Real Madrid’s last chance for silverware is the Champions League as Barcelona eye the treble… Santiago Solari cannot afford to fail with Jose Mourinho waiting in the wings
- Real Madrid take on Ajax in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday night
- Defeat on Tuesday would end Madrid’s hopes of winning a trophy for this season
- Santiago Solari would be one casualty should their European reign finally end
- Jose Mourinho has been on charm offensive ahead of a potential return to Spain
Today is March 5, the next La Liga season will kick off in the middle of August, Real Madrid know that if they go out of the Champions League on Tuesday night against Ajax five long months will stretch out ahead of them without a trophy to play for, with the Bernabeu whistling players, coaches and president; and with the added agony of seeing Barcelona precede to a possible treble.
They cannot go out of the competition they have been kings of for three straight years, not in the first week of March with nothing else to play for.
Santiago Solari will be one definite casualty of any exit. He has to win the Champions League or at least reach next May’s final in Madrid to stand any chance of being head coach next season.
Santiago Solari’s future as Real Madrid manager is on the line against Ajax on Tuesday night
His players looked in relaxed mood ahead of their do-or-die Champions League last-16 clash
On Monday he wore the pressure well with that killer line about Real Madrid having as many suitors as Julia Roberts bringing the house – or at least the press room – down.
Jose Mourinho has been on a charm offensive in his role as pundit but he will struggle to out-charm Solari who might be lacking in other areas – primarily experience – but has handled himself well through his five months in the job.
The steady drip drip of hints from Mourinho: Madrid are soft right now; the league (which they have won only twice in the last in the last ten years) is what really matters; he would love to go back; has not gone unnoticed at the Bernabeu.
His availability is certainly something he has over the man Real Madrid really want to take over at the end of the season – Mauricio Pochettino.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’ fondness for Mourinho is no secret. And it is absolutely no obstacle to him coming back that many of the players would not welcome it. Perez would give Mourinho a remit of ‘cleaning’ the dressing room – his unpopularity would only make that job easier.
Pochettino would be the big catch however. They view him as a hugely talented coach who has won nothing only because he has never been at a club where habitual winning is in the DNA.
Jose Mourinho has been on a charm offensive ahead of a possible return to the hotseat
Madrid take a 2-1 lead into the second leg thanks to victory in the first meeting in Amsterdam
Before Pochettino and Mourinho can really do battle – and with Germany coach Joachim Loew and Juventus boss Max Allegri also invited to make their pitch if they care to – Madrid’s competitive season needs to end.
It will on Tuesday night if they go out and just because Madrid have won the last four Champions Leagues and have a 2-1 advantage from the first leg no one is taking anything for granted in.
Madrid have lost their last three home games – twice against Barcelona and once against minnows Girona. They have only won two of their last three Champions League matches at home, conceding nine goals in the process.
They were beaten 1-3 by Juventus and 0-3 by CSKA Moscow. And they don’t have captain Sergio Ramos. His replacement Nacho has barely played of late and represents a downgrade on the captain.
‘KO in the Champions League would lead to the manager’s departure,’ read Sport’s front page
Madrid have lost their last three home games – twice against treble-chasing rivals Barcelona
Ajax won at the Bernabeu in the 1995-96 season in a Champions League group game that finished 0-2. They will have Barcelona signing Frenkie de Jong in midfield, if Barca had not done them enough damage to Madrid in the last few weeks.
‘Gareth Bale’s salary is almost half that of the entire Ajax squad,’ said Marc Overmars in the build up to Tuesday night’s game. They are also playing the underdog card very nicely.
It ought to be a safe passage for Madrid into the last eight. It was only a month ago that they went to the Metropolitano and beat Atletico Madrid before getting that 2-1 lead in Tuesday night’s tie. Solari doesn’t have to look too far back to see his team’s last impressive performance. They also outplayed Barcelona in the first half a week ago – a repeat of that cup display would be enough to see off Ajax.
But if things do go wrong then the season will implode. It remains to be seen whether or not knowing that will ensure they don’t slip up, or just pile the pressure on in front of supporters who tend to be more positive on Champions League nights but who might not take too long to turn on Tuesday night if they see their team heading out of Europe.