Ajax, down 1-2 aggregate after a Leg 1 home loss, throttled Real Madrid 4-1 on Tuesday. The win advances Ajax to the 2019 Champions League Quarterfinals on a 5-3 aggregate.
Ajax did so with a number of stunning goals.
Real Madrid is reeling heading into Tuesday’s Champions League Round of 16 second leg vs. Ajax. The team that won the first leg in Amsterdam 2-1 has fallen into a disappointing funk, one that could lead to a slew of personnel changes this offseason.
There will be plenty of time in the weeks and months to come about who will be coming and going this summer, though. For now, Real Madrid fans can still hold out hope of another Champions League run. First, RM must finish off Ajax at the Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
A Case for Ajax at +410
With La Liga virtually unwinnable – Los Blancos are 12 points behind first-place Barcelona with 12 games remaining – and the Copa del Rey off the table after last Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to Barcelona, it will be interesting to see what kind of effort Santiago Solari’s players give. Real Madrid did not lose its last two games for lack of intensity, but what will this team have in the tank after back-to-back Clásicos?
I’m going to say not quite enough to advance to the quarterfinals, but not solely because of RM’s recent form. Ajax has a great chance to overcome their La Liga opponent’s edge on the scoreboard and homefield advantage. The fact they are +410 to win (at FanDuel NJ) makes that as tempting a bet as any that are currently available in the UCL.
I love those odds because:
- Ajax proved on Feb. 13 that it could hang with Real Madrid when the Spanish club was at its best. They had a legitimate argument that they were unlucky to lose the first leg, and that was just days after RM won 3-1 on the road at Atlético.
- It’s hard to do justice to the difference between Ajax’s stretch since the first match-up and Real Madrid’s. Let’s start with the mileage: Ajax has played three games, while Los Blancos have played four. More importantly, thanks largely to two games against Barcelona, RM has been outscored 7-3. Ajax, on the other hand, has not been tested since the first leg, outscoring their opponents 13-1 over the last 270 minutes.
- Are we sure that playing in Madrid constitutes homefield advantage for Real Madrid right now? Given what’s happened domestically, many Madridistas are going to view this season as a disappointment, regardless of whether RM makes a run in Europe. And there will be nothing but disappointment if this team is eliminated from the UCL. With that in mind, it’s as easy to imagine a lackluster start turning the home fans against Karim Benzema and Co. as it is to picture Ajax’s young team being rattled by a hostile atmosphere. It doesn’t help Real Madrid’s case that it has lost three in a row at home, with no wins at the Bernabéu since a 3-0 victory over Alavés on Feb. 3.
- It’s also hard to ignore Real Madrid’s recent lack of scoring touch. Three goals in four games is extremely concerning, even with the caveats that A) Barcelona is a quality opponent and B) Los Blancos have created opportunities (19 shots on goal in the last four games).
We wrote earlier that chances are either Porto or Ajax will overcome their Leg 1 defeats and move to the Champions League Quarterfinals. Taking a flier on Ajax at +410 may be worth a shot for a match-up that is closer than you may think.
The Champions League Round of 16 resumes play with Leg 2 matches this week and next.
On the docket Tuesday are Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham Hotspur, and Real Madrid vs. Ajax.
On Wednesday, Paris Saint-Germain host Manchester United, and FC Porto welcome AS Roma.
Can Any Leg 1 Losers Still Advance?
Of the four who lost their Leg 1 matches, let’s rule Manchester United out now. They failed to score at home, need a 3-0 way win to advance, and PSG simply have too much firepower. PSG are now second favorite (over Barcelona no less!) to win the Champions League according to FiveThirtyEight and 97% to advance, and they’ve even moved to co-second favorite in betting markets, listed at +550 (along with Barcelona) on FanDuel NJ. They’re the one lock this week.
It’s also safe to rule out Borussia Dortmund. They got absolutely shellacked by Tottenham, losing their Leg 1 away match 3-0. Their recent run of form would make any Liverpool fan actually feel good about themselves. BVB have been poor. The only things that keep this from being a mortal lock are 1) Dortmund are home, and 2) you never know when Spurs are gonna Spurs.
It would be very Spursian for them to collapse 5-1 here. Still, it’s unlikely. The Spurs will hang on.
That leaves Porto vs. Roma and Real Madrid vs. Ajax.
How Porto and Ajax Can Advance
First, FiveThirtyEight has Porto at 44% to advance and Ajax at 25%. One of these two will likely find their way into the Champions League Quarterfinals.
Porto is at home, and are only down 2-1 aggregate. Ajax are away, also down 2-1.
A case can be made that Ajax was overall the better team vs. Real Madrid in Leg 1. Possession was equal, and they outshot Los Blancos 19 (7) to 13 (8). They did not appear to be out of their depth. While Real Madrid has struggled with form, Ajax have a 13-1 goal differential over their last three games (caveat: it’s in the Eredivisie, where the average team is MLS quality). They’re rested. They’re young. They have a better chance than you’d think.
Despite this, Ajax find themselves a heavy underdog, priced at +410 just to win the game. Mikky Kiemeney (above), wife of Frenkie de Jong (soon to be of Barcelona fame) clearly do not care about your odds.
As for Porto, they are simply a better team right now than Roma. They’re at home. They’re favored to win at +100. It would be more surprising if they didn’t advance.
Expect either Porto or Ajax to make their way into the Quarterfinals. Ajax is the better team, but Porto has the more favorable match-up.