MADRID: After their domestic season was left in tatters by back-to-back defeats to Barcelona, Real Madrid have been left to focus yet again on winning the Champions League as the only way to salvage a turbulent campaign.
Yet as the triple European Cup holders prepare to host Ajax Amsterdam on Tuesday in the second leg of their last-16 tie, they are suffering from a goalscoring crisis, having only netted once from open play in their last four matches.
Real hold a 2-1 lead in the tie after riding their luck in Amsterdam, meaning a draw or even a 1-0 defeat would see them into the quarter-finals, but their inability to put the ball in the net is becoming a concern.
Ajax meanwhile have been in imperious form since losing the first leg, scoring 13 goals and conceding one in three games.
They will also be feeling refreshed after the Dutch federation postponed their game this weekend against PEC Zwolle in order to give them more rest time ahead of their trip to the Bernabeu.
Madrid were wasteful in last Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat to Barca in the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg, repeatedly missing the target from inside the area.
They had even more shots in their 1-0 defeat to the Catalans in La Liga on Saturday but kept having their attempts blocked by Barca’s defenders, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen rarely called upon.
Both goals in last week’s 2-1 win over Levante came from the penalty spot, while their last goal from open play was a header from Casemiro in their 2-1 defeat at home to Girona on Feb. 17.
Coach Santiago Solari does not appear to be overly concerned by the team’s struggle for goals.
“These things go in spells. Sometimes everything flies into the net, sometimes it doesn’t,” the Argentine said after the 1-0 defeat to Barca.
“We will try everything so that what did not go in today, or on Wednesday, does in our next game. We will keep trying.”
Yet on the team’s current form, it is difficult to see where goals against Ajax will come from, as none of the club’s players have managed to go close to filling the void left by all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Juventus in July.
Karim Benzema, the team’s leading scorer with 15 strikes in the league and Europe, has not netted from open play in his last four games, while his usual strike partner Gareth Bale is in wretched form.
The Wales forward has only started three of Real’s last 10 games and he was subjected to loud boos and whistles from supporters when he was substituted after a near-anonymous display on Saturday.
Brazilian forward Vinicius Jr has been Real’s most exciting player by far in 2019 and is their chief architect of chances, but he has been far from prolific since breaking into the team in October.
Captain Sergio Ramos has contributed an impressive 11 goals in all competitions from the defence but he will be absent from the game due to suspension, leaving a significant hole in both areas.