"Frustrating," was the word Roberto Mancini used from his seat in the bowels of the Amsterdam Arena. The Manchester City manager had just been asked about his team's difficulties in the Champions League and how, only two games in, they were suddenly confronted with a match they simply dare not lose. Would another bad result be the end for another year? "We cannot think this way," Mancini replied. "We have to win and then talk."
This is the reality, however, of City's visit to the Netherlands and where they stand in Group D, third from bottom with only a solitary point from two fixtures and more shots conceded, 57 in two games, than anyone else in this season's competition. OK, when the opposition are Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund there are mitigating circumstances, but that does not alter the fact it has left them vulnerable again. "Worrying" was another word Mancini could have used.
At the very least City will need four points from back-to-back games against Ajax, but it may even be that only two wins will do given that the following assignment is against Real Madrid before the group concludes against the Dortmund side that played with so much flair and penetration at the Etihad this month.
Too negative? Vincent Kompany certainly thought so. "We can lose our chance," Mancini admitted, but City's captain was not willing to entertain the idea, nor turn it into a discussion about City's struggles adapting to the competition they crave the most in Abu Dhabi. "The past is irrelevant. We can't bring up things that have gone wrong in the past. What we have to take with us is the things that have gone well. We still think we have a big chance and that we are capable of winning every game."
The alternative, after all, is barely worth thinking about. Mancini's team never recovered after taking one point from two games last season. To miss out again would represent one of the bigger disappointments of the Abu Dhabi United Group era.
Rightly or wrongly, it would also mean their manager being subjected to the kind of scrutiny that has rarely come his way since arriving in Manchester. Mancini's record in this competition – never getting any further than the quarter-finals with Internazionale – is already fairly undistinguished for a man of his ambitions, not to mention those of his employers.
If there is reason for encouragement, it is that Ajax have had a slow start to the season themselves, unbeaten in the Eredivisie but losing a 3-1 lead against Heracles Almelo at the weekend to make it five draws among their first nine games. Frank de Boer's team are currently bottom of Group D, having lost against Dortmund and Madrid.
"If we want to stay in Europe after the winter break, whether in the Champions League or Europa League, we need a result," De Boer said. "We believe in it. The Real match was a poor match for us, but in the Dortmund game we were unlucky. This game is different. They are a good team but we have a good team as well."
Ajax will certainly be encouraged by the fact City have lost three of their last four away games in Europe. For their latest expedition Mancini has changed the usual preparations – flying early and training at the stadium rather than a practice session in Manchester and then arriving in the evening. A small tweak, perhaps, but one that recognises the need for change.