Ajax vs. Real Madrid: 5 Things We Learned from the Champions League MatchOctober 3, 2012
Ajax vs. Real Madrid: 5 Things We Learned from the Champions League Match
Real Madrid were once again threatened by a significantly weaker side, but a Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick—his second in four days—grabbed three important points away to Ajax in the Champions League.
Ronaldo found himself hobbling as the game ran down to a close, certainly something that would have left plenty of Real Madrid supporters sweating ahead of the Clasico this Sunday. But he was statistically the frontrunner of a very impressive attack.
In the "group of death" of this season's Champions League group stage, Real Madrid needed to take all the points from their trip to the Amsterdam Arena. It was a weakened Dutch side, and Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid's next opponents, won't be so charitable in defence.
Rotation and plenty of good signs from one or two "squad" members in Jose Mourinho's team. On the whole, he would have been satisfied with what turned out to be a big win for his Spanish Champions.
Real Madrid Still Conceding Easy Goals
It wasn't Angel Di Maria this time, nor was it a collision between the goalkeeper and one of his defenders. Instead, it was Michael Essien who failed to pick up centre-back Niklas Moisander while defending a corner.
The Ajax centre-back was given complete freedom of the penalty area and cut the deficit in half to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
The Real Madrid defence played nervously and really offered Ajax plenty of room to attack and threaten. You'd certainly like to think that a team with better finishers than Ajax would have capitalised and asked further questions of Mourinho's team.
Notably, Frank de Boer's team were without striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, perhaps a player who would have given the shaky Real back line more to deal with.
A win is a win—and it certainly was an explosive attacking display—but the consistency at which Real Madrid concede goals really doesn't sit well ahead of this Sunday's clash with Barcelona.
Sergio Ramos Back at Centre-Back
Here's the thing: It's not always as black and white as Sergio Ramos simply being reinstated at the centre-back position. If Raphael Varane was deserving of a place in the side against Deportivo on the weekend, as well as against Manchester City two weeks ago, why not use the youngster in this tie against Ajax?
Jose Mourinho clearly had one eye on the Clasico at the Nou Camp this Sunday, as was evident by his team selection. Kaka was given a surprise start, along with Jose Callejon and Michael Essien.
No Sami Khedira, no Mesut Ozil, no Luka Modric. So are we led to believe that there really was something of a "misunderstanding" between Ramos and Mourinho in the recent past? Something that both have denied.
Is there a story in all this, or are we trying to find something that isn't there? Shouldn't a manager be given freedom to rotate his players when he sees the need, especially with this kind of squad at his disposal?
Could Kaka Be the Surprise Third in Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric’s Battle?
Luka Modric was bought this past summer to add something else, an alternative, greater depth and a real challenge for Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria.
But what about Kaka?
The Brazilian performed exceptionally well alongside Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the front three. And it really was a front three, as the trio of attackers seemed to isolate Jose Callejon on the right flank.
They interchanged well, with Kaka adding another level of bite and cutting edge to the Real Madrid attack. He was a surprise inclusion in the starting XI, but the real shock was how well he performed.
Kaka didn't fancy fulfilling the role Jose Mourinho seems to have spelt out for him; he wants to be much more than just a squad player. Adding to his introduction on the weekend against Deportivo, this start was much deserved.
On the whole, Kaka arguably gave one of the best performances of any Real Madrid player so far this season. He tracked back with enthusiasm and desire, and he really wanted to stake his claim for future starts in Real's upcoming games.
Would it be such a bad thing to start him in the Clasico?
Are Real Madrid Still Struggling to Raise Their Game for the 'Smaller' Matches?
Ajax away in the Champions League is no walk in the park, but it certainly doesn't write the headlines in the same way that a game against Manchester City or Barcelona would. An obvious and greater telling of the fall of the Dutch team's reputation.
But where are Real Madrid and the need to get three absolutely crucial points? The group of death won't be as charitable in the future to allow Cristiano Ronaldo to grab a late winner in the dying minutes of a 3-2 thriller.
But from the game at the Amsterdam Arena, only the front three of Ronaldo, Karim benzema and Kaka really covered themselves in undeniable glory.
Did Jose Callejon do enough to warrant another start in Jose Mourinho's team anytime soon? He was hooked on 60 minutes for Angel Di Maria, who was much improved against Deportivo on the weekend.
But it's still not good enough from the entire squad. The mentality is not right, and the desire to put the game to bed by the hour mark is worryingly lacking.
Is it lacking in respect for Ajax? Certainly not. Real Madrid are the Spanish champions with an array of talent that Ajax could only dream of, and even then, it would still seem ridiculous.
The defence and attack looked really disjointed, and not in that "we'll hold the fort while you bag the goals" sort of way.
Real Madrid's attack was exceptional and really ensured all three points were going back to Spain. But at the same time, they would have been grateful that Ajax's attack was so wasteful.
These are the games that Real need to look far more comfortable in. The 4-1 final score doesn't tell the whole story.
Karim Benzema: The Outstanding Talent from Two Great Strikers
Gonzalo Higuain may eventually move on from Real Madrid and establish himself as the true first choice and undeniable starter at another great club. But is there any doubting that Karim Benzema is the greater asset?
Benzema capped a fantastic display with possibly the goal of this week's round of Champions League fixtures, an overhead kick that's worthy of sitting in the memory for many, many years.
He's the better finisher, he's taking the majority of his chances when they're presented and it's easy to see why Jose Mourinho heavily favoured him last season.
Higuain plays an important role for Real Madrid, but he certainly hasn't done enough to warrant a starting place over Benzema anytime soon.