FIFA 19 Winter Upgrades: Premier League Ratings, Ones to Watch & Prime Icon Moments

​EA Sports have released their annual winter refresh for FIFA 19 Ultimate Team, which has seen an increase in the ratings of 23 Premier League players, as well the release of new special cards.

The popular video game franchise has rewarded a number of players who have shown impressive form over the first half of the season, with a number of high-profile stars receiving boosts to their already impressive ratings.

The update from EA Sports also contains new special cards, such as ‘Winter Ones to Watch’ and ‘Prime Icon Moments’, both of which will be highly sought after by players looking to add limited edition items to bolster their Ultimate Team.

Here is 90min’s breakdown of the FIFA 19 Winter Refresh.


Premier League Ratings Refresh

To keep the game as up-to-date as possible and to reward the recent form of many of the Premier League’s established key players and new breakthrough stars, there are 23 upgrades entering the game.

​Liverpool’s defensive solidity this season has seen goalkeeper Alisson, Virgin van Dijk and Andy Robertson all rewarded with improved in-game ratings. Alisson has jumped from an 85 to an 87, Van Dijk from an 85 to an 88 and Robertson has moved from 81 to 83.

​Manchester City’s ​Fernandinho and ​Raheem Sterling are both now 87 rated players thanks to their respective performances in City’s title defence, while Manchester United’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not gone unnoticed from EA, as pacey attackers ​Anthony Martial and ​Marcus Rashford are now 84 and 82 rated respectively.

FBL-ENG-PR-TOTTENHAM-WOLVES

​Tottenham attacking duo ​Harry Kane and ​Son Heung-min have been rewarded for their fine attacking displays, with Kane now 90 rated and Son an 85. Meanwhile, across the north London, ​Arsenal strikers ​Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and ​Alexandre Lacazette have both been rewarded with increased ratings – with Aubameyang now an 88 and Lacazette an 85.

The biggest improvement however is at ​Crystal Palace, where right-back Aaron Wan Bissaka has leapfrogged from a silver 70 to a gold 76.


Winter Ones to Watch

This update covers the most notable transfers to take place during the January transfer window, celebrating the moves with new special cards.

Anyone trying to build a Ligue 1 team should look for new Monaco pairing ​Cesc Fabregas and Naldo, who both have 86 ratings. New Marseille forward ​Mario Balotelli also has a new 83 rated special card after his switch from OGC Nice.

FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-MONACO-TOULOUSE

Premier League new boys ​Michy Batshuayi, Nathaniel Clyne, Denis Suarez and Ryan Babel also feature with new cards in the update.


Prime Icon Moments

FIFA 19’s ‘icon’ players have also received an increase in their ratings, coupled with the introduction of new ‘Icon Moments’ cards.

The new cards have been created to commemorate a special individual moment in the career of an existing FIFA ‘Icon’.

Not every ‘Icon’ has received a new special card, as they will be released in groups, with only group one being revealed so far. There will be a total of 34 special cards released, with group two set to be revealed at a later date – giving Ultimate Team players plenty to look forward too over the coming weeks and months.

Arsenal's Captain, Thierry Henry gesture

For fans of the Premier League, ‘Icons’ to look out for from group one include 92 rated Steven Gerrard, an extremely quick 94 rated Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who is 93 rated.

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Real Madrid vs Girona: Santiago Solari’s Best Available Los Blancos Lineup

Back in La Liga action after their Champions League exploits, Real Madrid will be hoping to continue their fine form and keep the pressure on Barcelona when they host Girona on Sunday.

Los Blancos’ 2-1 win away at Ajax means they are unbeaten in their last eight matches in all competitions – as the club continue to improve under Santiago Solari.

With no real injury concerns for the Madrid manager, he could opt for a strong lineup at the Bernabeu. Here’s how they could line up.

1. Goalkeeper and Defenders

UEFA Champions League'Ajax v Real Madrid'

Thibaut Courtois (GK) – The Belgian has seemingly cemented his place in the Madrid starting XI ahead of Keylor Navas after a string of impressive performances.

Dani Carvajal (RB) –  A combination of injury and form has seen the 27-year-old feature only 15 times in the league this season, yet when fit, he is a certain to feature for Solari’s men.

