The end of Real Madrid’s “Golden Era”

Bradley Piros , Sports Editor

The three-time defending UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid made an absolute mockery of themselves yesterday in their 4-1 defeat to Ajax Amsterdam at home in the round of 16. Madrid had won their past five meetings against Ajax in the UCL, outscoring them 16-3.

This time around, the defending champs came into the game winning 2-1 on aggregate and looked like sure favorites to advance to their ninth consecutive semifinals appearance.

However, that was not even close to what happened. Instead, Ajax walked all over the Spanish giants on their home Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. This was Madrid’s biggest lost in their European history. This loss also makes it the first time Madrid has failed to get to the quarterfinals since 2010.

The biggest problem of the night for Madrid was absolutely their defense, or lack thereof. With Sergio Ramos suspended for two games after he had deliberately picked up a yellow card, Madrid’s defense was already looking a little shaky. The idea was that the second yellow card would ban Ramos for the second leg against Ajax, instead of the first leg of the quarterfinals. UEFA frowned upon that idea and took action into their own hands by banning him for two games regardless. In the end it didn’t matter, as they couldn’t get through Ajax anyway.

Already without their captain, there was a coaching decision by Santiago Solari to leave world-class left back Marcelo on the bench for the entire game. In his place was rising star, 22-year-old Sergio Regulón. It still looked to be a solid back four, but they proved to be Madrid’s biggest downfall.

The game started off with Madrid on the attack for the opening minutes. Inside the 5th minute of the game Raphael Varane smashed a header off the crossbar from an in swinging ball delivered by Lucas Vasquez, leaving the game level.

What happened next absolutely shocked the Spanish stadium. Ajax went on the break through the many holes of Madrid’s defense as Dusan Tadic lined up a brilliant left footed shot that was buried from about 10-yards out by Hakim Ziyech to take a 1-0 lead, bringing the aggregate score to 2-2.

Tadic went on to set up another goal in the 18th minute, as he broke away with a spectacular move, playing a through ball behind Madrid’s defense into the path of David Neres who easily slotted the ball into the back of the net past a diving Thibaut Courtois.

Now leading 3-2 on aggregate, all Ajax had to do was sit back and defend, but they were set out on a mission to embarrass Madrid and prove a point that they themselves belong in the quarterfinals.

Madrid now clearly upset, the game began to get a little edgy. Six Ajax players came into the second leg with prior yellow cards, meaning that if anyone of them were booked again, they would miss the first leg of the quarterfinals. That was exactly the case in the 26th minute when defenseman Noussair Mazraoui picked up a yellow on a hard tackle on 18-year-old Vinícius Júnior.

Gareth Bale was subbed on in only the 29th minute to replace the injured Vasquez but couldn’t help turn the tie around. Vinícius also had to be subbed off when he limped off the field in tears, forcing Solari’s hand to bring on Marco Asensio. He couldn’t make an immediate impact either as the half finished Ajax leading 2-0 and Los Blancos fans with their jaws dropped wide open.

Real Madrid came out of the locker room ready to strike back, as Bale struck the outside of the post after a quick burst of speed and fancy footwork down the right-hand side. Sadly for Madrid though, it was Ajax that scored the next goal.

This was the controversial goal of the match. Tadic scored an amazing goal from right outside the 18-yard box to make it 3-0. The goal was later reviewed by VAR (virtual assistant referee) because leading up to the attack, it seemed as if the ball went out of bounds, but after about a five-minute wait, the goal stood, and Madrid fan’s hearts were crushed.

They did have something to cheer for as Asensio pulled one back in the 70th minute, slicing the ball passed a diving goalkeeper as the ball went off the inside of the post and in, but it proved to be too little, too late.

Only two minutes later, Ajax cancelled out that goal with an epic free kick from the left side. Midfielder Lasse Schone curled in a beautiful ball past the leaping Courtois to restore the three-goal lead.

The game ended with Madrid defender Nacho picking up back-to-back yellow cards in extra time after committing a nasty slide tackle then pushing a player off when he got back up, leading to his sending off.

Overall, it just wasn’t Madrid’s day. To their excuse, they came into this game off consecutive shutouts to F.C. Barcelona. They lost 3-0, crashing out of the Copa Del Rey tournament, and then were shutout again 1-0 in the regular La Liga season.

Madrid is now knocked out of the UCL, Copa Del Rey and are currently third place in La Liga, four games behind league leaders Barcelona. All of these outcomes can only mean one thing; it is finally the end of the “Golden Era.”

Ever since the departure of the second best player in the world, Christiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid has struggled. Many people thought Bale would be one to replace him, but he’s a little injury prone and not very consistent; the same thing with striker Karim Benzema. They have not, and will not find a viable replacement for Ronaldo without spending some serious cash. Many speculate that the club has set their sights on signing Neymar. The Brazilian just signed a $263 million, five-year deal with the French club Paris Saint-Germain from F.C. Barcelona, but it has been a rumor going around a for a little bit now that he could be seen in an all white Real Madrid kit very soon as he’s not happy at PSG.

It’s no question that the team hasn’t been the same without Ronaldo, and it will remain unclear if they can turn themselves around, but I don’t see this team winning any trophies any time soon until they figure themselves out and start spending that sweet green stuff.