Why Real expect Champions League glory

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April 27, 2021
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    Real Madrid's Luka Modric. Karim Benzema and Zinedine ZidaneReal Madrid are bidding to win their fourth Champions League title under Zidane Zidane

    This has not been a particularly impressive season for Real Madrid.

    Zinedine Zidane's men have rarely produced sparkling play, they have found precious few goalscoring alternatives to Karim Benzema, and an endless list of injuries has further hampered their efforts to deliver flowing football.

    Yet, with a month of the season remaining, here they are, firmly in contention for both La Liga and the Champions League.

    Heading into Tuesday's semi-final first leg against Chelsea, BBC Sport examines how they've done it.

    Midfield masters still supreme

    By far the greatest strength of this Real Madrid team is the tried and trusted midfield of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

    The timeless trio are all having fantastic seasons, and they have largely avoided the injury problems that have plagued the rest of the squad – although Kroos is carrying a thigh injury which forced him to pull out of Germany's recent internationals and miss Real's last three games.

    Casemiro (279 appearances for Real), Kroos (317) and Modric (385) are now approaching a combined total of 1,000 appearances for the club, the majority of which have been spent alongside each other in the centre of the field.

    They have survived together at such a high level for so long partly because of their individual talents, but also because their different abilities blend together to form a peerless partnership.

    Casemiro's aggressive athleticism, Kroos' pinpoint passing and Modric's clever creativity allow them to complement each other perfectly, with those attributes reflected in the data: in La Liga this season, Casemiro ranks second in interceptions and fourth in tackles won, Kroos leads the league in passes into the final third, and Modric ranks fourth in passes into the penalty area.

    They also pose a scoring threat, with Casemiro's aerial prowess from set-pieces together with Kroos and Modric's ability to strike from the edge of the box providing 13 goals in all competitions this season.

    Even now, nearly seven years after they first teamed up, there is still no better midfield in the world than Real's trio.

    Real Madri's Eder Militao challenges Liverpool's Roberto FirminoReal Madrid knocked Liverpool out to reach the Champions League semi-final

    Defensive dominance despite injuries

    The growing influence of the midfield trident is a key factor in ensuring a quality which marks this Real team out as different from previous versions – control.

    Whereas earlier editions of Zidane's side were often hectic and defensively dubious, relying upon Cristiano Ronaldo's heroics to score more goals than they conceded, the current team is perfectly happy – as shown in the quarter-final second leg at Liverpool – to sit back and grind out a goalless draw when necessary.

    This is now primarily a defensive team, and Saturday's 0-0 against Real Betis means they have kept four clean sheets in a row, while they have not conceded more than one goal in a game since January.

    Impressively, their recent run of nine clean sheets in 17 games has been achieved despite a series of injuries in the backline, with the first-choice quartet of Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Rafa Varane and Ferland Mendy all missing playing time.

    The impact of those absences has been lessened by excellent performances from understudies – most notably, Nacho Fernandez has once again proved himself to be a valuable member of the squad with a series of commanding displays to deputise for Ramos.

    Nacho – who has somehow remained a low-profile figure despite spending his entire career with Real and racking up nearly 250 appearances – is a highly versatile performer who is set to cover for Mendy at left-back against Chelsea, with Eder Militao replacing Ramos in the middle.

    And then, of course, there is former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who has produced the most consistent season of his Real career and made some stunning saves to keep several of those clean sheets intact.

    Unshakeable self-belief

    Another element which has allowed Real to maintain their challenge for silverware is their unshakeable belief, which gives them a genuine conviction that they can recover from any setback – especially on the European stage.

    This has always been a trait of the team ever since the reign of Carlo Ancelotti. In 2014, Real won their 10th continental crown after a 93rd-minute equaliser by Ramos in the Champions League final against Atletico, and their three consecutive Champions Leagues secured under Zidane between 2016 and 2018 also featured a series of improbable escapes.

    This season's group stage certainly had its hairy moments. They recovered from losing their opener against Shakhtar Donetsk by snatching a 2-2 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach with two goals in the last three minutes and then hitting a late winner to overcome Inter Milan.

