The Financial Express

The elites of Royal Madrid: A never-ending legacy of European dominance

| Updated: May 31, 2022 17:36:26

The elites of Royal Madrid: A never-ending legacy of European dominance

Incredible, improbable, unthinkable, unbelievable… and put whatever adjectives left in your dictionary to describe Real Madrid’s 2021-22 UCL campaign, each of them will suit it befittingly. 

Real Madrid's 5th UCL title in a decade.

None, from football pundits to popular sports media outlets–add a significant part of Real Madrid fans on the list too–gave them a chance to pull off what may arguably be regarded as one of the most dramatic, suspenseful, and most importantly, beautiful UCL campaigns ever.

If you haven’t followed Real’s season, it is a terrible miss for you to say the least, and you don’t even have to be a Real Madrid fan for that. Let’s have a flashback.

Group stage: Sheriff pulled the trigger

When Real Madrid started their UCL season with no heavyweight inclusion in the squad except for Alaba, hardly any polls or predictions kept the greatest UCL campaigners even on the top 5 favourite list. 

As the group stage commenced, the doubts got firm ground. Real started their UCL season by beating Inter Milan (1-0), however, lost to Sheriff Tiraspol (2-1), an unknown club from Moldova, new in UCL. 

Sheriff pulled off a miracle. 

Maybe, that shock defeat was the trigger Real Madrid needed. The Los Blancos strode into the next round by beating Shakhtar 8-1 in two legs, taking perfect revenge over Sheriff with a 3-0 victory in their backyard and holding their head high against Inter with a 2-0 victory in the last group stage game.

Round of 16: A ‘17 minute' blockbuster film

The clash against PSG remains the most exciting fixture for Real Madrid fans this season since they saw this tie not only as a door to the quarterfinals but also as the ticket to bring Mbappe to Santiago Bernabeu. 

The Madrid fans even cheered when Mbappe entered the pitch, who eventually scored the extra-time winner in the first leg and fashioned a lead at Bernabeu for PSG. In that situation, PSG were comfortably on the way to quarters with a 2-0 lead, a few could even dare to dream of a comeback.

The hattrick hero against PSG.

Well, impossible situations are what superheroes exist for, and Karim Benzema will agree to that! It just took him 17 minutes to put 3 past Donnarumma and seal the victory for his team after trailing for 150 minutes. 

Quarter-finals: Experience all the way

Many thought Chelsea's young squad might well defeat Real Madrid by pace. But this time Real Madrid seemed to have different plans. They eased past Chelsea in the first leg at Stamford Bridge with Ruthless Benzema scoring his second hattrick in as many games. 

As the second match at Bernabeu looked to be a formality, Chelsea nearly pulled off a miracle by leading Real 3-0 (4-3 on aggregate), until a moment of magic turned things around. 

Sorcery of Modric.

Luka Modric, the seasoned magician created an inch-perfect cross into the box with a physics-defying ‘out of the boot’ touch and Rodrygo converted that into a life-saver. 

After that wizardry by Modric, it was never a doubt that the Madrid side were advancing to the next level and they did it with a Benzema header in the extra time. 

Semi-finals: A fairytale comeback

“Enough fun, now time to go back home Real Madrid (!), because you are up against the most tactically structured team in Europe, Manchester City, with a mastermind coach and great squad depth.”

There was no way Real could defeat that side with a team that was close to exhaustion with no big names on the bench. 

Well, the perceptions were turning into reality as City drew the first blood as early as by 90 seconds into the game in the first leg. Before Real could even settle in the game, they conceded another. 

However, after the first 25 minutes of shakiness, Real Madrid started to fight back and the insanity began. 

Benzema gave one back to City and changed the dynamics of the game. Again, Foden’s goal in the 53rd minute could settle things for City but Vinicius scored the goal of his career, running all the way through the pitch after fooling Fernandinho with an excellent body fake movement. 

Bernardo Silva's stunner gave City the upper hand, but once again Real Madrid managed to stay alive, this time with a beautiful Panenka by Benzema. 

“90 minutes at the Bernabeu is a very long time” - was the message for City and they indeed felt it. Going to Bernabeu with one goal lead is indeed risky, however, City looked well balanced and tamed Real Madrid for the majority of the game. Mahrez’s goal in the 73rd minute seemed the end for them. 

But the footballing God had saved the best comeback script for the best moments. 

179 minutes of the tie have passed and Real Madrid are trailing by 2 goals, all the fans are in despair and rivals are rejoicing on social - was God chuckling at that moment knowing the unthinkable turns of events that followed?

Rodrygo's second goal that completed the comeback.

Rodrygo, the comeback hero of the Chelsea game scored twice in the blink of an eye, turning the reality upside down to unleash a surreal comeback spell. 89th and 91st minutes of the game and Real Madrid are back, despair turned ecstasy, ecstasy turned to despair, and a mere game of football made it to the realms of mythical stories. 

In a crazy semi-final clash where City led 179 minutes, Real Madrid won it in the extra time with Benzema’s goal and advanced to the final for European glory for the 17th time.

Final: Mentality wins

The Man of the Match of the final.

The final game against Liverpool draws the picture of Real Madrid’s UCL season perfectly. Mentality, character, resilience, grit - these are champion’s elements and Real Madrid won the title with these.

One can argue all day that Liverpool were the ‘deserving side’ with 24 shots and 9 on target, Real Madrid deployed calculated strategies to exhaust Liverpool deep inside their own half and break in the counter using the pace of Valverde and Vinicius. 

Vinicius's goal sealed the game for Madrid.

The strategy paid off as Madrid could fashion only 2 shots on the target and Vinicius converted one of them. 

Against the top 3 EPL sides, against the French league title holders - putting it in perspective, Real Madrid have arguably had their best UCL run. And beating the best teams in the world to lift the title is not luck. It’s in their DNA which Alvaro Arbeloa once described beautifully -

“This is what Real Madrid is all about. When everyone thinks we are dead and buried, we go and win the Champions League.”

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