Real Madrid were stunned by Ajax on Tuesday as they were knocked out at the last-16 stage of the UEFA Champions League after losing 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The three-time defending champions held a 2-1 lead from the first leg but were unable to convert their advantage into a last-eight spot as they suffered a third defeat on the bounce in all competitions.
Ajax were stunningly good in Madrid and were 2-0 up inside 18 minutes after goals from Hakim Ziyech and David Neres.
The superb Dusan Tadic, who set up both first-half goals, then dealt the knockout blow just after the hour, his brilliantly converted strike from the edge of the box eventually being awarded after a lengthy VAR consultation.
Substitute Marco Asensio pulled one back with 20 minutes to go, but Lasse Schone’s sublime free-kick put the icing on the cake for Ajax two minutes later. Nacho was then sent off in stoppage time.
Ajax’s remarkable victory means they are now in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2003.
Real, meanwhile, look set to be trophyless this season, and manager Santiago Solari’s position is in serious jeopardy.
Sergio Ramos Deserves Plenty of Blame For Ajax Loss
In the 89th minute of Real’s first leg against Ajax in Amsterdam, with the 13-time European champions 2-1 ahead, Sergio Ramos made a reckless challenge and received a yellow card.
It meant he would be suspended for the second leg and he subsequently admitted to picking up the booking on purpose, for which his ban was extended.
After 18 minutes at the Bernabeu on Tuesday it looked to be one of the worst decisions of the Spanish centre-back’s career:
Real’s defence was torn apart by Ajax. The hosts started sharply with a couple of decent chances, but at the first time of asking Ziyech produced a wonderful side-footed finish seven minutes into the game to put Ajax ahead.
Only a few minutes later Tadic waltzed through the Madrid defence and fed Neres, who rounded Thibaut Courtois and doubled the visitors’ lead:
Real had seen their lead wiped out, but there were still more than 70 minutes in which to turn it around.
In truth, though, they never looked like getting back into the tie. They were lacking in defence and devoid of any leadership.
There is no guarantee Real would have qualified even with Ramos. But he would have provided the defensive acumen and guidance they so desperately needed from their club captain.
When Tadic produced a wonderful finish from the edge of the box in the 62nd minute to compound Real’s misery, it was no more than Ajax deserved.
There proved not to be enough evidence to adjudge whether the ball had gone out of play in the build-up:
Real have now lost their last four Champions League games in which Ramos has been absent, and the 32-year-old has only himself to blame for missing Tuesday’s clash:
Solari’s Time is Up at Real
If there was no leadership on the pitch from a Real perspective, there was also little off it.
A team of Real’s quality should have at least been able to look like launching a comeback in the second half, but it never came.
Asensio produced a smart finish to make it 3-1 after 70 minutes, but he was only on the pitch because 18-year-old Vinicius Junior was forced off in the first half because of injury.
It mattered little in the end as Schone almost instantly made Real’s goal academic by catching out Courtois with a lovely, looping free-kick into the corner.
Real look lost under Solari and he did nothing of note to try to change things on Tuesday:
Los Blancos have now been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, and effectively surrendered the La Liga title within one week.
It will be no surprise if Solari is out of a job by the weekend:
And it would be the right decision. Real have nothing left to play for in 2018-19 other than ensuring they do not slip out of the top four in La Liga. They now must plan for the future.
Tuesday felt like the end of an era as the side that have won four of the last five Champions League titles were humiliated in their own stadium by a young, hungry Ajax side.
Real need some of the vim and vigour the Dutch side displayed if they are to turn things around next season after a dismal 2018-19.
Solari is not the man to lead the revival.
Real are back in action in La Liga on Sunday when they visit 16th-placed Real Valladolid. Ajax, meanwhile, host Fortuna Sittard in the Eredivisie