    Mo Salah's glaring early miss in the quarter-final second leg at Anfield was another example of Real's ability to ride their luck at key moments, further strengthening their belief that when it comes to crunch time on Europe's biggest stage, they will invariably find a way to win.

    All things considered, they don't merely hope to triumph again in this season's Champions League – they expect it.

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    424 commentsShowLatestOldestHighest RatedMost Replied

    • B

      Comment posted by Barwell Fleet, today at 06:41

      A club of debt bailouts, political interference and attempted corruption leading to sporting advantage where success has been bought with other people’s money. It’s safe to say I’ve never been impressed.9314

      • D

        Reply posted by Desi786, today at 08:50

        "A club of debt bailouts, political interference and attempted corruption leading to sporting advantage where success has been bought with other people’s money. It’s safe to say I’ve never been impressed."Desi786 replied: But have you been impressed by Football they play ?1831

      More replies (12)

    • N

      Comment posted by nameofthegame, today at 07:23

      Well let’s hope they fail. Horrible club, run by a horrible man. Says it all about football when PSG are the ‘Good Guys’ in the last 4!8922

      • J

        Reply posted by Jay, today at 09:37

        "Well let’s hope they fail. Horrible club, run by a horrible man. Says it all about football when PSG are the ‘Good Guys’ in the last 4!"Jay replied: Yeah – here’s hoping Abramovich the good guy prevails!!2513

      More replies (10)

    • A

      Comment posted by Adam WBA, today at 08:24

      I’m sure if West Brom received unlimited state funding, we might just win a cup or 2576

      • Removed comment

      More replies (20)

    • C

      Comment posted by commentator, today at 08:52

      Imagine giving Real Madrid the trophy after what they have done this week. The chairman of Real Madrid is actively seeking to destroy the Champions League. Chelsea aren’t much better but at least they have officially abandoned the ESL. Real haven’t! What a farce.517

      • S

        Reply posted by skwagi, today at 12:28

        "Imagine giving Real Madrid the trophy after what they have done this week. The chairman of Real Madrid is actively seeking to destroy the Champions League. Chelsea aren’t much better but at least they have officially abandoned the ESL. Real haven’t! What a farce."skwagi replied: Seeking to destroy the competition they created (at the time against UEFAs wishes). Which was then funnily absorbed by UEFA when they saw the $.33

      More replies (8)

    • G

      Comment posted by giggy moon, today at 07:07

      This is the first semi of the CL to see how wisely the cash has been spent. All four remaining clubs have one thing in common…..MONEY!346

      • W

        Reply posted by whosdatdandare, today at 07:29

        "This is the first semi of the CL to see how wisely the cash has been spent. All four remaining clubs have one thing in common…..MONEY!"whosdatdandare replied: Out of a curiosity, did you type your comment on your IPhone, Samsung device or a Windows based PC?1232

      More replies (17)

    • F

      Comment posted by footie fan, today at 07:14

      Disgraceful football club. Epitomize everything which is wrong with football.4215

      • G

        Reply posted by Gammon Everywhere, today at 07:57

        "Disgraceful football club. Epitomize everything which is wrong with football."Gammon Everywhere replied: does it really ? and the other 3 semi finalists don’t ?2323

      More replies (19)

    • B

      Comment posted by bardez , today at 08:56

      For a club that expects to win the CL every year it looks even sillier and more outrageous to orchestrate a super secret, super boring league with ‘founding members’ who don’t need to compete to be there. The stupidity shown by those 12 clowns is incredible. What is this, the UN? Spain doesn’t even have permanent seat. Why should laughing stocks like Perez be allowed to create a football ‘G-12’?294

      • 3

        Reply posted by 31shadows, today at 09:59

        "For a club that expects to win the CL every year it looks even sillier and more outrageous to orchestrate a super secret, super boring league with ‘founding members’ who don’t need to compete to be there. The stupidity shown by those 12 clowns is incredible. What is this, the UN? Spain doesn’t even have permanent seat. Why should laughing stocks like Perez be allowed to create a football ‘G-12’?"31shadows replied: €500,000,000 per year
        There’s your reason56

      More replies (10)

