Real Madrid are in charge of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Ajax having won the first leg 2-1 away from home, but recent losses to Barcelona will have dented their confidence and could leave them vulnerable against the Dutch side.
For Ajax boss Erik ten Hag, this game is a chance to truly make a mark. A loss is expected and as long as it’s by a respectable margin, no one at the club will suffer any consequences. But a famous win would show that the club should be counted among the European powers again.
Here’s a look at the tactics the Ajax manager could use to spring a shock.
AJAX SHOULD COMMIT TO 4-3-3
Under Ten Hag, Ajax switch between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 from game to game and indeed, often within a single game, with Dusan Tadic and Donny van de Beek afforded freedom that gives the team fluidity between the two formations. Van de Beek can switch between playing as a central midfielder and a No 10, and Tadic goes from false nine to a more orthodox striker’s position.
Perhaps, though, this is a game in which Ten Hag’s side should commit to one formation. The 4-3-3 provides more control, with Van de Beek and Lasse Schone sitting alongside Frenkie de Jong to let the star midfielder dictate the tempo of the game.
Van de Beek can still have the license to go forward when necessary, but in the meantime, those three can match up against Madrid’s own midfield trio and avoid the risk of being overrun in the middle of the park.
ZIYECH, NERES SHOULD BE KEPT FORWARD
Real Madrid are blessed with plenty of attacking talent, but that can sometimes work against them as the defence is left short-handed with players pouring forward. Ajax should look to exploit this on Tuesday.
Full-backs Noussair Mazraoui and Nicolas Tagliafico are likely to have their hands full with Vinicius and whoever starts on the Madrid right. But if Ten Hag is feeling bold, he could trust Tagliafico and Mazraoui to handle their defensive duties without too much help, tasking his midfielders to provide some back-up for the duo defensively if necessary, and have his wide players stay forward instead of tracking back too often.
That way, the space between Madrid’s attack and defence on the flanks can be exploited, allowing David Neres and Hakim Ziyech to isolate Madrid’s own full-backs or get behind them and potentially run riot on the counter.
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