Why Madrid Deserved to Lose! Ajax vs Real Madrid – UEFA Champions League Review

I wanted to wait for both legs to finish, to gather thoughts and to reassure that I had the time to get these out. Since doing the previews, I thought it would make sense to discuss the games, starting with by far the most interesting game so far, a battle between underdogs Ajax and holders Real Madrid. We’ll go through each leg and finally discuss the situation of each team.

Let’s start with the first leg, played in the Dutch capital. This was a game many were looking forward for, because of how well Ajax represented themselves in the group stages, where they drew twice to Bayern Munich. Ajax showed this quality against Madrid. They put out a line up similar to their line up against the Bundesliga champions. They played Tadic as a false nine, with Ziyech and Neres adding support from the flanks. While they were the much better side, they struggled to deal with the players in the wide areas of the pitch. Bale, Vinicius, Benzema and Carvahal all cause Ajax a lot of problems. But it didn’t stop Ajax from playing their game. While their forward line deserves a lot of praise just for the amount of chances they were creating, with Neres, Tadic and Ziyech creating a combined 8 chances, Donny Van de Beek deserves a lot of credit. He has been playing as a very hard working number 10, putting in a lot of pressure on the opposition defence, and works to ensure that Madrid were unable to reach Kroos and Modric as easily. He put in 6 tackles and interceptions, with only Mazraoui putting in more defensive actions, and created 4 chances. His workrate and ability to add a bit of grit to a side full of talented players. While they did play well, they just couldn’t get in behind Madrid, and Ziyech was quite wasteful in some areas.

Madrid weren’t great. For a majority of the game, they were without the ball and were mainly focusing on attacking the wide areas. It’s understandable because this is Mazraoui’s breakout season, and while Tagliafico is a very good full back, does focus more on attacking. Mazraoui was excellent in this game, but there were occasions where Vinicius did get the better of him. Speaking of the Brazilian, he was great in this game. He is just so unpredictable, and adds this raw energy to Madrid. He is probably the first player to do so since Di Maria. I do think he is getting way too much praise, but there are signs he could be a player who has a future at Madrid, but doesn’t have the same maturity as a Sancho or an Mbappe. It was such a Madrid performance. They famously never play well in these knock out games, but use their elite players to drag them through these tougher games. Zidane understood this, and while Solari seems to have attempted this, with giving Ceballos and Llorente some chances in the XI. The difference is he doesn’t have the same attackers as Zidane had, making him force to use Benzema way too often. Even though Benzema was okay in this game, he just isn’t good enough to carry this attack, and has never shown the ability to be able to. Their best performer was by far Sergio Ramos. For the past 5 years, they main defensive strategy is to hope that Ramos drags them out of being an awful defensive side. He did this against Ajax, putting in 7 tackles and interceptions and 5 clearances. Ramos has such a presence on the pitch, that it makes him excel when being relied on like this. It left Madrid with an advantage going into the second leg, with the chances of Ajax progressing seemingly very low, so low in fact, that Ramos decided to get himself book delibaretely just because he trusted his side to progress with ease.

Oh how wrong Ramos was. Madrid were outclassed by every sense of the word in this game. Let’s begin with the now former champions, who were just awful in this leg. I mentioned how poor Madrid are without Ramos, and they just showed once again how disfunctional they are without their captain. It’s very reminiscent of their defeat to Juventus last season. If it wasn’t for Benatia losing his head near the end of the game, Ramos would have been at fault for Madrid exiting the competition. It amazes me how he even thinks this was a good idea. I’m not going to blame Solari for Madrid being awful defensively. They’ve been bad in that department since Mourinho left the club. Relying on Sergio Ramos magic is not a way to build a defensive structure. The problem they suffered from was a huge lack of midfield protection. It’s something that has became more apparent as the years are going by. Casemiro was hugely disappointing in this game. He has been one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe since his sudden emergence into the Real Madrid side back in 2015. This was by far one of the worst performances I’ve seen the Brazilian put in. When Kroos and Modric are putting in more defensive actions than him, there is a clear problem. Van De Beek and Tadic were also given so much freedom to move around in the final third, and Casemiro wasn’t being his usual aggressive self. Kroos and Modric weren’t exactly good either. Kroos’s mobility has always been non existent, and when he is making defensive errors, it’s not helping his case. No matter how good he is at transitioning the ball in the final third, it’s getting to a point where his defensive vunerability is starting to get a lot worse. While Modric is an excellent footballer, he is now 33. It’s been shown before with players like Steven Gerrard, Gary Neville and Mikel Arteta, that when you age, your basic football ability just kind of vanishes. Frenkie De Jong was sensational in this game, and was everything Modric wasn’t. Modric didn’t have his usual drive and that bit of everything he offers. It looked as if the batton was passed to the next generation of players.

