Real Madrid Road To Glory – The greatest season ever for Los Blancos?

Photo Credit: AP

Real Madrid are a richly decorated club. Their fans have been spoiled by the amount of silverware that has gone in through the doors of the Santiago Bernabéu. Success last season came for Real Madrid on both the domestic and European fronts, winning the top honours in front of them.

It may well rank as being one of their greatest ever seasons too, simply because of the way they rose to the top.

A quiet summer for European heavyweights

The summer of 2021 was a fairly quiet one for Real Madrid in the transfer market. They didn’t splash big money around. It was also the summer that saw head coach Zinedine Zidane leave for the second time.

Having lost the 2020/21 La Liga title race to rivals Atlético Madrid and finishing trophyless on all fronts, Real Madrid looked to be in a bit of limbo. The money wasn’t there to spend, and some of their key players like Luka Modric and Marcelo weren’t getting any younger. They were also harbouring players like Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic who appeared to be surplus to requirements.

During the summer Real Madrid had seen their defence torn apart as well. Raphael Varane was sold to English Premier League side Manchester United, and Sergio Ramos moved to PSG. The only cash Real Madrid spent for the 2021/22 season was on midfielder Eduardo Camavinga from Ligue 1 side, a snap at £27m.

Ancelotti called to the Bernabéu

The biggest and best deal that Real Madrid did perhaps, was getting head coach Carlo Ancelotti back to the Bernabéu. The Italian had spent a couple of fruitless campaigns with Everton in the English Premier League.

In Ancelotti, a former UEFA Champions League winner for Real Madrid in 2013/14, the club knew exactly what they were getting. The Italian had done it for them before. He’d also earned a host of league titles earned across Europe, along with other previous Champions League titles.

In Ancelotti’s first spell with Real Madrid between June 2013 and May 2015, Don Carlo couldn’t deliver them the La Liga title, however. So there was a sense that Ancetolli had some unfinished business with the Spanish giants.

Real Madrid’s 2021/22 league campaign

The first order of business for Real Madrid was trying to wrestle back some supremacy in La Liga. Having watched Atléti lift the previous season’s crown, that would have stung. This was all about Ancelotti’s ability to get the best out of the squad he was working with.

He didn’t disappoint. Real Madrid went undefeated in their opening seven league matches of the new campaign. The goals were flowing freely and easy for them too, something that not too many had expected.

But Karim Benzema was on the path to a stunning season in front of goal. Ancelotti turned Benzema into a goal machine, the Frenchman scoring 27 goals in 27 league appearances.

The first taste of defeat that Real Madrid had last season was a 2-1 reverse at Espanyol in early October. That was a blow, but it seemed to kick Real Madrid into another gear. In their following eleven league matches after that loss, Real Madrid posted a W9 D2 record.

Come the La Liga winter break, Real Madrid were well in contention in a competitive La Liga title race, in which Barcelona and Sevilla were looking like the main threats.

Second-half surge

In Real Madrid’s return from their break, they suffered a shock 1-0 away defeat at Getafe on January 2nd. Los Blancos won only two of their first five league matches after the turn of the new year. They were wobbling a little. But then came a surge.

Starting with a 3-0 victory over Alavés in mid-February, Real Madrid went on a tear of form, winning 10 of 12 matches (L2) in a red-hot sequence. In that run, they scored at least three goals on seven occasions.

With the title challenge of those around them slipping, Real Madrid started to see daylight between themselves and the rest of the pack. A 4-0 win at the Bernabéu over Espanyol on April 30th, saw Ancelotti claim his first La Liga title with Real Madrid.

Los Blancos had got there with four matches of the season still to spare. Considering that they still had an ongoing interest in the UEFA Champions League, that was important.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Big Five League Titles

Serie AAC Milan 2003/04
Premier League – Chelsea 2009/10
Ligue 1 – PSG 2012/13
Bundesliga – 2016/17
La Liga – 2021/22

Champions League

No one does the UEFA Champions League quite like Real Madrid does the UEFA Champions League. They had not been an outright favourite in Champions League betting for the title last season.

