Ajax midfielder De Jong fit to face Real Madrid

Maurizio Sarri has effectively told Chelsea's board to back him or sack him

Real Madrid against Ajax would typically be a clash of stars against prodigies but, when they face each other in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie today, the difference will be harder to distinguish.

Madrid are unbeaten in seven games in all competitions while Ajax are stumbling, losing two of their past three games including a 6-2 Eredivisie thrashing at Feyenoord.

It compounded a woeful few months for the club as coach Julen Lopetegui came and went before former player Santiago Solari replaced him in November.

"They are the future of Real Madrid", Solari said.

But Erik ten Hag's men could have an advantage with fans taking matters into their own hands as they did their best to derail Los Blancos' build-up.

Ajax, a four-time European champion that last won the title in 1995, looked to have taken the lead only to have VAR rule out Nicolas Tagliafico's 37th minute header because Dusan Tadic was in an offside position and impeding Courtois.

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Gonzalo Higuain says Maurizio Sarri helped ease him into life at Chelsea with his "methods" and "words".

Despite being a defender by trade, Ramos is most revered in the Spanish capital for his dramatic last-gasp headed equaliser against city rivals Atletico in the 2014 Champions League final.

"His adaptation has been very fast", Solari said.

Ajax were level with 15 minutes remaining as Neres broke free down the left before cutting the ball back for Ziyech, who slotted into the bottom corner. But it started confidently and Tadic almost gave Ajax the lead, his 26th-minute shot hitting the post after beating Courtois.

Young forward Vinicius Junior is will start alongside Bale and Karim Benzema in a front three.

Ajax will parade 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.

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