Real Madrid will be aiming to make it to the quarter-finals of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, when they face off against Ajax on Tuesday night.
After back-to-back defeats against bitter rivals Barcelona last week, reigning European champions Real Madrid will be hoping to get back to winning ways, when they take on AFC Ajax in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real Madrid come into the game with an advantage, having beaten the Dutch heavyweights 2-1 in the first leg away from home, courtesy of goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio.
However, since beating Ajax, Santiago Solari’s men have lost three of their last four matches in all competitions – all of them at home, with their latest game ending in a 0-1 defeat to Barcelona on Saturday. With the qualification to the quarter-final on the line, Los Blancos will be hoping to get things back on track on Tuesday night.
Ajax, on the other hand, have been in imperious form since their defeat to Real Madrid last month. Erik ten Hag’s men have won all three of their subsequent fixtures, scoring 13 goals in the process, while letting in just one. The Dutch giants gave a good account of themselves in the first leg and will be looking to beat Real and make it through the Last Eight stage.
Team News & Tactics
There are no major injury concerns for Real Madrid heading into the game, with Marcos Llorente being the only injury-enforced absentee. However, they will be without club captain and defensive mainstay Sergio Ramos, who is suspended for the tie. Despite having played almost the same team for the last two matches against Barcelona, Solari is unlikely to shuffle his team much on Tuesday.
Thibaut Courtois is expected to continue between the sticks ahead of Keylor Navas once again. Dani Carvajal and Sergio Reguilon should continue to operate as the full-backs, while Raphael Varane is set to be partnered by Nacho at the heart of the defence in Ramos’ absence.
The midfield trifecta of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos are all expected to feature from the get-go once again, despite having underwhelmed in the last couple of matches. In Isco and Dani Ceballos, the manager has options to call upon from the bench.
Up ahead in attack, Vinicius Junior will once again be Real Madrid’s biggest threat with his pace and direct runs from the left flank. Karim Benzema will slot in as the striker, with Mariano Diaz providing cover from the bench. There is likely to be a change on the right flank with Gareth Bale set to make way for Lucas Vazquez.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Reguilon; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vazquez, Benzema, Vinicius
The Dutch giants will come into the game well rested having not been in action at the weekend. Manager Erik ten Hag is unlikely to make any major alterations to the side that defeated arch-rivals Feyenoord 3-0 in the cup game during the week.
Andre Onana, who has been linked with a move to Barcelona, is a definite starter between the sticks for Ajax. Noussair Mazraoui and Nicolas Tagliafico will start as the full-backs on the right and left side respectively. The former will be in for a stern test, given the threat Vinicius poses from the wide areas. Daley Blind will partner up with Matthijs de Ligt at the heart of the Ajax defence.
Frenkie de Jong, who is playing his final season with Ajax, will start in the middle of the park and look to guide his team to the next round. The Dutch sensation will be partnered by Lasse Schone and Donny van de Beek, who was on the scoresheet in the win against Feyenoord last week.
Hakim Ziyech scored the only goal of the game for Ajax against Real Madrid in the first leg and will carry the biggest threat in attack. On the opposite side, David Neres will look to make life difficult for Dani Carvajal who has been struggling of late. Operating through the middle for Ajax will be Dusan Tadic, although the Serb is likely to be given a free reign to drift out wide as and when needed.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Onana; Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; van de Beek, de Jong, Schone; Ziyech, Tadic, Neres
- 100% of teams to have won 2-1 away from home in the first leg of a Champions League knockout match have progressed to the next round (8 previous cases).
- Real Madrid have won their last seven games in all competitions against Ajax, scoring 22 goals in those games, while letting in just 3.
- Real Madrid have scored at least 2 goals in 13 of their last 16 matches in the UEFA Champions League.
- Ajax’s last victory against the reigning champions came way back in November 1995 – a 2-0 win in the Champions League group stage at the Bernabeu, with goals coming from Jari Litmanen and Patrick Kluivert.
- Real Madrid have reached the Champions League semi-finals in each of the last eight campaigns, a record run in the history of the competition.
Player to Watch
The 25-year-old Moroccan international is enjoying the most prolific campaign of his career this season, having already bagged 17 goals in 34 matches across all competitions, while also setting up 15 more for his teammates. However, only one of his 17 goals has come in the UEFA Champions League – in the first leg against Real Madrid.
Ziyech might not be in sensational form in the continental competition, but with his excellent ball control, set-piece prowess and the ability to score and create opportunities for his teammates, the attacker can prove to be a handful for the Real Madrid defence.
Given the form that Sergio Reguilon has been in recent matches, it makes for an interesting match-up between the Ajax star and Madrid’s academy graduate on Tuesday night.
Real Madrid 1-1 Ajax
Despite their recent form, Real Madrid come with a big advantage from the first leg, which will hold them in good stead heading into Tuesday’s encounter. Ajax, on the other hand, will be in good spirits after their recent results and can draw a lot of confidence from their performance in the first leg.
It promises to be a tense affair at the Bernabeu in which Ajax will back themselves to have a go at the hosts. However, Real always seem to step it up a notch when it comes to the Champions League and with the Dutch club’s poor record in the knockout stages of the Champions League, we at The Hard Tackle expect Los Blancos to progress to the knockout stages on aggregate.