Ajax absolutely outplayed Real Madrid in the second leg of their round of 16 clash in the Champions League and knocked the defending champions out of the tournament in their own den.
The match was poetic in equal parts as shocking. An Ajax team, comprising youngsters and castaways, beat the big boys of the Champions League – the three times defending champions, no less. The Dutch team not only beat the Spanish giants but handed them an absolute schooling in front of their own fans who have, over the recent years, been privy to a few lessons; those lessons, though, were handed by the team in white to the visitors.
The gulf in quality was so large that even a 1-4 scoreline in favour of the visitors was being kind to Madrid. So what went wrong on the turf that has been breeding champions? It was perhaps the passing of the proverbial torch. Here are the takeaways from the game.
No Ronaldo, no party!
Forget about the Champions League, Real Madrid has been knocked out of three competitions in the space of a week as they lost four consecutive matches at home for the first time in ages. In this time, they have only scored 1 goal. While one man cannot carry an entire unit in a team sport, with Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, Madrid not only lost 50 goals every season but also the phenomenon of the talisman.
In sport, statistics are often dished out to promote or challenge a narrative but the human aspect of having a player like Ronaldo on the pitch is overlooked. The psychological aspect of having him affects both sides and it was evident, Real Madrid lacked a champion-esque presence in the Champions League.
Schooled by Frenkie de Jong
There was a defining moment in the game when de Jong beat one Real Madrid player and immediately after, rode a sliding tackle by Luka Modric with a touch so nonchalant, it seemed as though the Croatian wasn't even present – it was a lesson from the apprentice to the master.
De Jong controlled the midfield, a task the likes of Modric and Toni Kroos have done for so long on big European nights. He was brilliant on the ball and equally effective off it. The young Ajax midfielder managed to wriggle out of the Madrid press with deft touches and when the home side attacked on the break, he covered space beautifully to snatch possession. There was a calmness about him that betrayed his age and no wonder Barcelona has already snapped him up to be Sergio Busquets' long-term replacement.
No Sergio Ramos, Dusan Tadic on the go
An opposition player dribbled past two players, then past two more with a move apt for the dance floor and subsequently set up David Neres for Ajax to take a 2-0 lead at the Bernabeu within 20 minutes.
There was no coming back from there as this man – Dusan Tadic – ran the entire Madrid defence ragged. He was the centre forward on the pre-match graphic but was omnipresent in the 90 minutes and one cannot help but wonder about the absence of Sergio Ramos. The Real captain had supposedly picked up a booking on purposes so as not to miss games further on but on the night, he was sorely missed.
In fact, the last time the Los Blancos capitulated like this was when Ramos didn't play central defence against Borussia Dortmund in the 2012-2013 season. It was clear that the home side lacked the vocal presence of a leader who could organize the team and if needed, even physically intimidate the opposition.
The outcome firmly signalled that the mighty have fallen and for the first time in four years, a new continental champion will be crowned.