MADRID (AFP) – The reign of Real Madrid in Europe is over and their season could well be too after they were stunned by a 4-1 defeat at home to Ajax early yesterday.
In seven days, Madrid have been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, La Liga’s title race and now the last 16 of the Champions League, the competition they had come to believe was their own.
They had won it three times in a row, four times in the last five years, while the last time Madrid failed to reach the quarter-finals was 2010, in Cristiano Ronaldo’s first year at the club.
Ronaldo rescued Madrid last season in the quarter-finals and then Gareth Bale won them the trophy, but the former is gone and the latter started on the bench, dropped again by Santiago Solari.
Solari oversaw an improvement after Julen Lopetegui was sacked in November but his team, 12 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, have watched their season unravel in a week.
Madrid President Florentino Perez is now faced with deciding whether it is worth keeping Solari until the end of the season, let alone beyond the summer.
Solari insisted he would not resign as coach of Real Madrid after the defeat. He was handed a contract until 2021 when he took over in November last year.
“I did not come to the club in such a difficult moment to give up,” Solari said after the game.
“Clearly we have given it our all but we have not managed to go through.”
Solari could have few complaints. Ajax were hard-done-by in the 2-1 first-leg defeat and dominant at the Santiago Bernabeu, their scintillating victory confirming a 5-3 win on aggregate.
Hakim Ziyech and David Neres put them two up at half-time and Dusan Tadic made it three before Marco Asensio gave Madrid hope. It lasted two minutes, as Lasse Schone sent a bending free-kick into the top corner before Nacho was sent off late on.
Bale was on after 29 minutes for the injured Lucas Vazquez but the Welshman hit the post and missed two good chances.
Sergio Ramos was in the stands, having earned a deliberate booking to clear his ban, believing the tie was already won.
Raphael Varane might have finished it within five minutes but headed onto the crossbar from six yards and instead Ajax took control.
Toni Kroos, poor all night, was caught in possession from a throw-in and Dusan Tadic skipped free down the right. Tadic pulled back for Ziyech, who guided it with his left foot into the far corner.
Ajax were bouncing as Neres baffled Dani Carvajal with a pirouette in the corner and then Tadic did the same, spinning around Casemiro in midfield before teeing up the second. Neres rounded Thibaut Courtois and chipped the ball home.
Vazquez and Vinicius Junior both left the field injured and in tears, the latter after an electric run forward. Bale came on, with Asensio, and raced down the left but his finish from the angle clipped the post.
The fans whistled at half-time and Madrid were no better after, creating chances but lacking composure and control. Benzema shimmied past Ziyech but curled wide, only for Ajax to add a sumptuous, albeit controversial, third.
They worked it from right to left and then inside again, where Donny van de Beek shifted one last pass to Tadic, who whipped a sizzling shot into the top corner.
The cheers stopped as referee Felix Brych waited for VAR, with the ball appearing to have gone out for a throw before Noussair Mazraoui slid to keep it in. The camera angle was unclear and the goal stood.
Madrid needed three in 24 minutes and then two in 20, as Asensio swept in Sergio Reguilon’s cross to give them hope. Erik ten Hag was seconds from bringing Schone off but his midfielder bended a free-kick into Courtois’ top corner.
Frenkie de Jong put his first foot wrong in the 84th minute, gifting Luka Modric the ball in the area but Benzema slipped and the chance went begging. Nacho was sent off for a clash with van de Beek and Madrid were in tatters.
“I’ve never felt as sick as this, I don’t know how to explain it,” said Madrid defender Dani Carvajal.
“In one week everything has gone, and all of it after matches at home. Tonight we can’t look for excuses, they were better and they deserved to go through.
“We have a young team that can improve. It is clear the season is over but we will continue working in the league because that’s what we have to do and we have to be professional.”