The Champions League is finally back in action on Wednesday when Real Madrid take on Ajax at the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. The last time these two sides played each other was in this same competition back in the 2012/13 season, where Real pummeled Ajax 8-2 in the aggregate of the group stage.
This could shape up to be the most interesting matchup of the Round of 16, featuring a red-hot Real Madrid and a rather inexperienced Ajax featuring a wealth of talented, young players. Even as young as they are overall, Ajax are a tough team that could definitely be a handful for Real.
Real are riding high right now, however, after winning five straight in LaLiga and turning their season around. A huge win in El Derbi over the weekend should have them feeling the upmost confidence in their game right now.
Ajax’s three players to watch are ‘Two Dutchmen and a Dane’—19-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt, Barcelona-to-be midfielder Frenkie de Jong, and striker Kasper Dolberg. These three are arguably Ajax’s three best players at their respective positions, and they’re also all under 22. Ajax also have a good supporting cast of Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek and Dusan Tadic.
Needless to say, this won’t be a cakewalk for Real Madrid and they will need to earn a win against this Eredivisie side.
Real Madrid will be without Marcos Llorente, who is still recovering from another injury. They will also be again missing Isco for this match after he suffered a back injury. Varane is also doubtful because he missed training with the flu.
Ajax are without youngster Hassane Bande and a doubt remains for one of their newer defenders Lisandro Magallan. De Jong went off for injury during the weekend but Ajax believe he will start.
There are no suspensions for either side in Wednesday’s bout.
Courtois; Carvajal, Varane?, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vazquez, Vinicius, Benzema
One question in who Solari starts against Ajax is between Vazquez and Bale. Vazquez has been starting as of late again, whereas Bale came on as a substitute against Atlético and scored late in the match. It comes down to whether Solari wants to save Bale’s speed for a young backline when they are more tired or from the very start.
The other comes down to who he starts at left back. Reguilón started against Atlético and played really well again, while Marcelo was pretty poor against Barcelona last week.
If Varane indeed misses due to illness, it will likely be Nacho in his place.
Onana; Nissen, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Schöne, van de Beek, de Jong; Ziyech, Tadic, Dolberg
1-3 Ajax-Real Madrid
Though this score would indicate Real Madrid dominance, this match will still be tough and it’s truly unpredictable because the two clubs haven’t played each other since late 2012. Real are the better team on paper, they’re playing better, they’re in a better league, and they have the players and experience to get the job done.
Ajax are good, but this may be tough for them particularly because many of their young players haven’t been here before. The bench isn’t deep either, it falls off after youngster David Neres and former Real striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. They matched up well against Bayern Munich in the group stage, however. It’s essentially going to be their lack of experience that gets them or they’re going to pull off one heck of a shock.
They will be playing their hearts out, they’re at home and many of the players have a lot to prove for their futures. De Jong is one who may do just that since he will be seeing Real quite a bit in the near future after he joins Barcelona in the summer.
For Real, they must break the confidence of this young side in order to take over the match. Scoring the first goal will be critical for Real Madrid if they want to ensure that no upsets are pulled.
This will definitely be a fun matchup, it’s the club that’s won the last 3 Champions League titles against a club that hasn’t been in the Round of 16 since 2005/06. What else to say, it’s the Champions League and there’s never a dull moment in the knockout stage.