Real Madrid vs. Ajax: 6 Key Battles to Watch
Real Madrid hosts Ajax on Tuesday, and Bleacher Report is taking a look at some key battles for the game.
Real Madrid are three points behind Borussia Dortmund, and even if they were to win and the Germans were to lose, they would not top the group.
That may mean a few changes in the starting lineup for Jose Mourinho's side. In their last three Champions League games, Ajax has used a 4-1-4-1 formation with Christian Eriksen leading the line.
Given the 4-1 scoreline the last time that these teams met, one can expect the Dutch side to line up like this again (via ESPN Soccernet).
Ajax is currently in third place in the group and have a lot more to play for. A win for the Dutch club would ensure that they play in the Europa League from February on.
Here are six key battles to watch for in this game between Real Madrid and Ajax.
Ricardo Van Rhijn vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
The last time that these two teams met, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. Ricardo van Rhijn marked him on the day and did as best he could given the monumental task at hand.
Ronaldo is more than capable of pulling of a repeat performance, especially at home, and Van Rhijn will have to be exceptional to stop him.
If Dutch defender cannot hold his own and at least slow Ronaldo down, Ajax may be in for another long night.
Toby Alderweireld vs. Karim Benzema
Toby Alderweireld knows that he won't have an easy time in this game trying to Karim Benzema.
The Belgian defender will have to be aware of the Frenchman's smart movements across the front-line if his side is to have a good chance in this game.
Benzema grabbed a goal and an assist the last time that these teams met, and he will want to repeat that performance.
Christian Poulsen Vs.Kaka
Considering Real Madrid's situation in the group, Kaka may be handed a rare start against Ajax.
He and Christian Poulsen were matched up the last time that these teams met, and the Brazilian was excellent in the midfield.
He grabbed an assist and almost got on the scoresheet. Poulsen, like his defensive teammates, needs an improved performance should his side have any chance of winning.
Kaka doesn't have the same explosiveness that he used to, but his excellent technical skills will make it tough for the Dane.
The Brazilian will be auditioning for even more playing time or a possible suitor, so Poulsen will have to be at his best.
Eyong Enoh vs. Luka Modric
As stated in the opening slide, Ajax have used a 4-1-4-1 formation in their last three Champions League games.
That formation results in the club using two more defensive-minded midfielders with Eyong Enoh getting the call when fit.
He was on the bench for Ajax's win over PSV this past weekend and should feature against the Spanish side.
Enoh will be asked to track Luka Modric and nullify his threat in that deep playmaking role.
The Cameroonian midfielder has the tools necessary to trouble the Croatian. His club will have a much better chance of getting the necessary result should he succeed in his task.
Siem De Jong vs. Sami Khedira
Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game, and we've already seen two important individual matches.
Sami Khedira is likely to take the more defensive role in Madrid's double pivot for this game. Siem De Jong will be his direct opponent, tasked with orchestrating the Dutch side's attacks.
The mobility and high-energy game of Khedira will provide a test for De Jong on both ends of the pitch.
The Ajax midfielder will have to track back when the German does go forward and find the pockets of space offensively to help his side.
Christian Eriksen vs. Pepe and Raphael Varane
If Ajax line up in the expected 4-1-4-1, Christian Eriksen will lead the line.
His ability to create and score goals will be essential to Ajax's play on the day, though he won't go head-to-head with either Pepe or Raphael Varane, as he isn't a natural forward.
Rather, it's his movement, link-up play and dribbling skills that will provide trouble for Madrid's central defensive duo.
Eriksen has one goal and four assists in the Champions League this season, and only one of those assists came while playing in the midfield.(statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com)
Pepe and Raphael Varane will each provide something different for Eriksen to cope with, and it will be a tough task for the talented Dane.
He will have to work hard both on and off the ball but will need the support from De Jong to truly thrive. If he receives no help and goes back into the midfield often to get involved in the play, it will be an easy day for Madrid's defense.