The threat and presence of Premier League sides Manchester City and Liverpool, along with PSG was too great. Los Blancos were in the leading pack, but not a clear favourite.

In the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, Real Madrid were drawn against Inter Milan, Sheriff Tiraspol and Shakhtar Donetsk. After winning 1-0 away at Inter in their opening fixture, they suffered a humiliating night at home in their next match as Moldovan side Sheriff rolled up at the Bernabéu and took a shock 2-1 success.

But once again, a setback seemed to just spur Real Madrid onto even better. They won all of their remaining fixtures in the group, winning it by a five-point margin over Inter, averaging more than two goals per game.

Real’s remarkable knockout stage run

Real Madrid’s run of ties in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champion League last season was remarkable and fantastical. So many times the Spanish giants looked to be heading out.

In the Round of 16, they faced a heavyweight clash against Ligue 1 giants PSG and were in trouble after losing the first leg in Paris. When PSG took the lead in the second leg in Spain through Kylian Mbappe, it looked as if it had put the cap on the tie for the Parisians.

Real Madrid had to find three unanswered goals to turn the tie around, with only half an hour to play. In a remarkable 20-minute spell, they did just that, Karim Benzema netting all three goals in a crazy finish.

In the quarter-finals, they were then drawn against reigning champions Chelsea. Real had established a good 3-1 lead from the first leg in London. But Chelsea laid siege at the Bernabéu and were leading 3-0 with only fifteen minutes left.

But Real dug out an equaliser through Rodrygo before Benzema was the hero for Los Blancos, netting the winner in extra time. The stress and tension didn’t ease up as then Real were drawn against Manchester City in the semi-finals.

Best Champions League tie ever?

The first leg was one of the best UEFA Champions League fixtures ever. Man City had raced out to a 2-0 lead within 11 minutes, but Real Madrid just wouldn’t like down. Benzema pulled one back for them before half-time.

Man City scored twice more in the match, and after each of their goals, Real Madrid quickly snatched one back to lose 4-3 on the night at the Etihad. That gave them a chance. But all the drama that had passed already in the Champions League paled in comparison to what was to happen in the second leg in Madrid.

The match was a tamer affair with both defences in control. Manchester City looked to have wrapped up the tie when Riyad Mahrez opened the scoring in the 73rd minute. That left Madrid needing two goals to get the tie to extra time. With 89 minutes on the clock, they hadn’t got one.

By then Rodrygo set the stadium alight by grabbing a 90th-minute strike, but it still looked like a consolation. At least for all of 60 seconds as Real Madrid went straight back down the other end of the pitch and Rodrygo scored another in the 91st minute.

In extra time it was Karim Benzema once again that delivered the hammer blow, scoring from the penalty spot to settle the tie in the 95th minute.

UEFA Champions League Final

Real Madrid were underdogs in UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool. Given the massive attacking threat of Liverpool, most were expecting it to be all one-way traffic from the Reds. It was at times, but Real keeper Thibault Courtois was a brick wall, repelling the Reds time and time again.

The cherry on top of Real’s season came when Vinicius Jr nabbed the only goal of the match in the 59th minute. Karima Benzema finished as the top scorer in the Champions League with 15.

The greatest season ever?

It was a remarkable title that has to rank among the best that Real Madrid have ever earned. It was their 14th European Cup/Champions League title. They weren’t perfect by any stretch. Their defence was a shambles at times, torn apart time and time again.

But their spirit and belief were unshakable. That is what made it such a stunning season for Real Madrid. They kept getting back up off the canvas to land their blows.

There was no easy route through the knockout stage of the UCL for them, beating the three teams leading the outright winner market preseason. They toppled Man City, Liverpool and PSG as well as the then reigning European champions Chelsea.

Then throw on top of that, their wonderful league title back on the domestic front. They did it all without really strengthening their squad. The hand that Carlo Ancelotti played in this role, can’t be understated enough.

With the La Liga title, the Italian became the first man to win a domestic league title in each of Europe’s big five leagues. It was his fourth Champions League title and perhaps, his biggest and best.