Ajax had looked on course for a draw when Hakim Ziyech shot under Thibaut Courtois in the 75th minute to cancel out Karim Benzema's opener 15 minutes earlier. The Dutch side have tasted defeat in two out of their last three games, including a 6-2 thumping away to rivals Feyenoord.
But Ajax shook off its winter form dip before the break, pressing Madrid high up the pitch, combining well with slick, short passes and looking like the team that qualified second in its group behind Bayern Munich rather than the one that struggled in recent weeks.
"All the managers I've played for have given me something, from when I started with Claude Puel at Lille to now with Maurizio Sarri", he told Chelsea's website. We did, but you have to be more ruthless.
"I feel now they might be more afraid than before", Courtois said.More news: Breaking Bad Movie: Vince Gilligan’s Feature to Air on Netflix & AMC
Ajax might have felt optimistic when they drew an out-of-sorts Madrid back in December but Santiago Solari's side have found their rhythm since, winning six out of their last seven matches.
Now sitting as the club's top scorer with 22 goals in all competitions this season, ex-Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic will lead the line for the hosts.
Ten Hag was not convinced by the video images he saw.
Vinicius was raw but, when Lopetegui was sacked, Solari had greater legitimacy to promote him.More news: Woman wanted in chair tossing off balcony surrenders to police
"His adaptation has been very fast", Solari said.
Benzema was not to be denied on the hour mark as the Frenchman rifled the ball into the top corner after some brilliant work by Vinicius Junior in the build-up.
Maurizio Sarri will be hoping for an instant response from his Chelsea side when they take on Malmo in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on Thursday evening. But it started confidently and Tadic almost gave Ajax the lead, his 26th-minute shot hitting the post after beating Courtois.
Ajax are seeking to reach the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in 16 years, while Real have not lost a tie at this stage in nearly a decade.More news: First Trailer for Danny Boyle's Beatles-Inspired Musical Comedy 'Yesterday'
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