
As for Ajax, Branco van den Boomen is sidelined until January with a knee injury, while Brian Brobbey (illness), Sivert Mannsverk (leg), Jay Gorter and Amourricho van Axel Dongen (both unspecified) will all be assessed ahead of kickoff.
Josip Sutalo is also doubtful after missing the win over Vitesse last weekend with a knock, but the defender could be in a position to return on Thursday to partner 17-year-old Jorrel Hato at centre-back, allowing Devyne Rensch to move over to right-back.
Chuba Akpom is yet to score in four substitute outings in the Europa League this season, but he has made the net ripple five times in his last four Eredivisie games, and the former Middlesbrough striker is set to start up front if Brobbey is not deemed fit to feature.
Marseille possible starting lineup:
Lopez; Clauss, Mbemba, Balerdi, Lodi; Veretout, Kondogbia; Ndiaye, Harit, Sarr; Aubameyang
Ajax possible starting lineup:
Ramaj; Rensch, Sutalo, Hato, Sosa; Tahirovic, Taylor; Berghuis, Hlynsson, Bergwijn; Akpom
We say: Marseille 2-1 Ajax
Considering a total of 21 goals have been scored in the last six meetings between these two teams, including three apiece in their most recent clash two months ago, another enthralling encounter with plenty of goalmouth action could on the cards on Thursday.
Both sides have experienced inconsistent spells of form in recent weeks, but when taking into account Marseille's solid home form and Ajax's poor away record, we believe that the hosts will come out on top to secure their place in the Europa League knockout rounds, eliminating their Dutch counterparts in the process.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.
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