Sergio Ramos (CB) – The mercurial centre half notched up his 600th appearance for Los Blancos in the club’s recent 2-1 victory over Ajax, putting him seventh in the all-time appearance records for the club. Ramos will go level fifth and sixth if he features on Sunday.

Nacho (CB) Likely to fill in for Raphael Varane at centre-back, with the World Cup winner doubtful after sitting out training. Nacho is a more than capable replacement though, and can be relied upon to put in a solid shift.

Marcelo (LB) – The flamboyant Brazilian has lost his place in the side during recent weeks, but may find himself back in favour this week after sitting out the Champions League clash with Ajax – meaning his greater level of fitness could give him the nod.

2. Midfielders

Casemiro

Toni Kroos (CM) – Acts as the link between attack and defence in the Madrid midfield, spraying the ball from left to right with either foot at ease. His range of passing is second to none and he will see plenty of the ball on Sunday.

Casemiro (CDM) – His robust performance against Ajax earned him the man-of-the-match accolade. His ability to break up opposing attacks allows his side’s forward players to focus on their duties up front, knowing they’re secure at the back.

Dani Ceballos (CM) – With Luka Modric suspended and Marcos Llorente injured, it means Dani Ceballos could get the nod in the midfield three on Sunday. It will be the 22-year-old’s 30th appearance of the season.

3. Forwards

Karim Benzema

Marco Asensio (RW) – Will likely get the nod over Gareth Bale due to his goalscoring cameo appearance against Ajax. Has only scored once in La Liga this season, but the Welshman may be axed regardless.

Karim Benzema (CF) – Notched his 450th club appearance in the recent victory over Ajax and has been in excellent form for Solari’s side this campaign, averaging a goal every two games.

Vinicius Jr. (LW) – At the tender age of 18, the Brazilian demonstrates the confidence of someone ten years his senior. His skill on the ball and blistering pace will cause Girona all sorts of problems on Sunday.

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Real Madrid vs Girona: Where to Watch, Live Stream, Kick Off Time & Team News

​Real Madrid return to La Liga action after their Champions League exploits, looking to keep the pressure on league leaders Barcelona when they take on Girona on Sunday.

Los Blancos secured a 2-1 win over Ajax in the first leg of their last 16 tie thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio, handing them the advantage ahead of the second leg in March.

Santiago Solari’s side leapfrogged ​Atletico Madrid in their last league outing after their 3-1 triumph at the Wanda Metropolitano saw them overtake their bitter rivals and take second place in ​La Liga.


Here’s 90min’s preview of everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s encounter.


Where to Watch

When Is Kick Off? Sunday 17 February
What Time Is Kick Off? 11:00 (GMT)
Where Is It Played? Santiago Bernabeu
TV Channel/ Live Stream? Eleven Sports 1 UK
Referee? TBC


Team News

The hosts have a couple of selection headaches ahead of this one, with Luka Modric ruled out through suspension and Raphael Varane unlikely to feature after missing training late on in the week.

Luka Modric

Los Blancos will be definitely be without Marcos Llorente and Luca Zidane, with both youngsters out injured for ​Madrid, while Isco remains a doubt with a back complaint.

Girona meanwhile are set to be without a whole host of first team regulars for their trip to the Bernabeu. Johan Mojica, Aday, Patrick Roberts, Seydou Doumbia and Marc Muniesa will all miss out on the trip to the capital. Furthermore, Bernardo Espinosa received a red card in their recent outing against Huesca, leaving the central defender suspended for the match.


Predicted Lineups

Real Madrid Courtois; Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo, Ceballos , Kroos, Casemiro; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
Girona Bono; Juanpe, Ramalho, Garcia, Porro, Garcia, Pere Pons, Fernandez, Portu, Garcia, Stuani

Head to Head Record

The previous five encounters between the sides have produced a staggering 26 goals, ten of which came in the two-legged Copa del Rey quarter final matches between the sides a few weeks ago.

Marcos Llorenta

Girona have a track record of being able to score against the hosts, netting in each of the last five​ meetings against Madrid, yet their only three point scalp came in the first ever meeting between the sides back in late 2017. Since then it has been goals galore as Los Blancos rarely falter against the Catalan side.


