The talk going into the last week was that three games in seven days, two Clasicos last week and Tuesday’s Champions League fixture, would define Real Madrid’s season. Losing both games against Barcelona thus piled on the pressure on Los Blancos and manager Santiago Solari in particular, especially as this round of 16 second leg represented Madrid’s last hope of silverware for the season.
Now they’ve lost all three, and Solari is likely on the verge of being sacked. It’s not just that Madrid managed to squander a 2-1 first-leg lead at home, it’s that unfancied Ajax came into the Santiago Bernabeu and beat the side that had won this competition an unprecedented three straigh seasons by a stunning 4-1 scoreline – and it could have been worse.
Solari is probably on the brink of being sacked by Madrid after Tuesday’s result. Here’s a look at how it all went wrong.
Goals – 1
Shots – 20
Shots on target – 8
Possession – 57%
Passing Accuracy – 80%
Chances created – 18
Madrid started with purpose, and should have gone ahead when Raphael Varane headed against the crossbar in the fifth minute. But everything went wrong after that. Ajax scored two quick goals, then Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior went off injured.
Solari seemingly roused his players at halftime as they began the second half on the front foot again, but Ajax scored a third amid another VAR controversy. Asensio briefly gave Madrid hope, but Schone’s stunning free-kick ended it and possibly pushed Solari towards the Madrid exit door.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Solari’s lack of plan B
A common criticism levelled at Zinedine Zidane during his tenure was that he wasn’t a great tactician, and just had great players. Solari has the same players – other than Cristiano Ronaldo, in fairness a big miss – but the results are worse.
Plenty of managers stick to their guns, as Solari did on Tuesday, deploying a familiar 4-3-3. But having no plan B, no contingency for your team going 2-0 or 3-0 down – Zidane would have thrown all his attacking players on and switched to 3-5-2 or 4-2-4 – is poor management.
Tuesday was a perfect storm for Solari. Two first-half injuries. A goal that should have been disallowed by VAR – though some will say justice was done after Ajax controversially had a goal disallowed in the first leg. And it seemed every Ajax shot was flying into the corner.
But Solari will deservedly take some slack. There was no discernible reaction to going 2-0 down other than hoping his players would improve. They should have, but that doesn’t give their manager a free pass.
RATING – 2/10
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