To move on to Ajax, they put in one of the best performances in the Champions League I’ve ever seen. They approached Madrid without fear and weren’t willing to allow them to get into the game. With Ziyech. Van De Beek and De Jong all made it difficult for Madrid to even transition the ball. By far their best player on the day was Dusan Tadic. The Serbian is having the season of his life after leaving Southampton, and has arguably been the best player in the Champions League, and this performance showed it. The balls he put through for Neres and Ziyech were simply outstanding, and his goal was one of the goals of the season, for the build up and the finish. In this game, Tadic was at his best, creating 5 chances, having 2 shots on target and completing 3 dribbles, numbers of a player who doesn’t know how to slow down.

Madrid massively underestimated Ajax, and it’s hard to even understand why. They showed against Bayern Munich that they can go toe to toe with any side around, but this is Real Madrd we’re talking about. A side full of arrogance, that they have constantly lost games in the Champions League, but thanks to Ronaldo always firing them ahead, it jusified it. Now with him gone, they don’t have that cutting edge anymore, and will now hopefully learn from this mistake. Ajax meanwhile are flying. While their rivals PSV seem to have won their fingers on the Eredivise title, Ajax have done themselves proud in Europe, and it’s good to see the teachers of football give one more lesson.

 

Football Opinions I Disagree With

With so many different platforms to express opinions, it gives people the opportunity to give their opinions on certain topics, and with football, it’s ever present. With so many opinions, it also offers many responses, and here are mine to some topical issues in the world of football, ranging from pundits to popular fan opinions, let’s go through some popular opinions.

Defenders aren’t as good as they used to be

One that many of the old school pundits love to throw around. They come to these opinions because of lack of top defenders on the market. That isn’t because of the lack of defenders, as many want you to believe, it is because of the qualities defenders need to have now, compared to 20 years ago. In the Premier League for example, many will say players such as Keown, Adams, Bould and Pallister were some of the best the Premier League, while the likes of Otamendi, Stones, Lovren and Christiansen earn plenty of criticism. We look back at those players in positivity because they were good defenders, but the game has evolved. All defenders during that time had to do was be solid in the air, and have some ability in reading the game. Expectations of defenders have changed massively. Not only do they need those qualities, be need to be comfortable on the ball, able to have a quick turn of pace, able to play as either a sweeper or a destroyer, and man mark certain players. They have such responsibility now that it is no wonder that old defenders get so much more praise. There are a few modern defenders who will go down as some of the best in their position. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Vincent Kompany, Matts Hummels and Leonardo Bonucci could all easily fit into any greatest eleven.

What pundits also fail to mention is the improvement in attack. The likes of Keown, Neville and Adams like to bring up how they played against some of the best players around in Ronaldo, Crespo, Kaka and Zidane. But while they bring up players, they fail to bring up systems. Ever since Pep Guariola changed how a team should attack, it has made defending against these teams so much harder. They seem to care more on criticism, rather than complimenting the attack.

