The Hard Tackle takes a look at some of the key moments in what was a near-perfect 2016 for European Champions Real Madrid
Three major trophies, an ongoing unbeaten streak, top of the League, all with a club legend at the helm. Needless to say, 2016 was a hugely successful year for Los Blancos and one that they are well one course to bettering this year. We take a look at some of 2016’s major highlights for Real Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane’s Appointment
On the 4th of January, it was announced that Rafa Benitez had been relieved of his duties as manager of Real Madrid. They also announced the appointment of club legend Zinedine Zidane on a 2 and half year deal.
Expectations were not high from the Frenchman and maybe a second placed finish and going far in the Champions League would have been considered a success, before Los Blancos went on to hire a more established manager in the summer.
However, Zidane has been a resounding success so far and is slowly making his case to be Real Madrid’s answer to Pep Guardiola. A year after he was elected, they have won 3 major trophies and are currently on a 38-game unbeaten streak, only one short of equaling the best unbeaten streak set by a La Liga side, currently held by Barcelona.
He has led his side to the top of the La Liga table this campaign and has managed to keep them there which is no mean feat, given that he’s had to juggle injuries and the massive egos in the Real Madrid dressing room. His man-management skills have been exemplary and the fact the he is already one of their greatest ever players, has seemingly helped his cause.
Real ended the year in best manner possible: On top of the La Liga table and also, the World. The Kashima Antlers did not make it easy for them at Yokohama. Karim Benzema opened the scoring in the 9th minute, but by the 53rd minute, Zidane’s men were 2 goals down thanks to a goal from striker Gaku Shibasaki in each half.
Real somehow managed to keep surviving, and only just managed to hold on to Sergio Ramos for the rest of the match thanks to some questionable refereeing. On the hour mark, Lucas Vazquez earned a penalty for the Spaniards and Cristiano Ronaldo made no mistake from the spot to bring the tie back to level terms.
The score stayed the same for the rest of the tie with both teams going back and forth. 7 minutes into extra time, the Portuguese Captain gave his side the lead in the match for the second time, after being played through by Benzema.
7 minutes later, the 31-year-old received the ball inside the box after Toni Kroos made a mess of his attempted volley and smashed it into the roof of the net, completing his hat trick and helping his side lift their second Club World Cup and his third.
Champions Of Europe: Part II
Prior to the start of start of the new campaign, Real Madrid built on last season’s heights by adding the UEFA Super Cup to their collection, at the expense of Europa League Champions Sevilla. It was another hard-fought final, one that had to go to extra time and needed some last minute magic from Captain Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal.
Youngster Marco Asensio justified his surprise inclusion in the squad with a stunning left footed strike from 25 yards out to give Real Madrid the lead. 23 minutes later, Vazquez equalized for the Andalusians with a left-footed volley into the bottom corner to send both side’s level into half-time.
Sergio Ramos would later concede a silly penalty in the 70th minute after fouling Vitolo in the edge of the box and Yehven Konoplyanka stepped up to take the penalty, and calmly slotted it past Casilla to send his side back on top.
It looked like Jorge Sampaoli’s men had managed beat the Champions of Europe before Sergio Ramos redeemed himself for that foul, with a diving header in the 3rd minute of stoppage time to bring Real Madrid back into the tie.
The moment of the match however, came in the 114th minute. Dani Carvajal took the ball from the right wing and ran nearly 50 yards, through the heart of the Sevilla defense, past 4 defenders before smashing it past a helpless Rico to send the Real Madrid fans and bench into raptures.
What made the victory more impressive, was the fact that they were without a number of key players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Pepe and Toni Kroos. Youngsters like Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Mateo Kovacic all started the tie and showed that Zidane could bank on his youngsters to step up when he needed them over the course of the season and that his side wasn’t only about the big or expensive names.
It was a great start to the campaign, one which hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet.
Breaking The Streak
Barcelona’s 39-match unbeaten streak was one that was broken by none other than a Zinedine Zidane managed Real Madrid side, in his very first Clasico as manager. The fact that it was Barcelona’s first match since the shocking death of club legend Johan Cruyff and a number of tributes were planned in his memory prior to it, added insult to injury.
Rather than put up a performance worthy of the legendary Dutchman, the Blaugrana couldn’t manage a result against a Madrid side who finished the match with 10 men. All the action came in the second half, after Pique gave them the lead in the 56th minute.
Real would reply with a goal from Karim Benzema only 6 minutes later and on the 83rd minute, Sergio Ramos got sent off for running into Luis Suarez. However, 2 minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo, who remained quiet for large portions of the game sprang to life and chested down a pass from Gareth Bale, before sliding it in the back of the net.
With that, Barcelona succumbed to a 1-2 defeat at the Camp Nou and thus began a horrid run of form which saw them get knocked out of the Champions League and nearly lose their grip on the title race. It was Zidane’s biggest test till date, and one that he masterminded with flying colours.
Champions Of Europe
On the 28th of May, Sergio Ramos & co lifted Real Madrid’s 11th Champions League trophy, and their second in 3 years. In what was a repeat of the 2014 final, Real Madrid took on cross town rivals Atletico Madrid who were out for revenge. Los Blancos went ahead in the 15th minute after Sergio Ramos scored a goal that looked offside.
After much pushing and fighting back from Atletico over the course of the next 64 minutes, Simeone’s men were brought back into the game by second half substitute Yannick Carrasco. The Belgian international would then go on to do one of the most iconic celebrations ever seen in a Champions League final.
Both sides would battle it out through extra time but unlike last time, there wouldn’t be a barrage of goals from Real. The scores would stay level, which meant penalties. Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Lucaz Vazquez and all found of the back of the net and Griezmann, Gabi and Saul duly reciprocated. With the scores at 3-3, Ramos stepped up and made it 4-3.
Juanfran, who was fabulous throughout the night, only managed to find the post. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and made no mistake. 5-3 was the score and the San Siro saw Real Madrid crowned Champions Of Europe once again. It capped off a brilliant turnaround to a largely lackluster season, all managed by the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane.