The wait was long for Real Madrid to secure that elusive tenth Champions League crown, but on the 24th May 2014 the Spanish club made history, beating arch-rivals Atlético Madrid 4-1 to seal the sweetest of triumphs. It had been 12 long years since Zinedine Zidane’s wonder strike won Real Madrid their ninth European Cup, and the joy and relief upon the faces of Carlo Ancelotti’s men was plain to see.
Few could have predicted Real Madrid’s dominance in the competition thereafter. In the six most recent iterations of the Champions League, the Spanish giants have lifted the trophy four times, including three in a row between 2016 and 2018. Atlético have been bested on two separate occasions, with Juventus and Liverpool making up Madrid’s other victims in Champions League finals.
Last season, however, represented something of a blip in Real Madrid’s stranglehold upon the European Cup in recent years. Expected to beat Ajax in the round of 16, and leading 2-1 from the first leg, Real were thrashed 4-1 at the Bernabéu by an inspired Ajax team who would go on to reach the semi-finals. It could be argued that complacency played its part that night, that Real Madrid had become so used to success in Champions League knockout football that they could hardly fail to progress. In a breathless display of attacking football, Ajax put paid to any such notions.
The question is whether or not Real Madrid can vanquish the memory of that disappointing exit, as well as putting behind them a less than impressive domestic league campaign. In this season’s Champions League group stage, Zidane’s side have been drawn with Paris Saint-Germain, Club Brugge and Galatasaray. Such a grouping will throw up a couple of mouth-watering matches against the French champions, which will be a good litmus test for whether we can expect Real Madrid to re-claim the European Cup once more.
The addition of Eden Hazard to the squad certainly gives them an extra edge in attack, something they perhaps lacked last season after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus. Hazard brings flair and unpredictability, and should provide the creative spark needed to get the best out of Karim Benzema and new signing Luka Jovic. Jovic arrives off the back of an impressive season with Eintracht Frankfurt last campaign, and will give Madrid even more firepower up front.
Questions remain over Real Madrid’s defence. While Sergio Ramos and Marcelo have been key figures in the club’s success in Europe over the last few years, both are advancing in age, and a decline in form is likely to occur sooner rather than later. The team conceded 46 goals in La Liga last season, which is a worrying statistic for fans of the Spanish giants, and represents a problem that must be addressed if Real Madrid are to regain their footing this season, domestically and in Europe.
The nature of Real Madrid’s status as one of the world’s biggest clubs means that they will, of course, be one of the tournament favourites in the champions league title odds for this season. However, Zidane will have his work cut out to restore the winning mentality that defined that run of three successive Champions League triumphs.
The FIFA Club World Cup was the only trophy Real Madrid got their hands on last season, and for a club accustomed to major success that will fuel a hunger within the squad to repeat the success of previous campaigns this time around. With several other pretenders to the European throne, it will be tougher than ever for Zidane’s side to win the Champions League, but no-one could be surprised if we see those famous white shirts parading the European Cup around the Ataturk stadium pitch next May.