Jonjo Shelvey is a great passer of the ball

One opinion that has suddenly came out, and of course a bit incorrect. Every ex England player under the sun said not taking Shelvey was a mistake, because he’s the best passer of the ball England have. While not going into the obvious things like not knowing Southgate’s system, his teammates or his role, let’s look into why he should go. The Newcastle midfielder is always called the best passer England have. It’s simple to explain why. Shelvey averages a below average 72% pass accuracy. If we compare that to the player pundits like Shearer and Murphy want him to replace, Jordan Henderson. The captain has a solid 81% accuracy, much higher than Shelvey. Defenders of Shelvey would say it is because of Shelvey’s more dynamic passing. This is also incorrect. Both Shelvey and Henderson average just over 5 long balls per 90, showing they have a similar range of passing. The only area where Shelvey betters his ex Liverpool teammate would be key passes, where he has 1.4, compared to Henderson’s 0.8. But that can be explained by their roles in their teams. Shelvey has Moh Diame next to him, who has been doing much of his defensive work for him, while Henderson has a more reserved role. Shelvey is a typical match of the day player, and the fact that people thought he should start seriously makes me question these “experts.”

Leroy Sane should be going to the World Cup

While on the surface, not choosing the PFA young player of the year is a strange decision. But this is Joachim Low we are talking about. This is a manager who in my opinion, gets way too much praise. His loyalty to certain players and his overall mindboggling decisions make me question why Germany can’t do better than Joachim Low. Even looking at their world cup winning campaign, he chose to play Lahm in midfield, leaving a huge weakness on the right side. He refused to take Marcel Schmelzer when he was in top form (we’re seeing this again with his refusal to take Philipp Max. He even tried to play Mario Gotze as a false nine, which doesn’t work. But regarding Leroy Sane, I think he is actually right. Low’s decision to take Brandt, Draxler and Reus over the City winger do make sense. Even with his injuries, Reus is a proven world class footballer. Julian Brandt has been with the setup since the beginning, and has performed for Germany. Julian Draxler is another play Low seems to favourite, with the manager choosing Draxler as the captain for Germany in their confederations cup. Sane has played 12 games for Germany, and has failed to score. The manager, and the senior players have even mentioned that some of the younger players seem to be missing what it means to play for Germany. Sane decided to have surgery during an important qualifying game. Not a single manager likes it when a player refuses to play, so in this circumstance, Low is right, and Sane needs to change his attitude regarding the national team setup if he wants to be remembered fondly by his fellow countrymen.

Salah deserved the PFA Player of the Year

While this could be surprising, I do think Salah didn’t deserve to win the player of the year. It’s a combination of two things. The first being he plays in a Liverpool team where any good forward has the chance to excel in a system where they are the focus. That isn’t to take away from his achievement. I thought he was excellent last season and helped drag Liverpool in some key games (the home games against Spurs and Roma stick out). The second being my pure fondness for Kevin De Bruyne. This isn’t a case where I think there is anything wrong with Salah winning. I am indeed fine with that. But De Bruyne helped carry City to a title, and proved to have one of the best individual seasons for a midfielder I’ve ever seen. His contribution to that title winning season was world class to say the least. He contributed with 8 goals and assisted 16, which almost beat his record for last season, 18. The Belgian is at a point where he is competing with himself. While Salah played in the best front three in Europe, De Bruyne played in the best midfield in Europe. By April, he created the most chances in Europe, with 102. He has also registered the most assists in Europe since arriving in England. Not only has he been brilliant in a creative sense, averaging 3.2 key passes per game, 1 more than David Silva, he also has been solid defensively. He’s averaged 2.4 tackles and interceptions per 90, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering he also creates the most in Europe, it is still impressive. This is definitely an opinion not many will agree with, but my appreciation for midfielders will always favour them over attackers.

Wilfred Zaha is ready for a bigger club

Another opinion I am pretty against, Wilfred Zaha should definitely not be moving this summer. His dribble numbers might be outrageous, but his finish of 9 goals and 3 assists just aren’t enough to warrant a move to a big club. If you compare him to Mahrez, it is clear who is ready for the step up. Mahrez ended the season with double figures in goals and assists, in a Leicester team that was on and off throughout. Zaha played for a Palace side that had plenty of attacking quality. For a player who can be good to watch, he just isn’t ready for that next step up.