    • A

      Comment posted by AndyB_MOT, today at 08:46

      It’ll be 0-0. And a wonder advert for the “super league”.192

      • G

        Reply posted by gfk626, today at 20:23

        "It’ll be 0-0. And a wonder advert for the “super league”."gfk626 replied: Thank you Nostradamus10

    • U

      Comment posted by U18801456, today at 11:21

      “You get used to this, Madrid’s behaviour on these things…give me a break”
      “You don’t think we’d get into a contract with that mob, do you? Jesus Christ I wouldn’t sell them a virus”
      Fergie talking about Real Madrid in 2008

      Remember that Real were backed by Franco, have had tons of state aid over many decades and always act with entitlemen
      Because nobody has ever stood up to them and said NO!182

      • Removed comment

      More replies (14)

    • B

      Comment posted by Bertie, today at 11:27

      “Defensive dominance”? They let Liverpool have about fifteen shots on goal by half time at Anfield. If Liverpool’s strikers could actually hit the side of a barn, we would have turned round the deficit and been out of sight. Unfortunately this season they would have trouble kicking a football off a snooker table.150

      • B

        Reply posted by Bluenose, today at 16:37

        "”Defensive dominance”? They let Liverpool have about fifteen shots on goal by half time at Anfield. If Liverpool’s strikers could actually hit the side of a barn, we would have turned round the deficit and been out of sight. Unfortunately this season they would have trouble kicking a football off a snooker table."Bluenose replied: Liverpool aren’t in the same league as Madrid. Wake up05

    • H

      Comment posted by Honest discussion, today at 09:03

      The problem with Madrid, is because they’re not as good as they were, they’re being underestimated. You look through that team, and it is star-studded – only really the wingers are not world class, and there you have Vinicius emerging, and Hazard (maybe) returning. The same can’t be said of Chelsea, who will have to rely on superior tactics and high energy to beat them. Real should be favourites.206

      • F

        Reply posted by FiddlersElbow, today at 09:14

        "The problem with Madrid, is because they’re not as good as they were, they’re being underestimated. You look through that team, and it is star-studded – only really the wingers are not world class, and there you have Vinicius emerging, and Hazard (maybe) returning. The same can’t be said of Chelsea, who will have to rely on superior tactics and high energy to beat them. Real should be favourites."FiddlersElbow replied: Or a night for the emeging Chelsea to show up, with some of the younger players moving up a notch…115

      More replies (3)

    • T

      Comment posted by TheGMen, today at 08:29

      It’s perplexing to see how well RM are doing as, in many ways, they are punching above their weight.
      I’m not convinced that Zidane is a great Manager but his record suggests I’m wrong!
      It’s interesting that Modric at 35 is still performing so well.
      He was a great find by Spurs & looked a class act.
      I always thought that Benzema was underrated but it looks like know people see how good he really is141

      • B

        Reply posted by Bacaruda, today at 10:59

        "It’s perplexing to see how well RM are doing as, in many ways, they are punching above their weight.I’m not convinced that Zidane is a great Manager but his record suggests I’m wrong!It’s interesting that Modric at 35 is still performing so well.He was a great find by Spurs & looked a class act.I always thought that Benzema was underrated but it looks like know people see how good he really is"Bacaruda replied: Correct! As the article explains well, there is a core of players there, relative bargains by RM standards (Modric, Kroos and Cesemiro total cost less than €70 million vs Bale @ over €100 million) , who turn up most games,.But hard to think of a game this year where RM have strung 2 mega halves together. You could say the same of BCN and Atletico this season, though.21

    • R

      Comment posted by RLs Ghost, today at 10:22

      LFC fan here who will be shouting for Chelski to paste RM and give Perez a black eye!164

      • 3

        Reply posted by 31shadows, today at 12:09

        "LFC fan here who will be shouting for Chelski to paste RM and give Perez a black eye!"31shadows replied: Why
        Your lot along with 5 other splitters were quite happy to scurry off for a cash fix
        The clubs only came back when their life line was/and still should threatened32

    • 3

      Comment posted by 31shadows, today at 08:41

      They expect because their egos are inflated to the size of their obscene wages
      The bubble will burst175

      • E

        Reply posted by El_Cuervo, today at 10:48

        "They expect because their egos are inflated to the size of their obscene wagesThe bubble will burst"El_Cuervo replied: No one in Madrid EXPECTS to win the Champions League. This article is utter nonsense. As usual, the BBC writers invent whatever narrative they need people to believe.
        Absolute nonsense.417

      More replies (4)

    • B

      Comment posted by Bacaruda, today at 07:44

      “All things considered, they don’t merely hope to triumph again in this season’s Champions League – they expect it.” Indeed…..

