Thursday, February 21, 2019 | ePaper
Solari's fledglings breathe life into Real Madrid as Ajax lie in wait
Real Madrid against Ajax would typically be a clash of stars against prodigies but when they face each other in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday, the difference will be harder to distinguish.
Ajax will have their latest crop of young gems at the Johan Cruyff Arena, where Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt will attempt to live up to already-swelling reputations while the likes of Donny van de Beek, Andre Onana and Kasper Dolberg could also enhance theirs.
The surprise is less that Ajax's line-up will be sprinkled with emerging talents than the expectation Madrid's will be too. Gareth Bale aside, the galacticos are gone, replaced by a handful of prospects trying to forge their own way through, only at the biggest and most demanding club in the world. The shift was not so much initiated by the current coach Santiago Solari, whose predecessors Zinedine Zidane and Julen Lopetegui both used youth when they had to, primarily to rest key players or remind them their place was not guaranteed.