UEFA Champions League 2018-19, Round of 16: Ajax vs Real Madrid - Game Preview, Stats, where to watch, and so on
European football is well and truly back in action. While it was a relatively normal night at Rome, with youngster Nicolo Zaniolo powering the hosts to a win over Porto who in turn would definitely look to work their away-goal to an advantage come the return leg, it was an entirely contrasting situation at the Theatre of Dreams where Manchester United endured a nightmare loss at home against injury-ridden PSG.
In today's games, Tottenham Hotspurs will face German League leaders Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, while Real Madrid takes on Ajax Amsterdam at the latter's home in the Johan Cruijff Arena.
Let us take a look at how things may pan out in the latter game, which is fittingly touted as a must-watch clash, given that Madrid are the current holders of the coveted cup, while Ajax boasts one of the finest young sides in the world, replete with players of abundant potential.
Season so far
Real Madrid WWWDW
The Eredivisie or the Dutch League is more often than not, a three-way battle between the heavyweight clubs PSV Eindhoven, Ajax Amsterdam, and Feyenoord Rotterdam. And right now, it is these three clubs that occupy the topmost positions in the table too - first, second and third respectively.
While PSV failed to qualify out of the group stages in the UCL (They were part of Group B along with Barcelona and Tottenham who qualified, and Inter Milan who got eliminated), Ajax did a moderately better job, qualifying out of Group E along with German giants Bayern Munich (Benfica and AEK Athens were the eliminated sides). Ajax have been undefeated in Europe this season, with three wins and three draws giving them 11 points. They were able to draw level with Bayern across both games they faced each other.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, have been facing a tough time in Spain. For the larger part of the season, they were at a position below fourth in the Spanish League table, and even had to sack their boss Julen Lopetegui, but fortunes have lifted since Santiago Solari has replaced him at the helm.
Real Madrid are currently second, behind Barcelona in LaLiga, a point-difference of 6 drawing a gap between the two teams. In the ongoing UCL, Madrid qualified to the knockouts as leaders of Group G, with four wins from six games (12 points). They seem to enjoy a relatively-torrid time in the absence of their former talisman Cristiano Ronaldo who has moved to Juventus, but that still doesn't make them a team that can be trifled with. Never.
The recent form indicates that Real Madrid are clearly on top of Ajax, who have won only two of their last five games across competitions as opposed to Madrid's four. The latter's only win-less game came in last week's CopaDelRey El Clasico, where Barcelona forced a draw after the visitors had an early lead.
Ajax-vs-Real Madrid has always been a no-brainer with the eventual result favoring the Merengues, at least since 1995 which was the last time that the Dutch side won against them - a 2-0 win at the Bernabeu in a UCL group-stage encounter that featured remarkable goals by Patrick Kluivert and Jari Litmanen. There have been six such competitive contests since all of them won by the Spanish outfits.
In the ongoing UCL, Ajax remain one of the four clubs to have been undefeated so far - the others are Barcelona, Bayern, and Lyon. Porto was a part of this list too, until yesterday when they were humbled by Roma - who coincidentally qualified along with Real. Will we see a similar humbling tonight?
One positive aspect for Ajax tonight is that they are playing at home, where they have lost just one of their last 21 European contests (Wins 13, Draws 7). In the ongoing UCL season, they have been undefeated at the Johan Cruijff Arena (Wins 5, Draws 1 - qualifiers included).
The number 22: "22" has a unique place in both clubs' stats, as far as today's game is concerned. It has been 22 years since Ajax qualified out of a knockout round in the UCL, while in case of Madrid, it is their 22nd successive season in the competition's knockouts. They currently enjoy an unbeaten run of eight-successive semifinal appearances and would be looking to do one better.
Real Madrid are one of the most successful sides in the history of the Champions League, having won 13 titles altogether, four of those coming in the last five seasons - including an unbroken hattrick. Juventus in the 2014-'15 semis was the last team that have eliminated them in a knockout encounter in the UCL.
Dusan Tadic (Ajax) and Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) have both scored five goals in the ongoing competition, and are both in goal-scoring form as they face each other tonight. Bale recently struck the 100-mark in goals for the Merengues and has a specific knack of hitting vital knockout goals for his club, as seen in the 2014 and 2018 Champions League finals, for instance.
Where to watch, and when
Indian viewers can watch the televised game live on Sony Ten2 or Ten2HD, or via the broadcast in the SonyLIV app. International viewers can rely on BT Sport2 for live coverage and English commentary.
The game timings are:
20:00hours (GMT), on 13th February - International.
01:30hours (IST), on 14th February - Indian.