Real Madrid went trophyless in the 2021/2022 season, the first time since the 2009/2010 season. It was an abysmal campaign by their standards, and even more abysmal when you recall that the great Zinedine Zidane-the man that took them on that three-peat run-was at the helm of affairs. The aftermath of the season saw the falling out of Zidane with the club’s ruthless geriatric glucose guardian who also doubles as their president- Florentino Perez, a. k. a Papa Perez.
Going into the new season meant the club needed a new manager; they turned to a familiar face in Carlo Ancelotti, who had barely started to settle down in Everton for his second stint in England. He won the Les Meringues their 10th Champions League title during his first spell at the club between 2013 and 2015. Even though many of their fans would argue that the Champions League is their birthright, Ancelotti faced a slightly more difficult task of delivering an unprecedented 14th prestigious title. According to bettingodds.com, the Los Blancos only had an 8% chance of winning the title, falling behind Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain.
Their ascent to the throne of Europe isn’t the most perfect; it is arguably one of the hardest. They were drawn in a considerably favourable group consisting of Italy’s Champion- Inter Milan, Moldovan Minnows- Sheriff Tiraspol, and Ukrainian Giants- Shakhtar Donetsk. A 1-0 victory over Inter Milan at San Siro saw them off to a perfect start, but a 2-1 shock defeat to Champions League amateurs, Sheriff Tiraspol, had everyone doubting their credentials. However, back-to-back victories over Shakhtar Donetsk set the record straight, and they topped the group after defeating both Inter Milan and Sheriff Tiraspol on their return legs.
Topping their group meant getting tied against Kylian Mbappe’s Paris Saint Germain, who at the time was Madrid-bound. The Les Parisiens took control of the 1st leg of the tie; although Lionel Messi missed a penalty midway through the second half, a stoppage-time strike from Kylian Mbappe saw PSG eventually claim victory. On the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, PSG already had one leg in the last eight after their talisman, Kylian Mbappe, put them ahead. However, a horrendous howler by Gianluigi Donarumma handed Madrid a much-needed lifeline as their number 9, Karim Benzema, pounced and got a goal. Benzema added two more in quick succession, completing a 17-minute hat-trick, making the scoreline 3-2 on aggregate and guiding the Los Blancos to the next round of the competition.
In the quarterfinals and semifinals, Madrid made magic happen as they came from behind to edge out English giants Chelsea and Manchester City respectively. This newly found reputation of being comeback kings can be majorly attributed to Benicius –Madrid’s devastating duo of Benzema and Vinicius that sparked to life this season. According to Opta Joe, the French-Brazilian pair combined for eight goals in the La Liga last season, more than any other duo in the top five leagues. Some fans would find this frightening partnership ironic when they recall that about two years ago, Benzema was caught on camera barking orders at Ferland Mendy not to pass the ball to Vinicius as they were trailing at halftime against Borussia Monchengladbach during their 2020 Champions League campaign. Darkhorse– Rodrygo, the super sub whose late goals helped them move on to the next round, and the famous Don Carlo raised eyebrow are also notable contributors to their comebacks.
Once again, the Galacticos were on familiar territory- the Champions League final. It took place at the 75,000 capacity Stade de France in Paris. They were to match up against Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, another English side, who had just narrowly missed out on the English Premier League to Manchester City. Liverpool was looking to avoid their Loris Karius shaped demons- a painful nightmare of what happened in the 2018 finals. The kick-off was postponed twice from 8:00 PM (West Africa Standard Time) due to reports of chaos and unrest outside and around the stadium; it eventually kicked off at 8:37 PM (West Africa Standard Time). The Reds took control of early proceedings in the first half, but it was the Les Meringues that drew first blood through Ballon d’Or favourite, Karim Benzema in the 42nd minute; much to the relief of the Scousers, the goal was ruled offside by VAR after an interminable wait. In the second half, Real Madrid played much better and eventually claimed the lead, this time, legitimately. The goal came through Vinicius Jr just before the 60th minute after he snuck behind the Liverpool right-back to slot home a low cross from Fede Valverde. Real Madrid owed the victory largely to their shot-stopper, Thibaut Courtois, who from the first minute came to the fray, keeping Madrid in the game till the very end by keeping out multiple attempts from Salah, Mane and even a Jota deflection. The 6feet 7inches goalkeeper heroics earned him the Man of the Match award. A repeat of the 2018 final unfolded once again as the Los Blancos were once again crowned European Champions at the expense of Liverpool, making it only the 14th time the Galacticos have won the competition.
For Jürgen Klopp and Mohammed Salah’s side, it marked another disappointment of the season as a few of them blew hot before the final claiming they were out for revenge. They, however, had to settle for the FA Cup and Carabao Cup as Manchester City and Real Madrid trimmed down their hopes for a quadruple. But for Carlo Ancelotti, it was another historic success as he became the only manager in the history of the competition to have won four Champions League trophies. However, the final of the 68th season of Europe’s premier clubs’ football tournament is set to take place at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. The world awaits to see how it will unravel.