It’s back. Sit back, crack open a Heineken and soak in that iconic anthem. Champions League soccer returns today, and I could not be more excited. Throughout the last month I’ve been alphabetically breaking down the remaining teams in the competition, but I’ve saved the last two until the day the action returns…
Before I get into it, you can take a look at the previous previews for: Atalanta and Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus, Manchester City and Napoli and Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint Germain.
For today’s issue I’m going to be looking at two teams who have very different European experience – Real Madrid and RB Leipzig.
Let’s start with the global powerhouse that is Real Madrid. The most supported club in the world and the most decorated team in European competitions. They’ve won the European Cup (now the Champions League) no less than 13 times, with four of those victories coming in the last six years.
Their current head coach, soccer icon Zinedine Zidane, has lifted the trophy once as a player for Los Blancos and three times as their manager. To say the club has pedigree from top to bottom would be an understatement.
This season went well for Real. They finished five points clear of Barcelona to win La Liga for the first time since 2016/17, and only lost three league games in the process.
Success, this season, has been in no small part due to the outstanding individual performances of the criminally underrated striker Karim Benzema and the vulgar genius of captain Sergio Ramos.
It’s easy to forget how good Benzema is, for years his ability was eclipsed by the chiseled shadow of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. But since the Portuguese forward departed for Turin, Benzema has stepped up to the plate, scoring 42 league goals. Rightly proving he’s one of the deadliest finishers in Europe.
Then there’s Sergio Ramos. Hated by fans from pretty much every other club, the 34-year-old World Cup winner has shown no signs of easing up. He’s scored 11 league goals this season, ELEVEN. He’s a centre-back. Granted a fair few have been from the penalty spot, but still, it shows his character. He’s a man who’s ready to step up big for his teammates when it’s needed. However, Ramos has a long-term love affair with red cards and will be missing the upcoming Champions League match due to suspension, shock.
So, let’s look at Real’s Champions League campaign so far. It’s been pretty meh by their lofty standards. They finished runners up in Group A, five points behind PSG after some suspect results including a 2-2 draw at home to Club Brugge.
Qualification from the group was essential for Los Merengues, but they would have liked to have done with a bit more of their usual flair. Either way, they would fancy themselves against anybody in Europe in a two-legged tie.
However, a draw against English side Manchester City was not the easy ride Real would have been hoping for.
Losing 2-1 at home is a nightmare scenario for Real, which means they will need to score at least two away at Man City to have any chance of progressing to the Quarter Finals.
The absence of a leader on the pitch such as Ramos will surely hit Real hard and they could really struggle as a consequence. Hope is not completely lost for the Spanish side, since their loss to City they’ve gone unbeaten for 13 games. Plus the Champions League is essentially their bread and butter, they know how to get the job done. This is by far the most exciting match up of the round and I can’t wait to see just how it pans out…
Next up is a club that was founded in 2009. Yep, literally 11 years ago – to put that into perspective Real Madrid had won 31 La Ligas by then and just the NINE Champions Leagues. But nevertheless despite the club not being old enough to drive or buy a beer, RB Leipzig are Champions League Quarter Finalists.
Bankrolled by energy drink company Red Bull, Leipzig ascended up the German divisions and were playing in the Bundesliga by 2016/17 and qualified for their first Champions League at the end of that season thanks to a second-placed finish in the league.
This year is Die Roten Bullen‘s second attempt at the Champions League, and the first time they’ve advanced through the Group stages. It was a group that posed some serious questions to the relative newcomers, with major European sides such as Lyon, Benfice and Zenit St.Petersburg making up the other competitors.
But, RB Leipzig finished three points clear at the top of the table thanks to some excellent performances from talismanic forward Timo Werner.
The pacy German has proved to be a lethal finisher and a real asset to Leipzig. So much so, that they sold him. Yep, Timo has gone. Gone to Chelsea. Meaning he’ll play no further part in the Champions League campaign, ouch.
However he did play in the Round of 16 for RB, and they simply blew last year’s finalists, Tottenham Hotspur, away.
A 4-0 aggregate win showed that Leipzig may well be the real deal. But up next they face the sterner test of Atletico Madrid.
The absence of Werner will severely dent any hopes of a result, but RB Head Coach Julian Nagelsmann is one of the most exciting young managers in the game. At 33-years-old it’s almost certain he’s going to be a Champions League winning coach one day, but this year seems like too much of an ask.
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