Defending champions Real Madrid are back in Champions League action on Wednesday as they travel to the Johan Cruijff ArenA to face Ajax in the last-16 first leg. Buoyed by a sequence of good results in tough matches, Santi Solari’s side will start this encounter as favourites, having negotiated a group that involved Roma, Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow.
Ajax, meanwhile, will be no pushovers, having impressed in Europe in recent seasons and with a clutch of exciting young players eager to prove themselves at the highest level. New users can sign up for a free seven-day trial of the live sports streaming service, which can be accessed via iOS, Android, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV as well as on a web browser.
In the United Kingdom (UK), the game will be broadcast on BT Sport 3 and can Zidane again sits out along with Marcos Llorente, while the rarely-used Isco is missing due to a back complaint.n Karim Benzema missed some training earlier this week but should be included in the starting XI, while Marcelo faces a fight to start ahead of Sergio Reguilon at left-back.
Real Madrid did not play like three-time defending Champions League winners during their Group G campaign prior to Christmas. Twice Los Blancos lost to CSKA Moscow, and while they came good for the big occasion, the level of their form was largely disappointing.
There has been some improvement since then, with the greatest indications that they are picking up a head of steam arriving over the course of the last week. A trip to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey saw them deservedly earn a 1-1 draw, which was followed up by a terrific 3-1 derby win over Atletico Madrid at the weekend.
Following that victory, which came about after goals from Casemiro, Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale, interim head coach Santi Solari talked up his team’s chances of even more European success.
Speaking to UEFA, he said: “Nothing is impossible for Real Madrid.” Despite piecing together a seven-match undefeated run, he is aware how fickle the game can be – particularly at the Bernabeu.
“That’s what this profession is like, in football you have one game and another. Then when you lose it’s terrible, when you win it’s fine,” he told the press on the eve of this match before playing down the two defeats Ajax have suffered in their last three matches.
“I don’t think it’s a bad period for them, I don’t agree. I think they are having a good season. I’ve seen a lot of games and they play well, construct the play well and they have great players. This is football. There is always an opponent and you have to respect them all, just like the teams Ajax have played. “I hope we play a game with a serious performance as we did three days ago, that’s my maximum hope. Football is day-to-day work. All we have to live for is the game tomorrow.”
“At a certain moment, everybody had to leave, including the coach, technical director and chairman. They don’t really bother about a million more or less. “That’s how it works, it’s football. They need you or they don’t. I could have stayed for a couple of years, but, for me, the sporting part was the most important thing.”
At Ajax, meanwhile, up-and-coming stars like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt have pushed him into the shadows somewhat, but the 35-year-old striker is hopeful they can inspire the Eredivisie side to an upset for the ages.
“If we play like we played earlier this season in the Champions League, we can make it very difficult for Real Madrid,” he added. “But, at first hand, they are the favourites. “We will only be satisfied if we qualify for the next round. It’s more realistic to think they will make it, but that’s not the way we think, because this is our chance to make history.”