Recent Form

It has been something of a revolution under Solari since the Argentine took the reins, with the club currently on an unbeaten run of eight matches. A win in the ​Champions League over Ajax was preceded by an impressive 3-1 success away at bitter rivals Atletico, a result that lifted them into second in La Liga at the expense of Los Rojiblancos.

​Sitting just six points adrift of league leaders ​Barcelona, Madrid have found their magic touch, with the likes of ​Karim Benzema in fine goal scoring form ahead of the visit of the league’s 17th place side.

On the other hand Girona find themselves in free fall. The club have lost their last six matches in all competitions, a slide which has seen them fall perilously close to the La Liga relegation zone.

Their most recent outing was a demoralising 2-0 home defeat to basement club Huesca, with Eusebio Sacristan’s side in dire need of crucial points on Sunday.

Here is how each team has performed in their last five matches.

Real Madrid Girona
Ajax 1-2 Real Madrid (13/2) Girona 0-2 Huesca (09/2)
Atletico Madrid 1-3 Real Madrid (9/2) Eibar 3-0 Girona (03/2)
Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid (6/2) Girona 1-3 Real Madrid (31/1)
Real Madrid 3-0 Alaves (3/2) Girona 0-2 Barcelona (27/1)
Girona 1-3 Real Madrid (31/1) Real Madrid 4-2 Girona (24/1)


Prediction

On one hand you have a team unbeaten in their last eight matches, including Champions League scalps, an away victory at Atletico and a credible draw at Camp Nou. While on the other hand, you have a team staring down the barrel of potentially a seventh straight defeat.

Karim Benzema

The odds are stacked somewhat in the favour of the hosts on this one, who will be beaming with confidence after their last three results, and on home turf anything other than a comfortable victory would be deemed disappointing.

No shocks here.

Prediction: Real Madrid 4-0 Girona

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Real Madrid Close to Santiago Bernabeu Redevelopment After Securing €575m Bank Loan

Real Madrid have reportedly made a significant step in their bid to redevelop the Santiago Bernabeu, after it emerged that they had now secured a €575m bank loan for the plan.

Club president Florentino Perez has been a long-time advocate over redeveloping the iconic stadium and had previously entered into talks over finding a naming rights partner to help fund the project.

Real Madrid  v CSKA Moscow - UEFA Champions League Group G

However, potential investors were reportedly unsettled by the notion of upsetting the historical status of the venue, claiming that the situation would be different if the club were building a new ground.

Now, according to Spanish publication ​El Confidencial, Madrid have made a huge stride in their redevelopment plans after Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan agreed to grant the club a €575m loan for the venture.

The report adds that the two US banks will be joined in the deal by both Santander and CaixaBank, although the latter pair are not as heavily invested in the agreement.

It was previously reported that JP Morgan were the front-runners to fund the development, which if goes to plan, would see ​La Liga side’s 81,044-seater stadium undergo a major reconstruction to help generate an approximate €150m a year in additional revenue.

Enrique Cerezo,Florentino Perez

Despite Perez previously forecasting that ​Madrid’s debt from the project would be paid off at a fixed rate over the next 35 years, El Confidencial’s latest report has suggested that the club are only estimated to pay for the financing for the following 30 years

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Gareth Bale: Why Real Madrid Star May Have Missed the Boat for Return to England

Gareth Bale flirted with leaving Real Madrid in the immediate aftermath of the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv. The Welshman had been left on the bench in the biggest club game in the world for the second year in a row by Zinedine Zidane but had come off the bench to score twice and win the game for Los Blancos. He had every right to feel aggrieved given his impact.

“I need to be playing week in, week out, and that’s not happened this season I had an injury five, six weeks into the season but I’ve been fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it,” he said on live television immediately after the final whistle.

It appeared to be an ultimatum to the Bernabeu hierarchy. ‘Play me or I’m off’.

Gareth Bale

In the end Zidane walked, seemingly exhausted by the frenzy of two-and-a-half years in the biggest goldfish bowl in world sport and sensing an inevitable drop off after unprecedented success. Cristiano Ronaldo also left, eyeing a fresh challenge at Juventus in Italy.

