It is hard to believe that, since Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side won 4-3 on aggregate against Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid all the way back in 2013, Madrid have only been knocked out of the Champions League once. In five years, only one team could stop them.
The Juventus side that knocked out Real Madrid back in the 2015 semi-finals is a lot different to the one that got convincingly beaten 3-0 in Turin in 2018. Only 2 players who started yesterday also started in Turin three years ago, Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.
<p?Madrid had 8 players who started both matches.
However, since then, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 42 goals in the Champions League, as Madrid became the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles since the AC Milan side of 1990. Also in this time, Alvaro Morata has signed for Madrid from Juventus and sold again to Chelsea. The longevity of Madrid’s dominance in Europe has been incredible.
Yet, for their three Champions League titles in four years, they’ve never really been all that convincing. Usually teams who go on to be so dominant over such a long period of time quickly become known as one of the great football sides in history. But with this Madrid team, they’ve never really proven to be worthy of the mantle.
It sounds ridiculous to say, of course, a team that dominant must be pretty decent, but there’s something inexplicable about this Madrid side. At very few points during this reign over Europe have they ever felt like they were by far and away the best side in the continent.
Real Madrid aren’t even the best team in Spain
Their domestic performances during this period also adds to this confusion. In the time since the first of these Champions League titles, they’ve only won La Liga and the Copa Del Rey once. Meanwhile, rivals Barcelona have won the Copa Del Rey three times – and are on for a fourth. The latter have also won two La Liga titles and are well on their way to a third – while also remaining unbeaten throughout the campaign.
So, clearly Real Madrid aren’t even the best team in Spain, yet they’ve been by far the best side in Europe. How does that make any sense? It doesn’t. For whatever reason, however, when the Champions League music is blasted through to the players lined up on the pitch, something magical seems to happen to the galactic monsters who put on that historic white kit. No matter how unimpressive, they’ve always been unstoppable.
Ronaldo, in particular, has perfected the art of carrying a side through the knockout stages of the Champions League.
His goal scoring record in last season’s Champions League might be the most incredible run of goal scoring in the competition’s history. Back-to-back hat tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, for instance, borders on ridiculous.
A bicycle kick of absurd quality
And right when you think he can be written off, as he was at the first half of this season, he pops up yet again in Turin to score two away goals against the meanest defence in Europe. Not only does he score twice, but one of those goals is probably the best of his career.
The question this all poses, though, is when will this reign come to an end? When will they be beaten again, and who will be the ones to do it? Obviously, domestically, they’ve been beaten multiple times this season, but in the Champions League it looks like no one has the capacity to do it.
Last season, many would have turned to Bayern Munich to get the job done against Real, or Atletico Madrid or Juventus. This season, the most expensive squad in the world, Paris Saint Germain, didn’t even come close to testing Real Madrid, and now Juventus appear to have been swatted away like a tiny, insignificant fly, once again.
Can anyone beat Real Madrid?
Looking at the sides still left in the competition this season, there are a few names who could test Zinedine Zidane’s side. The big one, perhaps, is the aforementioned Barcelona. This season’s clasico at the Bernabeu ended in a comfortable 3-0 to Ernesto Valverde’s side.
Jupp Heynckes’ fourth – and maybe most dramatic yet – return to Bayern Munich has turned them into a much better side than the one that got knocked out in extra time last season. Heynckes’ record in the competition is also the only one that is comparable to Madrid’s current run.
One things for certain: if anyone is to come any where near close to giving Madrid a proper match, they will need to silence Ronaldo; which, currently, looks like an impossible task.