Both Real Madrid and Manchester United played their last match in the Champions League group stage yesterday. Real Madrid take on Union Berlin, Man United take on Bayern Munich. Two videos of the two teams practicing before the match went viral on social media.
The Madrid players were doing whatever they wanted with the ball in a lighthearted manner, as if the ball was their duty. Man United players were also practicing dulki moves, but their lack of skill on the ball was evident.
Real Madrid’s match was absolutely pointless, with Madrid almost certain to reach the last sixteen, Berlin’s elimination as well. On the other hand, Man United’s match was a matter of life and death.
Man United could not survive the loss to Bayern and were eliminated in the group stage. And Real Madrid? That light-hearted practice was indicative of how Nirvana Madrid once again emerged victorious in the Champions League. Yesterday, Madrid fell behind first, but after scoring two goals, Berlin equalized in the 85th minute, which Madrid finally won 3-2 with a goal from Dani Ceballos in the 89th minute.
The significance of this victory is that Real Madrid left the field winning all six matches in the group stage of the Champions League. The significance of this record can be understood by looking at the Madrid squad this season. Most of the main stars of the team are out of the field due to injuries. It was Madrid who won in Berlin yesterday and created a record – Madrid won all the matches in the group stage for the third time in the Champions League. The previous two feats came in the 2011/12 and 2014/15 seasons.
Look at the Real Madrid team in those two seasons – Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Casillas, Pepe, Khedira were in both teams. Apart from this, the 2011/12 team included Kaka, Anhel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil; And in the 2014/15 team, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Varane, Isco, Carbahal!
But this time? Madrid haven’t bought any big-name strikers since Benzema left in attack, only bringing Joselu on loan from Espanyol. English midfielder Jude Bellingham, the big money mover from Borussia Dortmund to Madrid, is now the mainstay of Madrid’s attack as an advanced playmaker. Apart from that, attack Vinicius is expected to be out until February with a thigh injury, while two young French midfielders Eduardo Kamavinga and Aurelian Chuamenio are injured, while defender Emilio and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are unlikely to return before March with ACL injuries.
Such is the case that, before every match, Madrid announce the squad, and Madrid fans gasp at the attack – Joselu alongside Brazilian youngster Rodrigo, this season’s arrivals Arda Gulash and Brahim Diaz and youngster Nico Pass… this is it!
With such a team, the match after the match comes down and Madrid wins! Second in the league table with 39 points from 16 games, 5 points ahead of arch-rivals Barcelona and city rivals Atletico Madrid (Atletico have played 15 games, however), and a 100 per cent perfect record in the Champions League.
Real Madrid were not at ease yesterday in Berlin on that road, but Madrid are used to this discomfort. Union Berlin took the lead through Kevin Volland in first-half stoppage time. A minute before that, Luka Modric’s penalty was blocked by the Berlin goalkeeper.
From there, Madrid turned around in the second half. After Toni Kroos came off after the break, Madrid’s football settled down. And when Joselu was in front, Madrid increased the amount of crosses in the second half. And scored! Joselui put Madrid ahead with a pair of goals. Joselu’s first goal in the 61st minute was a cross from Rodrigo, and the second goal was a cross from Fran Garcia after 11 minutes.
Union Berlin leveled in the 85th minute with Alex Krall’s goal, the gallery erupted in cheers. But four minutes later, Ceballos silenced the gallery. Bellingham’s great pass and goal Ceballos, the Spanish midfielder became the hero of Madrid with the first goal since January!
Ronaldo-Benzema’s team’s record of 6 wins, however, may be a discomfort for Madrid. Both times Ronaldo won all 6 group stage matches, both times Madrid stopped in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
On the other hand, another record would be a relief for Madrid. Yesterday’s win was Madrid’s third away from home in this Champions League group stage. Three matches, three wins – Madrid won all three matches in the group stage for the second time. The previous time, in the 2021/22 season, the name of the winning team was Real Madrid!