Bale stayed put, his vey public threat unexecuted. Having survived a coach he didn’t get on with, making such a huge statement with his decisive goals in Kyiv, and finally able to step out of Ronaldo’s shadow as the main man, his future at Real looked brighter than ever before.

But maybe he too should have gone out on top. Now there is a chance it is too late.

Bale’s time in Spain hasn’t been as spectacular as his record of four Champions League titles, and La Liga and Copa del Rey success might suggest. Yes, he has scored crucial goals in two Champion League finals, converted a penalty in a victorious shootout in another, and played one in his home city. But the player has also had to contend with plenty of criticism from fans and the media, has constantly struggled with injuries and still isn’t currently kicking on as hoped.

Gareth Bale

Despite a strong start to this season in which he scored three times in the three La Liga games, he has again been affected by injuries, while his form has dropped in a team struggling to maintain success. Bale is not Real’s new Ronaldo, instead far from an indispensible cog.

It also appears that even five-and-a-half years after joining the club, Bale remains an outsider in the dressing room because of his language barrier. Earlier this week, Marcelo revealed that he sits next to Bale in the dressing room but the two are barely able to talk to each other.

“[After Kiko Casillas left] I don’t have anyone next to me. There’s nobody there! On the other side I have Bale but he doesn’t say anything! He only speaks English, so you can imagine what that’s like! I’m like: “Hey! Hi! Hello and Goodbye…” the Brazilian explained.

Where the likes of Steve McManaman and David Beckham learned at least enough Spanish to comfortably get by in Madrid, successfully converse with their teammates and coaches, even conduct interviews and speak to the press, Bale appears to lack more than basic skills.

Gareth Bale

It must be a lonely day-to-day existence if he communicates as little as Marcelo says he does.

Bale is now also facing a potential La Liga suspension after a ‘corte de mangas’ gesture made as he celebrated a recent goal against Atletico Madrid. If he is deemed to have deliberately attempted to incite fans in the stadium the maximum punishment is a 12-game ban. The fact he did it all – striking the top of his bent right arm with his left in an aggressive manner, suggests significant frustration.

A player on enormous wages, who will turn 30 this summer and has a track record of injuries is not the future of Real Madrid when much younger individuals like Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and, in due course, Rodrygo Goes, are staking their claim for places.

The problem for Bale, however, is that were he looking to return home, what might once have been a healthy list of eager suitors has dried up. Last summer might have been his last chance for a top transfer before he is considered ‘over the hill’.

Gareth Bale

It was no secret that Manchester United have made multiple attempts to sign him in previous years, while Chelsea had also been linked on occasion. Even now, the English tabloids certainly won’t fail to make a United connection in any story surrounding Bale’s future. Yet where there was once at least some substance to such claims, it has become rather hollow.

In a transfer market increasingly geared towards finding unpolished younger talents with potential, a player like Bale offers little value, making any top club think twice about making approach even if he became available. For that reason, United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City are all no go. Even Chelsea would surely be reluctant given that similar reservations about Gonzalo Higuain were only dissuaded by Maurizio Sarri’s influence..

Arguably only United, City and Chelsea could even afford him, leaving little in the way of options unless someone like Inter stepped forward. Given his language trouble in Spain, would Italy be any better? Short-term, maybe, longer term, it seems unlikely.

Gareth Bale

In light of everything, it may be time for Gareth Bale to seriously consider his Real Madrid future, but he may already have left it too late if he wants a final big move.

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Brazil Coaches Sent to Watch Vinicius Junior After Impressive Recent Form for Real Madrid

Representatives from the Brazil national team have reportedly been sent to watch Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior, with a view to rewarding the 18-year-old’s impressive recent form with a senior call-up next month.

​The teenager had a difficult start to life in Madrid after joining from Flamengo in the summer, struggling to make an impression under Julen Lopetegui, and then again initially under his replacement Santiago Solari.

Since January, however, he has emerged to hold down a first-team place, starting each of their last six ​La Liga matches, and most recently featured in the 2-1 Champions League victory over Ajax, assisting Karim Benzema for the opening goal. 

