Ajax Amsterdam are next on the docket for Los Blancos, and though this may seem like a sure-fire victory for a team that has already qualified for the round of 16 in the Champions League, Ajax could pull off the upset, despite dropping their last Champions League contest to Dortmund 4-1 on Nov. 21.
Real Madrid haven't been inspiring abundant confidence, either. Though they won their last two matches—over Atletico Madrid (2-0) in La Liga play, and over Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey (3-0)—they played to a 1-1 draw against Manchester City in their most recent Champions League match on Nov. 21. And a few weeks prior to that, on Nov. 6, Madrid played to a 2-2 draw against Borussia Dortmund.
A dominant performance in this one, therefore, is no sure thing, no matter how much it may seem like Real have it in the bag.
Where: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain
When: Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 2:45 p.m. ET
TV: FoxSoccerTV, DirecTV
Live Stream: UStream
Though this game doesn't mean anything for Real Madrid in terms of where they will finish in the Group D standings, it does mean something in terms of how the fans view the team's potential going forward.
Real will finish in second place in Group D regardless—but that doesn't mean Jose Mourinho's team can mail it in against Ajax. This team's fans still want and need to see a win, and supporters need to see that the team is capable of dominating, so Real need to find motivation wherever they can. They may not have anything to prove because their place in the Round of 16 is guaranteed, but in a way, they have everything to prove.
And finding a way to get this W for their own peace of mind—and for the fans—should be motivation enough.
Ajax Player to Watch
For now, Christian Eriksen is playing for Ajax, and that's all that matters.
He and team management can't worry about the future right now, and whether that future will include him. According to ESPN SoccerNet, there has long been speculation that Eriksen has no interest in remaining with the team once his current contract runs out in the summer of 2014. But that still gives him plenty of time to make an impact in the present.
The 20-year-old midfielder currently has four goals in six games for Ajax in the Eredivisie and has the potential to lead the charge and create offense for his side on Tuesday, but going up against Pepe and Raphael Varane certainly won't make his job easy.
Real Madrid Player to Watch
Cristiano Ronaldo is going to be a force to be reckoned with no matter who he's playing, but the last time he faced Ajax, he really had their number, netting a hat trick. Ajax's work, therefore, would seem to be cut out for them, and that work begins with finding a way to neutralize the Real star. If they can't do that, they could be toast.
The fact that Ronaldo is even playing on Tuesday speaks to just how badly this team needs to put forth a dominant performance on Tuesday, even though it means nothing—and Ronaldo has an opportunity to put this one away for Los Blancos early.
If he can score early, he can put Real in an excellent position for the win. In their last two W's, Ajax have been able to pull through because they only allowed one goal each time; in their most recent loss to Dortmund, however, Ajax allowed four goals and couldn't even make it close, scoring once.
X-Factor: Mesut Ozil
The Real Madrid midfielder could potentially be the difference-maker on Tuesday—and it seems he's determined to be just that. Ozil, who joined Real in 2010 from Werder Bremen, has two goals and two assists on seven shots in 14 games with Real, but he is determined to make this one count in particular. He told ESPN.com's Stephan Uersfeld:
I know what the coach thinks and what he expects from me. I have started many games this season. That trust in me says enough.
Perhaps he can provide the necessary offense against Ajax, like he did against Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
What They're Saying
One of the biggest stories concerning Real Madrid at present has nothing to do with the game at hand—which is always dangerous. There are plenty of rumors circulating that manager Jose Mourinho isn't going to be around for much longer.
For his part, though, Mourinho is doing everything he can to lay those rumors to rest, even as his team struggles to compare with the ones he's sent out in years past.
On Monday, Mourinho told CNN.com:
My future is that [Tuesday] I'll have my 101st Champions League match, and UEFA will confirm that. Neither I nor I think the president will say a word about it. I have nothing to say about what we talked about. My relationship with him is very good and I will not be giving any substance to this situation. You have no story.
Mourinho is having trouble establishing faith that Real can triumph out of the field of 16, despite the fact that his team has been able to do it twice before. While a big win on Tuesday may not mean much for Real in terms of qualifying (they've already done that), it could certainly help him gain some ground with the fans.
Who's your pick to win?
As far as Ajax are concerned, despite the fact that they dropped a 4-1 contest to Real in October, it's all about focusing on the positive for them. And the positive could come from simply putting up a fight on Tuesday.
This team hasn't had an easy go of things in the Champions League after being placed in Group D with the likes of Real, Dortmund and Manchester City, but according to Inside Futbol's Hassan Chamas, playing hard is what Ajax have to strive for on Tuesday:
The reigning Dutch champions have been pitted in the same group as Real Madrid for the third year-running now. However, in the all of the matches they have disputed in this time frame, the four-time Champions League winners never managed to overcome their adversaries, even on home soil in Amsterdam. Furthermore, Ajax have not won in their last five visits to Spain, with four of those being defeats. Should Ajax want to have any realistic hope of winning this one, they will need to out-muscle and outplay Real Madrid’s midfield, who have shown vulnerability at certain times this season.
Real Madrid 3