Real Madrid v. Ajax (UCL Round of 16)
The first leg of this game was played at Ajax’s Johan Cruyff Arena in the Netherlands where this Ajax this team put up an incredibly spirited performance. The statistics did not all go the way of the visitors, with Ajax taking more shots 19-13, providing one less shot on target 7-8, and providing the only shot to hit the goal frame. Statistically, the only area where Real Madrid outplayed Ajax was the number of times they were dispossessed (16 times, compared to Ajax’s 13).
This game was also rife with controversy as Ajax had a goal that had been, overturned by VAR. UEFA provided the following explanation:
VAR in the UCL: in the 38th minute of the Ajax v Madrid first leg, Nicolás Tagliafico’s headed goal was ruled out following a VAR review. The referee identified that Tagliafico’s team-mate Dušan Tadić was in an offside position and interfering with the goalkeeper – pic.twitter.com/sPtZFd6YiB
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 13, 2019
What are your thoughts about it? Should the goal have stood?
In light of the controversy surrounding the Ajax goal getting waved off, Real capitalized on all of their opportunities, where their opponent was unable to. That said, Real Madrid has some work to do on the defensive end, because when you allow that many more shot attempts for your opponent it’s only a matter of time before they start to go in. Of the defenders from the last game, the only ones who put in decent performances were Carvajal and Ramos; the others were all lacking.
In La Liga, the side has faltered a bit since Ronaldo joined Juventus, but they are still very much in the hunt for continental competition, at the very least. Presently they have a nine-point lead on 4th-place Getafe. However, there is also a nine-point gap between Real Madrid and their bitter rivals FC Barcelona. Real Madrid doesn’t have a substantial difference in home or away form, as there is only a difference of two points advantage (and one less game) in games played home. The one major difference between Real Madrid on the road and at home is the number of goals conceded, with nearly three times the amount conceded away from Santiago Bernabeu.
Real Madrid’s home and away splits are even less substantial than in La Liga; this time even goals scored are included. Real Madrid snuck out a win in this matchup despite all the statistics (except unfavorable ones) being in Ajax’s favor. I don’t think that Real Madrid can count on this being a successful strategy again and need to shore up the defense. Madrid was lethal when the opportunity presented itself to them, and that’s the deciding factor for the first leg. Real Madrid shot, and scored where Ajax wasn’t able to get the same results. In light of all of this, Real Madrid needs to be prepared to meet the likely increased attacking pressure from an Ajax side trying to salvage their UEFA Champions League dreams.
Players to watch:
–Gareth Bale: Bale has not made as many appearances in La Liga this year as he had in the past. However, his goal scoring and assist totals have managed to stay prolific in La Liga. In twenty appearances he’s scored 7 goals and 2 assists for an average of 180 minutes between goals. Startlingly, his Champions League performance have been even more impressive, in only 6 appearances he’s scored 3 goals and two assists. He’s also managed to decrease the time between goals from 180 minutes per goal down to 142. His prowess in La Liga has earned him 2 man of the match awards.
– Karim Benzema: Benzema has been the second piece of a goal-scoring machine for Real Madrid. In 25 La Liga appearances, Benzema’s goalscoring rate is only 1 minute greater than Bale’s at 181 minutes per goal. He’s added 11 goals and 3 assists during that timeframe. Like Bale, he’s managed to be even more impressive in the Champions League. Benzema has made 7 appearances in the Champions League to which he added 4 goals and 2 assists. He’s been named man of the match twice in his 7 appearances and 3 more in La Liga.
– Toni Kroos: Kroos is not a goal scoring machine, but he has bossed the midfield and provided service for those who are. Although he’s not credited with a boatload of assists he is certainly a key player. He’s scored only once in the Champions League though he’s added 2 assists in the campaign. He’s added two more assists in La Liga. He provides at least one shot in both forums, and at least 2 key passes in La Liga and he’s added more than 3.5 in each Champions League games. Basically, he does literally everything but scoring goals and playing balls in that can be neatly classified as assists.
Ajax asked serious questions about Real Madrid’s defense. The real (no pun intended) difference in this game was the ability to put goals away. Ajax created lots of chances but was only able to put away two (with one ruled out after the fact). I think it’s too early to count Ajax out of the competition and I expect them to fight vehemently to get the advantage back. I think Ajax was unlucky to leave the Stadium with a loss as I think they vastly outperformed Real Madrid in most areas.
As we talked about in our first leg preview this is still a two-horse race for the domestic league. The gap between Ajax and PSV Eindhoven remains, but everyone else is battling for third-place or below. PSV have a 2-point spread between themselves and Ajax, but then there’s a thirteen-point drop off after that. Over the last six games, these two teams have managed to keep up with each other’s pace, exactly, although through different results. Ajax has proven to better from an attacking standpoint by eight goals, while PSV has been better defensively, conceding four fewer goals against them. Ajax has also managed to be incredibly dangerous away from home — they scored nearly three times as many goals as they allowed on the road.
Ajax owned this game, in every statistic except the one that matters most, goals. I think Ajax has unfinished business to bring to Santiago Bernabeu, they felt (regardless of validity) that they were slighted by waving off their second goal. Ajax has not had any trouble getting goals in their domestic league, and I expect them to lean heavily on their goal-scoring prowess in this second leg. They opened Real Madrid up on numerous occasions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they can do it again. If Ajax can keep the pressure on, Real Madrid looked very vulnerable which I think is advantage Ajax.
Players to watch:
–Hakim Ziyech: Ziyech has been a wrecking ball in the Eredivisie. His exploits are well recognized in the Dutch domestic league, he’s received an astonishing 10 man of the match awards in a mere 20 appearances. In that league he’s scored 14 goals and tacked on an additional 9 assists to go with his nearly 6 shots per game. Although this same amount of success has not been part of the Champions League games, he’s still managed 1 goal, 1 assist and a man of the match award. Ziyech will no doubt be leading the charge for Ajax when they roll into the Santiago Bernabeu.
–Dusan Tadic: Tadic has also been brilliant for Ajax in the Eredivisie scoring 16 goals and 7 assists in 23 appearances. That puts Tadic on track for a goal every 123 minutes played and that also doesn’t account for any of the assists. He has managed to keep on scoring at a very similar pace in the Champions League with 5 goals and an assist across 7 appearances. Although he has yet to receive a man of the match award in the Eredivisie he’s earned the honor once in the Champions League. In the Champions League he is averaging 2 shots per game and 2.5 key passes. Look out for him to try and take advantage of the Real Madrid back line.
–Donny Van de Beek: Van de Beek is one of the “young guns” that’s homegrown from the renowned Ajax Academy. While he hasn’t started in every match he’s managed to appear in almost every one. And when he does he controls the midfield adding a skillful dribbler that adds key passes (and assists) to his repertoire. Although not as prolific a scorer as the other Ajax players profiled he’s a dangerous midfield player. He’s added assists (7) and a few goals (6) to their league totals. In the Champions League he also adds 1.5 shots per game to a key pass to go along with 1 goal and 1 assist against much stiffer competition.
What to expect:
Chasing results is not something Ajax are accustomed to, especially not in the Eredivisie. Although they didn’t end up with the result they’d have liked, there are undoubtedly positives to be taken from their play. I expect them to be even more attacking this time around, possibly adding 10 more shots in an attempt to recover this game. That means that Real Madrids back line will need to substantially improve their play if they wish to advance. This should be a very entertaining game between two sides very capable of scoring goals in bunches.
Last Updated: February 26, 2019