His dramatic upswing in form hasn’t gone unnoticed, it seems, as ​Marca say that Brazil assistant coach Matheus Bachi and another member of the backroom staff are headed to Spain take in a ​Real training session and their La Liga fixture against Girona at the Bernabeu on Sunday.

Marcelo,Marcos Llorenta

If they like what they see, there is every chance the player could find himself in line for a first senior cap against the Czech Republic at the end of March.

It’s also thought that the duo will be paying some attention to Real’s city rivals ​Atletico, as they are set to attend a training session there on Tuesday ahead of their Champions League match with ​Juventus.

Though unconfirmed, it seems likely 33-year-old left back Filipe Luis will be the focus of their attentions there.

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Images of 2019 adidas Retro Kits Including Classic Manchester United Home Shirt Leaked

Manchester United is starting to feel like its old self again, with results and moods having taken a significant upturn since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed interim manager in December.​

And it seems that performances aren’t the only think harking back to the old days, with a retro-style Manchester United home shirt appearing online.

​These images were leaked by Footy Headlines, but this kit will not be worn by the team next season. This is actually the latest in adidas’ Icon Collection, which was launched for the 2018/19 season.

adidas released limited edition classic shirts for all its teams, including a plain red short-sleeved ​Manchester United home shirt reminiscent of those worn by the Busby Babes.

This new kit appears to be a throwback to those worn in the late 1980s, with shiny red vertical stripes, a white and black collar, and white cuffs on the sleeves.

The latest Icon Collection shirts for Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid have also been leaked by ​Footy Headlines.

The ​Real Madrid kit appears to be based on a similar design, with white shiny stripes, a black and gold collar, and black sleeve cuffs.

​Arsenal’s is a yellow away kit like those worn by the club in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with three black horizontal stripes across the chest. ​Bayern’s is a similar design – a black away kit with red stripes.

The ​Juventus shirt is the only one of which there are no photographs, but concept art depicts a black shirt with white stripes across the middle and down the sleeves.

Flamengo – which was also included in the 2018 Icon Collection – is expected to get a 2019 update as well.

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UEFA Open Disciplinary Proceedings After Sergio Ramos Admits to Deliberate Yellow Card Against Ajax

​UEFA have opened a disciplinary investigation into comments made by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, who admitted that he had deliberately been booked against Ajax.

Ramos committed an obvious foul on Kasper Dolberg in the 89th minute of the last 16 first leg tie on Wednesday, meaning that he will be suspended for the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu in three weeks’ time.


After the game, ​Ramos surprisingly admitted that the yellow card had been a deliberate ruse to earn a suspension and clear his record ahead of the quarter-finals, ​telling reporters: “I would lie if I told you that I did not force the card.

“It is something I had in mind, it is not to underestimate Ajax or think that the tie is already over but I have decided so I can rest in the return, although I will be in the stadium to encourage the team.”

​Sky Sports News has confirmed that UEFA has opened an investigation into Ramos’ comments, meaning that he could be slapped with a two-game ban which would see him miss the quarter-final first leg if ​Real Madrid qualify.

Ramos later tried to back-track on his comments with a ​Twitter post denying that the yellow card had been intentional.

“I want to make clear that it hurts me more than anyone, I have not forced the card, as I did not against Roma in my previous game in the Champions League, and I will support from the stands as a fan with the hope of making it to the quarters,” he wrote.

This is the third time Ramos has deliberately picked up a tactical yellow card in the Champions League, having done so against Galatasaray in 2013 and against Ajax in 2010.

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Why Karim Benzema Can Make a Claim for the Title of Best Striker in the World

Still only 31 years old, Karim Benzema seems to have been on the football scene for quite some time. The forward has spent nearly a decade at Real Madrid, while if you had said he had been there for 20 years, one wouldn’t be surprised, such is his longevity.

He has just come off the back of playing a starring role as Madrid secured a strong advantage over Ajax in the Champions League in midweek, netting the opener as Los Blancos head back to the Bernabeu for the return leg with a 2-1 lead, in what felt like his 100,000th game for the club.

