Goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio, either side of Hakim Ziyech’s equaliser, saw Real Madrid take the initiative against Ajax, leaving the Netherlands with a one-goal advantage and two potentially-crucial away goals.
Madrid have long been a club that placed continental success at least as high as domestic triumph, but the importance of the Champions League has increased as Barcelona have pulled away at the top of La Liga. Los Blancos have only won two of the last 10 Primera Division titles, to Barca’s six, but in the same period they’ve won the Champions League four times, including for three consecutive years. That’s a run that has kept Madrid spirits high in the face of Catalan domestic domination.
Should Madrid win the Champions League again this season then they would become the first team to win four in a row since their own five in a row in the 1950s and early 60s. It would also be Madrid’s 14th time lifting the trophy, double the second-most successful team in the competition’s history, Milan.
Ajax are sixth in the ranking of most successful European Cup/Champions League teams and they’ve had the longest journey to reach the last 16. Their campaign began in late July and the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu is their 14th European fixture of the season.
It may also be their last. Madrid know how to win in these situations and even if Ajax did take a victory in Spain, that alone may not be enough. They’re going to have to score at least two goals to cancel out Madrid’s away goal advantage, and they can’t afford to concede either. Erik ten Hag has an exciting young team but even the sprinkling of experience from the likes of former Manchester United man Daley Blind and ex-Madrid striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar might not be enough.
This isn’t the Madrid of a few years ago, when Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were running riot, and Sergio Ramos is suspended too. It’s a more circumspect squad, and the scoreline is likely to reflect that – a 1-0 victory will do for the home side.
Asensio scored the winner in the first leg and should be a crucial player at the Bernabeu for years to come. He’s barely netted half-a-dozen times this season, though, so the midfielder should be looking to improve his goal tally at every opportunity – and top sportsbooks should keep him in mind too.
Head to Head
Madrid and Ajax have met 13 times in all competitions, dating back to a 1967 meeting in the European Cup.
The Spanish side have won eight times to Ajax’s four with the only draw coming in the first meeting – future Barcelona icon Johan Cruyff was on target for Ajax.
Prior to this season, the sides last met in 2012, when Madrid won 4-1 in both Champions League group stage encounters.
Madrid have scored 26 goals in their 13 games against Ajax, averaging two goals per game. Ajax have responded with only 11.
UEFA recorded 19 shots on goal for Ajax in the first leg, to Madrid’s 13. But Madrid had more on target, eight to Ajax’s seven.
Possession in the first leg was even – 50% for each side, but Madrid’s passing accuracy was marginally higher, 85% to 84%.
Ajax covered more distance in the first leg, 111.4km to Madrid’s 106.2km.
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