We are three games into a truly testing period for Santiago Solari and the team, and on paper it looks to be so far so good. However, as today’s Champions League knockout fixture demonstrated, perhaps not is always as it seems. Despite a very passive performance, Real Madrid did escape with a narrow 2-1 away win.
Thibaut Courtois — 6: We certainly saw both sides of Thibaut’s toast tonight. On one hand he made some excellent saves which maintained Madrid’s status as contenders for the result, but on the other there were a couple of compelling slip up’s. One in-particular saw him fumble the ball into the path of an attacker during a corner, and momentarily hand Ajax the lead. That goal was disallowed however, and he was for the most part proficient elsewhere.
Dani Carvajal — 7: Dani will have nothing left in his tank now. He was required to defend heavily throughout the game, but did manage to offer a fair amount on the attack when Real managed to settle on the ball a little bit. Provided the world class cross for the winning goal, really handing it to Asensio on a plate.
Sergio Ramos — 8.5: I’ve handed out a few decent scores to Sergio in recent times. Tonight he fully deserved yet another one. Sergio was the only player that was visibly effective when Madrid were getting constantly annihilated by Ajax’s play and pressing. He put in countless challenges and interceptions, albeit not without the odd dirty trick beyond the referee’s gaze. On the ball he was vital in trying to play through the opposition press scheme, and rarely seemed to make the wrong decision in an intense scenario. He could well have given away a penalty at one point, but nevertheless - Sergio Ramos is my man of the match for this one.
Nacho Fernández — 6.5: Didn’t see as much action as Ramos, but still had a considerable amount to deal with as the hosts dominated. Like his defensive companion, he saw a lot of the ball as Madrid looked to stop the rot and calm matters down. You can always depend on Nacho.
Sergio Reguilón — 6.5: Another performance that had me scratching my head in amazement. Some of Sergio’s minor interactions today would have been amongst the best things he had ever pulled off for Castilla... I thought he looked very composed once more, and like Dani Carvajal on the other side, Reguilón put in a big shift defensively, but managed to find time to join his teammates in attack. He was involved in the first goal as he picked out assister Vinícius Júnior with a long pass. A true beacon of aspiration for any current academy player.
Casemiro — 5.5: A very mixed game from Casemiro. Early on when Madrid were weathering a storm, I thought Casemiro was the second best player in a Madrid shirt. He made a goal-stopping intervention, alongside plenty of other contributions. This got worse and worse as the game progressed. His well timed challenges became late fouls, and his forward-thinking distribution was largely unsuccessful. It will be interesting to see who starts some of the other big games between Casemiro and Llorente in the next few weeks.
Toni Kroos — 6: Toni spent large segments of the game being pretty quiet, but did play an influential role in resisting the Ajax press. One instance in the first half saw him dribble his way out of a tight situation and pick out Vinícius who was very close to scoring. Saw more of the ball as Madrid crept their way back into the game over time.
Luka Modrić — 5: Not necessarily a tired performance that we have previously seen at times this season, but an ineffective one. Luka’s game was marred with unusual misplaced passes and little input. It improved slightly as the game went on, but he never imposed himself much. If Luka turned up, then maybe the play would have panned out differently.
Vinícius Júnior — 6.5: To me this was very much the performance that people perceived the Barcelona showing to be. Despite getting a limited amount of time on the ball, Vinícius still managed to be pretty effective and decisive on the ball. He almost got on the score sheet after drifting into the box with the ball and unleashing a curling shot which required a very good save to stop. He then bagged a world class assist as he jumbled the entire defence with his dribbling before laying off to Benzema to finish. As usual he always gave the opposition something to think about, but this time he saw a modest amount of success. By no means a marvellous performance, but an important one and a good experience!
Gareth Bale — 5: Got some long shots in, and met a few dead balls with his head - but on the whole another fruitless game from the Welshman. Spent a lot of time dropping deep to help defend when the team were being overloaded, and never really looked convincing going forward. He was the first player to be brought off for Lucas Vázquez to come in with around half an hour left to play.
Karim Benzema — 6: A muted showing from the Frenchman, but he still made it count with a goal. His accurate finish into the top corner after receiving the ball from Vinícius in the box was top class. He looked good on the ball at times, but his passing was below par - and he went on to be pretty silent before being taken off to be replaced by match-winner Marco Asensio.
Lucas Vázquez — 5: Came on for Gareth Bale, but didn’t get up to much. It’s another one of the provided width but not much else descriptions. Did get booked for a cynical challenge towards the end of the game, too.
Marco Asensio — 7: Came on for Karim Benzema and changed the game. Looked great on the ball, but had obviously been given the specific instruction to get some shots in - as this was pretty much all he ended up doing in the final third. This was fine the majority of the time, although there was one occasion where it would obviously have been better to play in Mariano in a good position rather then shoot into a defender. Still looked great though, and he ended up bagging the late winner. He got on the end of Dani Carvajal’s perfect cross to tap home. Hopefully this short showing will see him get some more opportunities from here on out.
Mariano Díaz — 5: Probably had a better cameo than Vázquez, and did visibly work pretty hard - but also didn’t make much noise after coming on for Vinícius with around ten minutes to go.
Madrid managed to squeeze out the win, but the performance gave many a reason to be sceptical. If I were to rate Solari then the score would not make for a good reading. It’s games like this that reinforce my beliefs that Real Madrid should continue to actively search for a permanent manager. When Real Madrid come up against teams who genuinely prepare, then they become sitting ducks waiting to be taken out. The managers black magic (or being bailed out by your Real Madrid standard players) will only make it so far, and it appears far too easy for the team to become unstuck when it legitimately matters. Please do feel free to let me know your personal player ratings, but do also remember to keep it tranquil if you have read anything you disagree with. Up next for Real Madrid: Girona in the league! The business end continues!