Dubai: Real Madrid and their reeling fans are being forced to come to terms with the rare and unpleasant feeling of a season coming at an end in early March. With Barcelona out of reach in La Liga, the side from the Spanish capital had turned their attentions to claiming the Champions League trophy for an outrageous fourth year in a row.
But those dreams are now in tatters after the humiliating 4-1 home defeat to a young but gifted Ajax Amsterdam side on Tuesday, which saw the Dutch side progress to the quarter-finals 5-3 on aggregate.
Real were stunned to go out of a competition they have made their own so early. “I think I have never felt this awful, I do not know how to explain it,” said Real defender Dani Carvajal after goals from Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, Dusan Tadic and Lasse Schone at the Bernabeu sent the Dutch champions into dreamland.
Here are five key factors after a match that will live long in the memory for both clubs, for very different reasons.
The week that was
All big clubs suffer bad — sometimes humiliating — results, but Real’s humbling on Tuesday night capped a week rarely seen among the big guns in Europe. Madrid-based newspaper said it all in the headline-cum-epitaph it ran alongside a picture of a shell-shocked, half-empty Bernabeu: “Here lies the team that made history: A humiliating end to an unrepeatable era.”
It was the nadir in seven days that handed them three defeats. They were knocked out of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday at the hands of Barcelona, defeated in La Liga on Saturday by the same opponents to slip to third in the standings and 12 points behind their arch-rivals, and bumped out of Europe on Tuesday, their earliest exit in nine trophy-laden years. Now their season is over and February is just finished.
Red-face for Ramos
The man from Madrid who will be hurting most, and may well feel the backlash from supporters the most was not even on the field.
Real sorely missed their intentionally absent captain Sergio Ramos. The Spain skipper made a spectacular misjudgement when he deliberately got booked in their 2-1 victory in the Netherlands, meaning he would sit out Tuesday’s second leg rather than miss a more important game later in the competition. How did that work out for you, Sergio? Ramos watched from the sidelines as Real were ripped apart, meaning his arrogant and misguided assumption that Real would be in the last eight came back to bite him hard.
“Without talking badly about any of our players, of course we missed our captain,” manager Santiago Solari said after the defeat. Both captain and coach will be regretting that silly decision over in Amsterdam.
Solari could well be the man who counts the cost more than Ramos. He was still defiant he will stay and fight on with Real in the aftermath of the Dutch demolition. The Argentine had overseen a modicum of progress since taking over from Julen Lopetegui’s ill-fated spell in November, but Madristas are an unforgiving bunch and they could put pressure on the Real board to make yet another change in the hotseat after such a humiliation on the world’s biggest stage. “I have not come here to give up,” Solari said. “Easy moments are easy for everyone, you can climb up and surf them, but difficult moments you have to show bravery. What we must do is remain as calm as possible in such a difficult moment and take it on with the best character. Madrid is bigger than any of us, it always returns and returns stronger.” They will return next season all right, but most likely without Solari at the helm.
In the wake of the euphoria, this exciting but inexperienced Ajax side are determined to use the victory as a catalyst to take them even deeper in the competition. Their captain Matthijs de Ligt is only 19 and he is sure his side have more upsets left in them. “We are certainly not finished yet,” the defender said. “We made it difficult for Bayern Munich (in the group stages) and now we’ve knocked Real Madrid out.
“It was no surprise to us.
De Jong delivers
One man who will be expecting a hero’s welcome at Camp Nou is Barcelona-bound Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong came good on his pledge to his future club by bumping Barca’s arch-rivals out of the Champions League. The Dutchman will join La Liga champions Barcelona next season. “I spoke to them when I signed the contract and they told me to try to knock out Real Madrid, as that would be great for Barca too,” De Jong said. Job done. That’s one way to endear yourself to the Catalan club’s demanding fans before you have even pulled on a claret and blue jersey.