Ajax face tough task as they host Real

Ajax’sSerbian	forward Dusan Tadic

Ajax’s Serbian forward Dusan Tadic

AJAX Amsterdam came within one goal of winning the Champions’ League Group E. But in the wild shootout at the Amsterdam Arena, Ajax ultimately dropped two points in a wild 3-3 draw against Bayern that saw the Germans win the group, thanks to the better head-to-head.

First place does not always guarantee a more favourable draw in the Champions League round of 16. In fact, Bayern’s opponent Liverpool faced Ajax’s opponent Real Madrid in the final of this competition last season, but in Real Madrid, Ajax landed possibly the most difficult teams from all the seeded teams. On top of that, the game against Bayern was also the Ajax season in a nutshell.

The Amsterdammers have been, after all, inconsistent all year, just like in the back and forward game against Bayern in December. For example, Ajax were hammered 2-6 against archrivals Feyenoord two weeks ago, then followed that result up with a 6-0 victory over Venlo only to lose 1-0 to Almelo this weekend.

“This is unbelievable,” defender and captain Matthijs de Ligt told the media. “On Wednesday (today), we face something that many of us have looked forward to for a long time. We will have to present ourselves differently. Everyone knows that,” de Ligt added. Head coach Erik ten Hag, in particular, has been under criticism as Ajax are now six points behind league leaders PSV, perhaps a Champions League miracle against Real Madrid could alleviate some of that criticism.

But that will not be easy. Real, in fact, have been much improved since making the switch from Julen Lopetegui to Santiago Solari. On Saturday, Real won the city derby against Atlético Madrid 3-1. “That was our best game since last December, we always fight for every title, that is historic. We stand on the ground with both legs on the ground and will keep working hard,” Solari said euphorically after the Atlético match.

With that result, Real have closed the gap to Barcelona to just six points. But the Champions League is always the competition Real defines itself with. “We are the favourites [against Ajax]. That is underlined by our history, which is more important than the daily form,” Solari said about today’s game. Indeed, anything but a victory by Real Madrid at the Johan Cruijff Amsterdam Arena tonight, will be a major surprise.

In the other first leg Round of 16 game, Tottenham will welcome Dortmund to yet another cagey tie.

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