Well that’s more like it! Real Madrid made a splash in their return to the Champions League--dominating from start to finish against an Ajax team that looked intimidated and wary. Gonzalo Higuaín scored twice for los blancos, though the first could easily be ruled an own goal as it bounced off Ajax’s Anita after a well-placed corner from Xabi Alonso. Mesut Özil continued to impress the Bernabéu faithful with his patient runs, perfectly timed through-balls and incredible ability to find the perfect pass--his assist on Higuaín’s second earned him a standing ovation as he walked off the pitch.
While the gum-kicking German Zidane has been quick to put the Bernabéu in his pocket (in his first two games in Madrid he has left with a rousing standing ovation), our enigmatic Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has been battling inner demons. He has yet to score this season for Madrid, and the pressure to knock one in seemed to get to him Wednesday: he took eleven shots and missed several obvious opportunities including a one-on-one with Stekelenburg, and a cross from Higuaín that was maybe two feet in front of the goal. It was odd to see CR7 so unlucky in front of goal--I can’t remember a game of his when he played like this.
We learned, though, that Sergio Ramos--who was a late scratch due to a minor injury--adds a lot of attacking depth to the right wing. His absence was particularly evident when los merengues had the ball in the last third of the pitch: normally, Ramos would pull a few defenders towards the wing; instead, Ajax was able to clog the middle and focus on Madrid’s goalscorers. Sergio’s injury is probably part of why CR7 had a bad game and Madrid didn’t win 5-0 or 6-0.
Ramos’s absence didn’t affect the defense, however, as Mourinho’s tactics seem to have sparked a rebirth in Madrid’s defensive abilities. Aerial balls were ineffective against the solid back line, and the Khedira/Xabi pairing was dynamite in the defensive midfield.
Madrid did, however, benefit from an explosive--though at times ineffective--Angel di María, who was a constant threat on the counter attack. Fast, athletic, and ambitious, the skinny Argentine was almost too much to handle when he had the ball at his feet--he wiggled his way through the defense on a few notable occasions, and was unlucky not to score.
Luck was a huge factor--had CR7, di Maria or Özil put away any of their chances, the score would have been more like 5-0 or 6-0. But that was probably the best news of the night for Madrid: even when luck isn’t really on their side, they can still dominate and win games.