Real Madrid v Ajax Preview
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Real Madrid have clinched the number-two seed in Champions League Group D and may rotate much of the side that beat city rivals Atletico at the weekend while Ajax, in third spot, have it all to play for with a Europa League spot still on the line and Manchester City nipping at their heels.
BREAKDOWN: Despite rumours that he will be ushered out of the club at the end of the season, Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho wanted only to talk about his side’s upcoming Champions League match against Ajax in his Monday press conference, where he told reporters to “ask the [club] president if he’s happy with me.”
From there he delved right into the minutiae of Tuesday’s showdown with the Dutch champions, who arrive in the Spanish capital a point above last-place Manchester City and in the driver’s seat for the bracket’s Europa League berth.
“Obviously, we will try to win,” he said. “Ajax will be playing for a place in the Europa League and we will have to do our best.”
About a possible squad rotation Mourinho confirmed that Antonio Adan, Nacho, Fabio Coentrao, Sami Khedira and Cristiano Ronaldo would play from the beginning while Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso would be rested.
Ajax manager Frank de Boer has no such conundrum as he looks to continue his side’s European campaign and will start his strongest available lineup against Real Madrid.
With four wins on the bounce in the Eredivisie Ajax have vaulted right back into the title race and are now just four points back of co-leaders Twente and Vitesse after 15 rounds. They beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 at the weekend and will be looking to continue their hot run of form against the Spanish champions.
“Victory against PSV gave us strength,” said de Boer. “We proved we could beat a great opponent playing the way we want. Our feelings about this UEFA Champions League campaign are positive. We played badly against Real Madrid in Amsterdam but we did well in the rest of the matches.
ESSENTIALS: Madrid right-back Alvaro Arbeloa is suspended and left-back Marcelo is injured, as are striker Gonzalo Higuain and midfielder Michael Essien, who has returned to London for treatment of an allergic reaction.
Ajax are still without striker Ryan Babel and midfielder Thusali Serero and forwards Davy Klaassen and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson are injured as well.
Real Madrid have won their last five matches against Ajax by a combined score of 16-1.
KEY BATTLE: Both sides will be counting on their left-wingers to provide scoring chances, if not goals, on Tuesday. Ronaldo will be working the channels on Madrid’s attacking left flank as usual against Ajax and will go head-to-head against 21-year-old right-back Ricardo van Rhijn, whom he absolutely scorched on October 3. Derk Boerrigter, meanwhile, should get some joy against Nacho, who will be deputising at right-back for Madrid.
FORMATIONS: Mourinho will send out his usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Ronaldo and two of Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Jose Callejon and Angel Di Maria supporting Karim Benzema. De Boer will deploy a 4-3-3 formation with Christian Eriksen as the “false 9” and Siem de Jong and Danny Hosen also up front.
BETLINE: Real Madrid 3/10; Draw 9/2; Ajax 9/1. Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in Madrid’s 4-1 win at Ajax on October 3.