Karim Benzema

​In light of Madrid president Florentino Perez’s recent remarks about ​Benzema being the ​world’s best striker, it seems only fitting to assess those claims by virtue of dissecting the Frenchman’s career so far and whether it is justifiable to reward the striker with such high acclaim.

Galacticos have come and gone in the past ten years at a rate similar to that of BHS furniture sales, yet still Benzema has remained. The striker has gone on to feature 450 times for the Spanish giants, notching 211 goals while so often his role is not as clear as being a typical ‘number nine’.

Having never been blessed with lightning pace, he sacrifices himself to drop deep in order to draw defenders in, allowing the countless other stars he’s played alongside to exploit the spaces he creates. He does his bit for the team, usually the in the most selfless of ways. Superstar players he’s shared a dressing room with include the likes of Kaka, ​Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, ​Gareth Bale and ​Mesut Ozil, just to name a few.

Karim Benzema

By inviting the defence onto him, Benzema is able to implement a facet of his game that is not only deemed unnecessary for a number nine, but often ignored in favour of a goal ratio surpassing one in two. What Benzema can do, is pass. His vision is under-appreciated for a striker of his size and build, as he can thread a pass Diego Maradona wouldn’t hesitate to put his name to.

When not making a lung-bursting surge into the opponent’s penalty area, he will shield the ball and attract opponents like flies to honey, allowing him to feed the ball to wide players that, for much of his career, had been Ronaldo and Bale. It may not be the killer final pass he supplies, but Andres Iniesta only amassed eight assists in his last four years at Barcelona, and we all know how good he was.

Trying to make a name for yourself in a ​Madrid team that, quite frankly, for nine years could have been known as Real Ronaldo CF, is no easy feat. Yet, Benzema plugged away, balancing his role of playing striker, while equally not, and dropping deeper to connect the dots in an attack that has accumulated such an astonishing number of goals. It’s humble football at it’s finest.


Notably throughout his Los Blancos career, Benzema has outlived so many other strikers, that it’s become a large component of his ability that has been overlooked by critics and supporters alike. When he first donned the famous white of Madrid he found himself in a squad blessed with the likes of Raul and ​Gonzalo Higuain in a side that rarely strayed away from pitting one striker up front.

Nonetheless, he’s remained a key figure in an ever-changing environment with no less than seven managers keeping faith in the Frenchman’s unquestionable abilities.

Certainly, it hasn’t all been roses for the ex-Lyon man. He’s suffered dips in form that have left even the most staunch fans question his goal-scoring rates, particularly in the last two seasons. The 2016/17 and 2017/18 campaigns culminated in, by his standards, a meagre 31 goals in 98 outings, yet he still finished by lifting the trophy with the big ears on both occasions.


By managing to stay relevant and continuing to remain in the picture at the Bernabeu he deserves credit alone. In fact, following a supposed ‘dip’, he’s enjoying one of the more fruitful seasons of his career to date. Netting 19 goals in 38 appearances this term keeps him in the ‘one in two’ club that all statistics fanatics crave, as Madrid remain in the hunt for three pieces of silverware.

Furthermore, in case anyone had missed it, he’s now ​Real Madrid’s sixth all-time highest goal scorer and fourth highest in the history of the Champions League. So is Perez fair in his comments that Benzema is the best striker in the world? They always say back your man, which he has done, and it would be cruel not to at least mention the player amongst Europe’s finest frontmen, even if there are plenty of candidates who would argue otherwise.

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Ajax 1-2 Real Madrid: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Los Blancos Sneak Win Amidst VAR Controversy

Real Madrid will take an aggregate advantage back to the Santiago Bernabeu, after downing Ajax 2-1 in a match where they struggled for large parts and were thankful a controversial intervention from VAR.

​It was the home side who made the brighter start, pressing Madrid into regular mistakes at the back with an extremely effective high press. 

They were comfortable on the ball too, and had a great a chance to open the scoring after 25 minutes, when Dusan Tadic was played through on goal, and did well to hold off Sergio Ramos, only to rattle the crossbar with his shot. 

FBL-EUR-C1-AJAX-REALMADRID

And they thought they’d earned their just rewards with an opening score in the 39th minute, when Nicolas Tagliafo headed the ball in after a Thibaut Courtois flapsterclass. 

