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AJAX VS REAL MADRID : PREVIEW AND TIPS

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has backed the introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) into the Champions League ahead of their last-16 first leg at Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday.

VAR was not used in the group stages of this year’s competition, but European football’s governing body UEFA announced in December that they would introduce the technology from the last-16 onwards.

The move has been met with encouragement from Courtois, who is used to VAR after Spain’s La Liga implemented the system at the start of this season.

“I like VAR. At the World Cup it worked well,” Courtois told a news conference on Tuesday. “Everyone was in favour because it was carried out well, and in Spain, too. Sometimes you need to know the rules and fans watching perhaps sometimes don’t.

“It’s there to help football. Sometimes it goes against you, but in order that football is fairer, it’s good to have it.”

After an indifferent start to the season, Real are now firing on all cylinders having climbed back into the La Liga title race and they will fancy their chances against an Ajax side that have won two of their last five games.

“I can tell that people now realise it’s more difficult to beat us,” Belgium keeper Courtois said.

“In October we had a bad month but now people see how well we’re playing and they’re more scared.

“We’re fighting for everything and we’re still in it: to get to the Copa del Rey final, La Liga until the final day and to get as far as we can in the Champions League.”

Madrid coach Santiago Solari, who has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the fixture, was coy about whether fullback Marcelo would be recalled to the side for the match at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

The Brazilian has lost his place under Solari to youngster Sergio Reguilon and has voiced his displeasure at his situation.

“Everyone in this squad is ready and able to play in any game,” the Argentine coach said. “Marcelo is a great player, an emblem of this club and he always puts Real Madrid first. He’s training well, as is everyone else.

“I don’t know who will play (of the two) tomorrow night. I can’t answer that question yet. We still have one more training session to go so we’ll see.”

Frenkie de Jong will be fit to play for Ajax Amsterdam against Real Madrid in the Champions League, the Dutch side’s coach Eric ten Hag said on Tuesday.

Midfielder De Jong, who heads to Barcelona next season in a 86-million euro deal, had been doubtful due to an adductor injury but his coach confirmed his availability for the last-16 first leg on Wednesday.

With an impending move to La Liga, Ten Hag said it was natural that De Jong would want to impress against Real.

“But I think that is true for all our players. The opponent is an enormous challenge and we are all looking forward to it,” the coach told a news conference.

Ten Hag said Real would be favourites with Ajax still short of experience at the highest level after finishing second in the group phase behind Bayern Munich.

“With us, our inconsistency has to be removed. We underperformed against Heracles and Feyenoord in the league,” he said of recent domestic defeats that left Ajax off the pace in the Dutch title race.

“Nobody wanted what has happened to us in recent weeks but in other games we were good again. No team is able to keep up a rising line,” Ten Haag said.

“We must come out stronger here but playing against Real is a big motivation. It is a match for a place in the quarter-final of the Champions League and we have to enjoy the experience.”

Ten Hag said he was considering fielding Brazilian winger David Neres after his strong performance against Bayern in October despite a lack of game time.

“It is an option to start with him and Dusan Tadic in attack, but Kasper Dolberg and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are also great strikers who give us options,” the coach said.

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