How Ajax and Real Madrid have changed since the draw
In two months, both Real Madrid and Ajax have changed their fortunes and they are currently going in different directions ahead of their Champions League clash.
"Up until the winter break, Ajax played excellently," Leo Beenhekker says in AD, the dutch publication. "Madrid were going through a rough moment and everyone in Amsterdam was happy with the draw. Now Ajax are in a rut."
The dynamics have changed completely since then when Ajax were one of the in form teams in Europe. They had ten wins in a row in the Eredivisie and Madrid were struggling badly under Solari. Two months to change the entire situation and that's what happened.
When that draw was made on December 17th, Madrid hadn't strung five wins together and were heading to the Club World Cup with more questions than answers regarding their form and with a very pessimistic outlook on their future. Vinicius hadn't earned his place in the team and Benzema was yet to go on his finest run of form in a Madrid jersey for 10 years. The lasting memory from the early part of the season was the 5-1 defeat at the Camp Nou. But now, they travel to Amsterdam after a 1-1 draw against Barcelona and a 3-1 victory over Atlético Madrid at the Wanda. They are six points behind Barcelona in LaLiga and they harbour hopes of a title challenge.
Ajax's situation is very different though. They arrived into the winter break (almost a month off from December 23rd until January 20th) having won every game they played in the Netherlands with just three losses in that time (two against Bayern Munich and one against Benfica). Their winter holidays sent them into crisis though despite a 2-2 draw with Flamengo and a 2-4 win over Sao Paulo over the Christmas period in friendlies.
De Ligt highly critical of Ajax' form
"We know what we are capable of, we have shown it in the first part of the season. But it's surprising how we have played this month and we are not ourselves. I am worried," said Matthijs de Ligt, the captain and the leader of the team. The bad atmosphere in the dressing room arrived after three consecutively poor results. Their troubling form was masked by two wins over Venlo (6-0) and against Herenveen (3-1). The 6-2 defeat in De Klassieker against Feyenoord needs no explanation and leave Ajax six points behind PSV Eindhoven in the league.
"You can always sit and talk but if you don't make changes, there's nothing to do," said De Ligt. The press has already listed names of players who those in the dressing room are not willing to publicly call out. Tadic and Blind, two of the most expensive signings in the club's history with the biggest salaries must assume more responsbility and Ziyech, one of the attacking leaders, has had an issue with the fans since last season (He has not posted any photos to his Instagram with anything got to do with Ajax since the row and has deleted the ones he had previously shared). There is also concern that the announcement of the Frenkie de Jong transfer has had a negative influence on the squad with some jealousy creeping in. "Of course we straighten each other out but it seems to have no effect," the captain concluded.