It was a night to forget for the defending and reigning UEFA Champions League winners, Real Madrid as they slumped to a shock 4-1 loss in the hands of second placed Dutch league side, Ajax Amsterdam in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie at the Santiago Bernabèu, Spain on Tuesday night.
In a very memorable night for Ajax, it was the only seventh time in 64 years of the Champions League that a team went through to the next stage after losing the first leg at home. Surprisingly, Ajax was now responsible for three of them, (vs Benfica in 1969, vs Panathinaikos in 1996 and now Real Madrid in 2019).
Prior to the tie, Real Madrid were European Champions for 1,011 days, a streak that began on 28th May 2016 in a penalty shootout against city rivals Atletico Madrid up to now, having won 3 successive Champions League titles.
The hosts came into this match after 2 back to back losses against a similar opponent, FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabèu and looked to calm the pressure on Los Blancos tactician Santiago Solari in regards to his future in the club. Ajax on the other hand came from a commanding 3-0 away victory over Feyernoord on Wednesday and were deemed to have a meagre chance of making it through to the last 8 of European’s elite competition.
Enjoying a comfortable 2-1 lead from the first leg, Real Madrid made two changes to their squad as the suspended captain, Sergio Ramos was replaced by Rafael Varane and Lucas Vazquez started in place of under-fire Welshman Gareth Bale. Ajax made no changes to their team that lost in the first leg and it was game on at the Bernabèu!
Real Madrid made a very commanding start as Rafael Varane smashed the crossbar early on in the 4th minute. The Madrid crowd was definitely in the groove as Karim Benzema urged them to crank up the volume. It however took less than 3 minutes when Ajax set the ball rolling with a superb opener courtesy of Moroccan Hakim Ziyech, who shot from the edge of the box following a sweet cut back assist from Dusan Tadic on the right after an error from Tony Kroos. Game on!
Real Madrid didn’t look shocked as they calmly controlled the tie with some decent chances from Tony Kroos and Vinicius as the visitors continued to keep them at bay.
Just before Madrid knew it, it was Ajax who had doubled the lead as the same man, Dusan Tadic played a key role in the build up, past Casemiro before finding David Neres, who sidestepped the advancing Thibaut to place the ball into an empty net!
Ajax looked to have turned on the gas as they came close to a quick third straight after kickoff. The next few minutes would later see the hosts show class as they went all attack in search of a goal that could take the tie to extra time. Things turned out sour for Los Blancos as Lucas Vazquez went down injured only to be replaced by Gareth Bale in the 29th minute. Real looked nervy at the back and things again turned south for the home team as Marco Asensio came in for an injured Vinicius in the 35th minute. 2 forced early changes looked to take a toll on the team as they failed to get a goal on the mark at halftime with Gareth Bale coming closest with an effort rattling the post. The hosts were staring at elimination at halftime and all was in store in the second half.
Just like in the first half, a bright Real Madrid dominated the game in the first quarter as Ajax stood unshaken in a disciplined defensive shape.
It was the false nine Dusan Tadic again who sent Real Madrid into shambles as he found space in the Madrid box to beautifully bend a shot into the top left corner for Ajax’s third! The VAR was however used as the ball was judged to have been out of bounds in the break up play but on further clarification, the goal stood!
Minutes later, a famous Spanish comeback looked to be on the cards as Real Madrid responded swiftly with a quick goal from Marco Asensio on the other end. A good move it was as Reguilon spotted Marco in space from the left for him to steer a low shot past Onana in the Ajax goal for his team’s opener.
120 seconds later, it was a potential hammer blow to Real Madrid’s Champions League campaign as Lucas Schöne delivered a sublime free kick from the left up and over Thibaut Courtois into the top right corner clearly deceiving everyone who expected a cross into the area! A 4th goal meant that the hosts had to score 3 goals in the last 15 minutes, an uphill task that looked impossible.
Ajax had the best chance in the closing stages as Ziyech blasted his clear chance over the crossbar in the 86th minute. A terrible and ugly night for Real Madrid was then capped off with a red card to Nacho as he was deemed to have pulled down Van De Beek and stamped on him! Full time!
An absolutely brilliant performance from Ajax as they won 3-5 on aggregate to proceed to the quarter finals of the Champions League. The win saw Ajax proceed from a knockout match for the first time since the 1996/1997 season. In addition to that, the 4 star performance saw Ajax become the only team after FC Barcelona in 2015 to score 4+ goals at the Santiago Bernabèu.
For Real Madrid, it was an end to a near ‘annual’ Champions League celebration as their 3 year dominance since 2015 came to an abrupt end. Missing captain Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid lost their third Champions League home game in his absence after registering earlier losses to Juventus (last season), CSKA Moscow and now Ajax.
With the Champions League final match being held 14km away from Bernabèu, Real Madrid will not feature and will be left to miss their rued chances as their season turns out for the worst. The future of Manager Santiago Solari remains in doubt as the side now focuses on a positive display as the season comes to a close. For Ajax, they have to wait for the draw as they await their next opponent in bated breath.