      The sense of entitlement around Real Madrid is huge. On the other hand, there is talent in winning games you shouldn´t, so never write them off. Chelsea vs Real in a semi, doesn´t sound like a goalfest!142

      • H

        Reply posted by Honest discussion, today at 09:07

        "”All things considered, they don’t merely hope to triumph again in this season’s Champions League – they expect it.” Indeed…..The sense of entitlement around Real Madrid is huge. On the other hand, there is talent in winning games you shouldn´t, so never write them off. Chelsea vs Real in a semi, doesn´t sound like a goalfest!"Honest discussion replied: Entitlement is the word. You listen to Perez’s rationale for the Super League, and it’s basically ‘we used to be able to outbid everyone, and buy all the best players, now occasionally other teams get them – it’s so unfair!’341

      More replies (8)

    • D

      Comment posted by drogsbreath, today at 10:46

      No doubting Real’s credentials, and Eden poses a huge threat, but bubbles are there to be burst and, hopefully, Chelsea will be the one’s to do it.
      Let’s fly the flag for England and have another all English Club final against Man City.134

      • L

        Reply posted by LondonsFinestClub, today at 12:58

        "No doubting Real’s credentials, and Eden poses a huge threat, but bubbles are there to be burst and, hopefully, Chelsea will be the one’s to do it.Let’s fly the flag for England and have another all English Club final against Man City."LondonsFinestClub replied: I hate to say it, but Hazard is their psychological weapon. Perez thinks I would be poetic if they beat us with him as he is so peed off at Roman for walking out on Wall Street20

      More replies (1)

    • C

      Comment posted by CostaTheBeast, today at 09:55

      Hope Real get beat – sick of seeing Perez’s face all over the BBC website. Tired of that Spanish ‘journalist’ telling us what a great big powerful man he is as well…145

    • S

      Comment posted by shadow warrior, today at 06:42

      Real have an impressive midfield and many a game are winning and lost in the middle of the park

      For whatever Real Madrid are off the field they have some decent players and it will take a very good Chelsea to beat them and I’m expecting two very good games , be nice to see hazard again134

      • M

        Reply posted by More on this story, today at 09:52

        "Real have an impressive midfield and many a game are winning and lost in the middle of the park For whatever Real Madrid are off the field they have some decent players and it will take a very good Chelsea to beat them and I’m expecting two very good games , be nice to see hazard again"More on this story replied: Tripping Hazzard?31

    • T

      Comment posted by tabface, today at 13:40

      Strange days indeed when Chelsea aren’t the most unpopular team in any match60

      • N

        Reply posted by NeilAndy109, today at 14:04

        "Strange days indeed when Chelsea aren’t the most unpopular team in any match"NeilAndy109 replied: Popularity is overrated02

    • D

      Comment posted by disgustedofwells, today at 11:44

      Modric used to be exceptional, sloppy lately. The others…meh! Benzema worries me more.
      Kante is peaking, Mount is on fire and our defence & Mendy are solid.
      We need Havertz, Ziyech & Werner to have a decent couple of games, score on the break, away tonight, and Chelsea have got this!
      KTBFFH71

      • E

        Reply posted by El_Cuervo, today at 12:21

        "Modric used to be exceptional, sloppy lately. The others…meh! Benzema worries me more.Kante is peaking, Mount is on fire and our defence & Mendy are solid.We need Havertz, Ziyech & Werner to have a decent couple of games, score on the break, away tonight, and Chelsea have got this!KTBFFH"El_Cuervo replied: He was sloppy against Liverpool at Anfield. Clearly you’re basing your conclusions on that game. Don’t pretend you know more than you do, because it’s quite obvious.15

      More replies (5)

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