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Ajax Amsterdam Vs. Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League Preview: All Thoughts On Barcelona

It's OK! I don't think you'll see any of these players on Wednesday.
It's OK! I don't think you'll see any of these players on Wednesday.

Real Madrid will travel to Amsterdam to take on Ajax in their UEFA Champions League tilt on Wednesday night (20:45 CET) without a sleuth of players, particularly seven of José Mourinho's traditional starting XI: Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Sami Khedira, Pepe, and Lassana Diarra will all get a rest before next weekend's clásico with FC Barcelona. Mourinho's choice to drop all of these starters from the list just confirms what every Real Madrid fan already knows: this game is completely meaningless.

In fact, the biggest surprise that came out of today's press conference--where Mourinho talked about which players he decided to bring to Holland--was that Xabi Alonso will start against Ajax. Alonso missed this weekend's match with Sporting Gijón due to yellow card accumulation (his fifth came in Madrid's beatdown of Atlético Madrid last week), but he still has barely rested all season. Considering how important he is to Real Madrid's chances against Barcelona, it's pretty shocking that Mourinho would even consider starting him against Ajax. Admittedly, Xabi is a "feel" player, who needs rhythm and time on the pitch to get into the swing of things, so this could have something to do with it; but it still seems like a bit of a risk, all things considered.

More analysis after the jump. And yeah, it's mainly Barcelona-centric.

Perhaps even more surprising than Mourinho's decision to start Xabi Alonso is his odd play with the canteranos: only Jesé Rodríguez (arguably Madrid's most promising youngster) and Mendes (a young center back who has been extremely impressive with Castilla this season) will travel with the side to Amsterdam. In contrast, Pep Guardiola's FC Barcelona only brought Pinto, Piqué, Fontàs, Maxwell, Thiago, Pedro and Isaac Cuenca (some of whom could be considered canteranos) from the entire first team. Everyone else who will take the field against BATE Borisov will be a current member of Segunda side Barcelona B.

Given Madrid's full-court press philosophy against Barcelona, you'd think that their first-teamers would need more rest than Barcelona's. Mourinho, however, has opted for rhythm and continuity over a full week of rest: I'm not one to criticize Mourinho, and I think it's very possible that, given how young los blancos are, this is the better choice. One of Madrid's advantages over Barcelona is how athletic, young and fast the team is--it's doubtful that a midweek Champions League fixture will change that, and the benefits that are gained from extra time on the pitch (continuity, rhythm, etc) could make up for the minor lack of rest.

Not to belabor this point (actually, I'm going to go ahead and belabor it), but additionally, Real Madrid has without a doubt the deepest bench in the world. There are absolutely world-class superstars that are buried on Mourinho's side, and would love an opportunity to get out on the pitch for a Champions League match and tear it up for their boss. And, as we saw last year in Valencia, it's not like it's a huge problem for Madrid to play their second team.

Well, this hasn't really been a preview, has it? More like a how to get through this game with the best chance to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp-type article. And that's pretty fitting, as this is the exact attitude that Real Madrid should take in this fixture; and despite all the press conferences telling you how fixated they are on Ajax, you can bet that los blancos are thinking about December 10th.

So fine, here's a super-duper-brief preview of the match: Real Madrid has outclassed Ajax every single time they've played over the past few years. While Ajax is a solid side, they're nothing like the legendary squads of the mid-1990's, and probably won't be again for a while. For now, expect and open game with a back-and-forth pull, as the Madrid second squad (and, hopefully, Jesé and Mendes) try to get into a rhythm. We should see plenty of scoring, and probably from both sides (though I wouldn't be shocked if Madrid kept a clean sheet). As Madrid fans, keep a particular eye on Jesé, Mendes, Varane, Sahin, and Xabi Alonso, for different reasons: the first four because they'll probably be no-doubt starters on the first team in three or four years, and Xabi, well, because we really, really, don't want him injured.

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