Thursday, April 25, 2019 | ePaper

Real Madrid enjoying winning run as Champions League returns

  • Print
AP, New York :
Three-time defending champion Real Madrid appears to have hit its stride again just in time for the return of the Champions League. The knockout stages begin today with Manchester United hosting Paris Saint-Germain and Porto going to Roma in the first leg of the round of 16 games. Madrid, confident after six wins and one draw from its last seven games across all competitions, visits Ajax on Wednesday, when the Spanish side will hope to record its seventh successive win over the Dutch club. Also Wednesday, Tottenham hosts Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund.
Madrid's hopes of claiming a record-extending fourth straight Champions League title appeared fanciful earlier this season after a run of five losses in seven matches across all competitions, culminating in the 5-1 defeat at Barcelona that left the side ninth in the Spanish league and saw Julen Lopetegui dismissed as coach.
Lopetegui's successor, Santiago Solari, endured a difficult start but he finally appears to have turned the side around with a run of good results.
Saturday's 3-1 win at Atletico Madrid moved Solari's team into second place in the Spanish league, just a few days after Madrid took a 1-1 draw at Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal. Solari, a member of Madrid's 2002 Champions League-winning team, has got Croatia midfielder Luka Modric back to his best after his lackluster start to the season. The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner was a pivotal figure in the win over Atletico.
Solari's decision to promote young players like 18-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior and 22-year-old Spanish left back Sergio Reguilon has also paid off. While Madrid has been improving, Ajax has been going in the other direction. Its defense has struggled since the Eredivisie resumed after its winter break, conceding four in a draw with Heerenveen and crumbling even further in a 6-2 defeat at rival Feyenoord. Ajax bounced back with a 6-0 win over VVV Venlo but slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Heracles Almelo on Saturday.
Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong will get a taste of things to come against Madrid after agreeing to transfer to Barcelona next season in a deal that could cost 86 million euros ($99 million). De Jong was substituted late in the second half Saturday, but did not appear to be seriously injured.
When Jose Mourinho was fired in December, it looked like Manchester United could need to win the Champions League as the only way to qualify for the tournament next season.
But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has reignited United's top-four challenge since being appointed manager until the end of the season.
Lifting the European Cup, just as Solskjaer did as a player with United in 1999, would make it hard for the club not to hand the job to the Norwegian on a permanent basis. United was 11 points off fourth place when Mourinho was fired, but the side has only dropped two points since then, and beat Fulham 3-0 on Saturday.
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel has a major dilemma with star forwards Neymar and Edinson Cavani both out injured.
Tuchel has to decide whether to pair French league top-scorer Kylian Mbappe with the ineffective Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting - who has scored only one goal in 12 league matches and was poor in Saturday's 1-0 win over Bordeaux - in a 4-4-2 against United. Tuchel could push Julian Draxler further up in a 4-5-1, with Draxler effectively operating as a playmaker behind Mbappe.

More News For this Category

Long breaks fastest goal record as Gray snatches late point for Watford

Long breaks fastest goal record as Gray snatches late point for Watford

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the fastest goal in Premier League history on Tuesday after netting just 7.69 seconds into his side's 1-1 draw at Watford, who snatched a point

Stephanie Frappart to become first female referee in Ligue 1

Stephanie Frappart to become first female referee in Ligue 1

A men's top-flight match in France will be refereed by a woman for the first time this weekend when Stephanie Frappart takes charge of the Ligue 1 game between Amiens

Barcelona on the brink of another Spanish league title

Barcelona on the brink of another Spanish league title

AP, Madrid :Now it's just a matter of time for Barcelona. The Catalan club is on the brink of another Spanish league title after beating Alaves 2-0 on Tuesday to

Chelsea moves into top 4 after draw with Burnley

Chelsea moves into top 4 after draw with Burnley

AP, London :Chelsea moved into the Premier League's top four on Monday with a frustrating 2-2 draw with Burnley.Goals two minutes apart from N'Golo Kante and Gonzalo Higuain put Chelsea

Mongolia outplay Tajikistan 3-0 in Group A opener

Mongolia routed Tajikistan by 3-0 goals in the opening Group A match of the ongoing Bangamata U-19 Women's International Gold Cup Football at the floodlit Bangabandhu National Stadium here on

Liverpool's Milner cheering on Manchester United

Liverpool's Milner cheering on Manchester United

James Milner has said he will become a Manchester United fan for the first time in the hope they can aid Liverpool's bid to win the Premier League title.The versatile

PSG's Notre Dame Shirts sell out in 30 minutes

PSG's Notre Dame Shirts sell out in 30 minutes

All of the 1,000 Paris Saint-Germain shirts with a large image of the Notre-Dame in place of the sponsor's logo sold out within half an hour and the profit has

Neymar to be fit at Copa America, says Tite

Neymar to be fit at Copa America, says Tite

AP, Rio De Janeiro :Brazil captain Neymar has enough time to be in peak condition for the Copa America after a foot injury, national team coach Tite said on Monday.Neymar

Zidane bemused as Spanish press round on Bale

Zidane bemused as Spanish press round on Bale

When quizzed on why a player who has won four Champions Leagues in five seasons in Madrid - including scoring decisive goals in two of the finals - is given

Solskjaer in search of derby revival after Everton embarrass United

Solskjaer in search of derby revival after Everton embarrass United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer questioned his players' desire to play for Manchester United after a humiliating 4-0 defeat at Everton but immediately challenged them to prove him wrong in Wednesday's derby