Real Madrid’s 6-1 victory over Schalke could not have come at better time and place. Prior to this game, Spanish media famously termed Real’s recent struggles in Germany as the “German Curse”. With last year’s forgettable performances still fresh in the minds of Madridistas, it was suggested that Real will struggle to win at the noisy Schalke Arena.
Earlier, any and all mentions of Real Madrid traveling to Germany for a European tie have to be made in the same breath as “the curse.” The numbers are certainly imposing: 25 matches on German soil, 18 defeats, six draws and just the one win, against Bayer Leverkusen in 2000-01. That was in the group stages, with Real the defending champions. The Bernabeu side was later eliminated at the semifinal stage against Bayern Munich, who won home and away 3-1 on aggregate and went on to defeat Valencia in the final.
No country in Europe holds such a formidable record against the most successful club in Europe’s top competition, but German sides haven’t had it all their own way against Real. Fourteen of the games played in Germany have been in knockout ties, with Real triumphant in six overall.
And with Josep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich breaking all possible records in Bundesliga and Europe, experts across the globe have rightly placed their bets on Germans to become the first club ever to defend its UEFA Champions League title.
However, if the performance level of Champions League Knock out Stage (first round) and in the year 2014 as a whole have anything to go by, Real Madrid are looking more than capable of stopping the German giants and finish the wait for much talked about “la decima”.
When Real Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat against Barcelona in El Classico at the end of October, the critics were out with their harsh words for Los Blancos’ La Liga chances — many believed at that stage the title race was already over.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men were six points behind a Barca side that had dropped just two points from their opening ten matches and looked formidable. In contrast, Madrid had lost against neighbours Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu and drawn at Villarreal. The Italian’s new-look Madrid was a work in progress, they said. Maybe in the second season, like Jose Mourinho, they said.
How things change.
Madrid were all dead and buried then. But now Carlo Ancelotti have proved why President Florentino Perez worked so hard to sign him from PSG. Madrid are not only favourites to steal Barca’s La Liga crown but good money is being put on them to clean up the treble with the Champions League, La Decima, and the Copa del Rey, too. Los Blancos’ rise has been sharp and their rivals’ fall has been sudden.
Long Unbeaten Run
Real is on an unbeaten run of 28 games in all competitions now and were the top scorers in their group, a tough little nut to crack with Juventus, Galatasaray and Copenhagen the opposition. On the domestic front, Real has moved to the top of the league despite the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo for the three matches and secured a place in the Copa del Rey final at the expense of recent bugbear Atletico more than convincingly, winning 5-0 on aggregate. And again, their performance against the fierce city rivals at Vincente Calderon was the indicator of their true character.
Madrid have been magical since that Clasico loss. They haven’t experienced defeat in any competition since then. That run has come either side of the winter break but it’s since La Liga returned from that break that Los Blancos have really put their foot down. It’s almost as if that defeat has been the making of them. A case of taking stock, assessing, and continuing.
Long Wait for La Decima
The wait for the Decima has been long and arduous; six straight exits in the last 16 embellished somewhat by semifinals appearances in the past three seasons under Jose Mourinho. Bayern Munich put paid to one shot at the showpiece match on penalties in the Bernabeu, and last season Borussia Dortmund thrashed Real in the Westfalenstadion in the first leg, Robert Lewandowski helping himself to the home side’s entire tally in a crushing 4-1 victory.
Under the new coach in Josep Guardiola, Bayern Munich are also enjoying the record breaking season. They are at Bundesliga table by more than 20 points and almost sure of getting into the next stage of Champions League too. However, if recent performances of the Bavarians have anything to go by, complicacy is stepping in at the Allianz Arena side which will play the biggest role in the business end of the season – we all have seen what happened with FC Barcelona in the same stage of the season against this very Bayern Munich side.
Ancelotti admitted last week that the quest for a 10th European triumph is all-consuming at Real Madrid, but he was right to sound a cautious note despite his team’s run of splendid form. Ties such as away game against Atletico or Schalke can hinge on the smallest twist of fate. However, with a full squad and in spite playing at Europe’s noisiest stadiums, moral fiber shown by Ancelloti’s men was an indicator of what they are capable of.
On the domestic front, La Liga has been a two-horse race and then a three-horse race this season. Since the turn of the year, there’s been only one contender in good form and Madrid will be looking to spring away from their nearest rivals with 11 matches to go.
The depth of squad available for Carlo Ancelotti is also going to play a crucial in a season going forward. Arguably, Madrid possess the strongest squad across continent. The superiority within this Madrid squad and the expertise of Ancelotti is no doubt behind this splendid run of form for Madrid and if Los Blancos can maintain the consistency, nothing can stop them from dethroning Bayern Munich from the pinnacle of European football.