As mentioned here, Real Madrid was poised to get a ton of hype if they could knock off crosstown rival Atlético Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.
Los Blancos did exactly that, winning 3-1. It was a head-turning result considering how difficult it is to score on Atleti anywhere, much less when the Rojiblancos are at home. Suddenly, a Real Madrid team that spent the first half of the season floundering is the favorite to win at Ajax in the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
Is Real Madrid for Real?
The burning question is whether Los Blancos have truly turned things around and returned to the form that allowed them to go on a historic run of Champions League success – last year gave the club three Champions League titles in a row and four in five seasons.
It’s too early for me to feel confident predicting the club will be hoisting its 14th European Cup on June 1 at Wanda Metropolitano, of all places. I do believe, though, that manager Santiago Solari’s side is the smart pick Wednesday at Ajax. Over the past month, FiveThirtyEight has even boosted them as a 59% favorite to advance against Ajax following Saturday’s result. Betting markets agree with the analytics, as Real Madrid are favorites to win their first leg match at Ajax next week.
|Ajax +280||Draw +310||Real Madrid -120|
Ajax does not lack star power, but they don’t have anywhere near the experience that Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Co. bring to the table. There’s a reason 21-year-old Frenkie de Jong will be joining Barcelona for more than $85 million this summer, and he’s not the only Ajax player being circled by Europe’s elite. Matthijs de Ligt, 19, is among the most coveted young players on the continent. While there’s no doubting the talent for Ajax, the gulf in big-game experience between these teams will be the difference.
Another thing to keep in mind for anyone expecting a letdown from RM – which will be playing its third straight difficult match away from the Santiago Bernabéu in just seven days – is the result of Ajax’s last match. The inexplicable 1-0 loss to to Heracles, the eighth-placed team in the Eredivisie, is a major red flag. Whether Heracles truly deserved to win a match in which it was out-shot 22-8 (7-2 in shots on goal) and out-possessed 64-36 is beside the point when trying to make the case that Ajax will beat the reigning European champ.