However, controversially, VAR came to Courtois and co.’s aid, ruling out the goal on grounds of obstruction from Tadic and/or a highly marginal offside – both were a stretch at best and neither were “clear and obvious” as the mantra dictates.

Inevitably, this came back to bite the Dutch in the second half, when Vinicius Jr. produced some scintillating play down the wing, controlling the ball with aplomb at full tilt before cutting in and teeing up Karim Benzema, who smashed it into the net to steal a crucial away goal.

Hakim Ziyech looked to have earned the Amsterdam-based team a deserved draw in the 75th minute after a squared ball from David Neres, but substitute Marcos Asensio broke hearts in the Johan Cruyff Arena with a tap-in at 87 minutes to sneak an unlikely victory.


AJAX

Key Talking Point

What else is there to talk about except the VARse. Erik ten Hag’s side had been spectacular in that first half, and deserved to open the scoring. But they were denied with a piece of history – the first ever time VAR had disallowed/overturned a goal in the Champions League – and it was dubious to say the least.

Oh and, just to rub salt in the wounds, it took absolutely ages. Years in fact. It’s now 2082, and yes, the Rolling Stones are still touring. 

Damir Skomina

Thankfully, they didn’t let it get the better of them and rallied themselves after the visitors scored the de facto opener to earn what would’ve been a more than worthy stalemate. Less gratifyingly, it was in vain, as Asensio snuck in right at the death.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Onana (7); Mazraoui (7), de Ligt (7), Blind (7), Tagliafico (7); De Jong (7), Schone (6), van de Beek (7); Ziyech (8), Tadic (8), Neres (7).

Substitutes: Dolberg (6)


STAR MAN – Ziyech took his goal with suitable composure, and Neres was a threat down Dani Carvajal’s flank all night, but it has to be Dusan Tadic. 

The former Southampton playmaker was instrumental to his side, on and off the ball, especially in the first half. Makes you wonder why the Saints sold him in the first place – they could certainly use him right now. 

WORST PLAYER – It would be a harsh label to hand any Ajax player on that pitch, but it goes to substitute Kasper Dolberg, for scuffing a big chance in the 92nd minute right into the arms of the struggling keeper.


REAL MADRID​

Key Talking Point

All the talk pre-game was of a Real resurgence, and the possibility of them recording an unprecedented fourth consecutive triumph in this tournament, against all the odds of their horrendous start to the season. 


And all that talk looked outrageous in a first half where they were pretty much dominated. But, seeing as it was the ​Champions League and all, and seeing as they’ve owned this competition for four of the last five years, they weren’t going to let that faze them, were they? 

As it so often is, it wasn’t particularly pretty, nor that warranted, but Real will go back to the Bernabeu with a healthy advantage and a glint in their eye.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Courtois (4); Carvajal (6), Nacho (6), Sergio Ramos (6), Reguilon (6); Kroos (7), Casemiro (7), Modric (7); Bale (5), Benzema (8), Vinicius (8*).

Karim Benzema,Vinicius Junior

Substitutes: Asensio (7), Vazquez (6).


STAR MAN – The last few weeks have been all about two men – Vinicius Jr. and Karim Benzema. The Frenchman has been in electric goalscoring form, and showed that once again tonight, but it was the Brazilian who shone the brightest.

The deft, deft control he displayed to bring down Sergio Reguilon’s probing ball for the 31-year-old’s opener was the skill of this round so far, and his poise afterwards wasn’t too bad either.

WORST PLAYER – Who else but the flapping former Chelsea man. Sure, it didn’t cost his side in the end, but if Vinicius deployed the skill of the round, then the Belgian dropped the biggest clanger. 


I’m still not quite sure how he managed it, either. An embarrassing one, but luckily for him it was just his ego that was affected, not the scoreline.


Looking Ahead

​Real Madrid will face Girona and Levante in La Liga before preparing themselves for two El Clasicos against Barcelona – the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi final and a potentially title-deciding league clash – all before they meet Ajax once more in the capital for this second leg.

Ajax, meanwhile, have three fairly negotiable Eredivisie ties to play, though are in a similar boat cup-wise, with a semi final of their own against Feyenoord.

Let’