It does not take a huge amount of guts and "cojones" to predict that Real Madrid will pass through the Champions League group stages fairly comfortably. The only question on the matter is how well the side will perform against Juventus over two games, to determine whether Carlo Ancelotti’s side finishes first or second in their footballing foursome.
Last year was a very different story indeed at the same stage of the competition. What turned out to be Jose Mourinho’s final year at the Santiago Bernabeu saw the team not so much popped into the group of death, but the group of hanging, drawing, quartering, leeches, wax in nasty places, being hung upside-down for a few days, then a slow and tortuous end to existence by grumpy seagulls.
Real Madrid faced Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and Manchester City, in a group that featured the reigning champions of Germany, the Netherlands, England and Spain. It was the first time for a while that the famous competition had lived up to its name.
Whilst there is the challenge of the reigning Serie A winners, Copenhagen and Galatasaray should not pose too many problems for Real Madrid in this year’s lineup, and a smooth passage out of group B is pretty much assured.
However, the threat of Real Madrid’s rival has only ever been half the battle for the Spanish side each year as the club tries to win the Champions League for the first time in over a decade.
Real Madrid is Real Madrid’s toughest rival due to the enormous pressure the institution puts on itself each season to win the Champions League.
The next title win would be "La Decima," or the 10th trophy victory. It is this phrase that is ever-present ahead of every Champions League clash in the Spanish sports papers, which proclaim year after year that this side, this manager, this European campaign is the the big one that will surely end an intolerable drought.
The recent managerial and player recruitment from Florentino Perez has been geared toward this goal. For a figure who runs a large construction company as well as being Real Madrid president, there is a certain mathematical purity about the rationale and decision-making of Perez. If the most expensive players are signed, as well as coaches who have won the Champions League previously, then it stands to reason that the ultimate prize in European club football will surely be in Real Madrid’s hands.
Of course, football does not tend to work out that way. The Champions League is rarely won by the team who could claim to be the best in the continent. Instead, dogged defending, a few favourable refereeing decisions and an off-night from normally superior opposition tend to be more important factors, rather than a simple matter of which team has the best squad.
However, this sporting reality tends to be overlooked within and around the world of Real Madrid, which leads to overwhelming pressure before key games and tremendous disappointments afterward.
Instead of gearing an entire strategy toward a Champions League final win and proclaiming the competition as the be all and end all of the team, the best thing that the Real Madrid president could do is to smile, claim that the tournament is merely a nice to have and predict that another victory will come when it comes.
But this is never going to happen, instead the current campaign will be declared as the best chance ever of winning La Decima. Apart from last year. And the year before that. And the year before that...