Real Madrid News: 5 Reasons Why Los Blancos Can Win La Decima This Season
Since Zinedine Zidane's spectacular match-winning volley at Hampden Park in Glasgow more than 10 years ago, Real Madrid's mission statement has been to become the first side to win 10 European Cups/Champions Leagues—also known as La Decima.
With this season's Champions League group stage over, 16 teams have progressed to the knockout stage with Los Blancos among the seeds.
Real now have four teams obstructing their path to glory. Their favourable draw in the last 16 means the Spaniards have been pitched against German side Schalke over two legs, commencing at the end of February.
With Real now confidently sitting just one point behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid domestically, their formidable form, both in Spain and in Europe, suggests there are five reasons why Real are serious contenders to win the 2013/14 Champions League.
5. Recent Seasons' Performances Suggest Real Are There or Thereabouts
When Jose Mourinho left the Bernabeu hotseat in the summer of 2013, his parting shot to the critics was a reference to his achievements in the Spanish capital.
In addition to his record points haul in winning the La Liga title, Mourinho's Real made three straight semi-final appearances in the Champions League.
Those semi-final defeats would have hurt the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas, who between them have only amassed one Champions League title in the Los Blancos shirt (Casillas in 2002).
With Carlo Ancelotti now at the helm, flanked by the legend that is Zinedine Zidane, the Italian has restored harmony within the squad resulting in ruthlessly composed performances—key to their La Decima quest.
4. Group Stage Mastery
Real amassed the highest number of points (alongside Atletico Madrid) during the group stages with 16 points (five wins and a draw). Furthermore, they were unrivaled as top scorers with 20 goals.
Real only dropped points in Turin, at the home of the back-to-back Italian champions. The Spaniards demonstrated their array of firepower by finding the net on four occasions against a reputedly solid defence, which has only conceded 58 goals in 96 Serie A matches since the 2011/12 season.
3. Schalke in the Last 16 and Favourable Matchups Elsewhere
Despite the media making the most of Real's unfavourable record on German soil (one win in 24 matches), Los Blancos have, in fact, won 11 of 18 two-legged ties against German opposition in Europe—not so bad after all.
Last season Schalke finished fourth in the Bundesliga, 10 points behind third-placed Bayer Leverkusen. In the current campaign, Die Konigsblauen find themselves in seventh position but only four points off Champions League qualification.
During the group stage, they lost to both games to Chelsea with an identical 0-3 scoreline but scraped through as Group E runners-up. In short, it would be a shock to see anything other than a comfortable victory for Real.
Elsewhere, there are two Hollywood-esque ties which catch the eye.
Strong favourites, holders and recently crowned world champions Bayern Munich have been paired with Arsenal for the second year running, while Argentinean team-mates Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi come face-to-face as Manchester City take on Barcelona.
When the dust has settled, the quarter-finals will be two sides lighter of realistic winners.
2. There Is a Fine Balance Among the Los Blancos Squad
Before Real's annual summer galactico signing, the club spent €73m on Asier Illarramendi, Isco, Casemiro and Daniel Carvajal.
Heavy expectations fell on the shoulders of Illarramendi and Isco since both players cost €30m each. It was a change in transfer tactic by Real supremo Florentino Perez, since he had not opened the cheque-book to that magnitude for a Spanish player since 2005—when he paid Sevilla €27m for the services of Sergio Ramos.
The youngsters were therefore placed under considerable pressure, but Isco has hit the ground running with eight goals and six assists in 21 matches (La Liga and Champions League).
In contrast, Illarramendi's Real career started very slowly, but he is learning from the minutes he accumulates playing alongside the likes of Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric.
In addition to the acquisitions, academy players Alvaro Morata and Jese have been promoted from the Real Madrid Castilla squad. Despite recent transfer speculation from the Daily Mirror's Alan Wilson, there are big hopes for both players.
The latter in particular recently grabbed the headlines with a match-winning goal at the Mestalla stadium against Valencia, while the former notched another goal recently against Real Betis.
The acclimatization of the younger players has also fine-tuned the experienced players, particularly those linked with transfers away from the Bernabeu.
Xabi Alonso's return from injury has galvanized the squad, resulting in nine wins and a draw from the last 10 La Liga matches, plus he played his part in the last half of the Champions League group stage.
To make matters even better, the pivotal La Roja midfielder put pen to paper to extend his stay at the Bernabeu for another two seasons.
With Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria also performing well of late, the squad is ticking over nicely, with no arrivals and departures expected during the January transfer window.
1. The Dynamic Duo Are in Devastating Form
A world-record €91 million transfer fee was always going to attract critics for Gareth Bale, but since his summer move, he has become a fans' favourite with 10 goals and eight assists in 18 La Liga and Champions League matches.
While some quarters expected Bale possibly to replace Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu, the two have become a dynamic duo in regularly bringing out the best in each other.
If Bale's form has been impressive, Ronaldo's has been extraordinary, culminating in winning the 2013 Ballon d'Or.
The icing on the 2013 cake was the Portuguese's performance in the second leg of his country's World Cup play-off against Sweden—a sublime hat-trick in the decisive leg in Stockholm.
Not resting on his laurels, Ronaldo added another high calibre strike to his illustrious repertoire against Real Betis on the weekend and Bale weighed in on sacred ground as he scored yet another free-kick, resulting in a 60 percent conversion rate with his third goal from five dead ball attempts this season.
The performances of these two are enough for opposition defenders to cry themselves to sleep at night and leave rival coaches studying the theory of relativity in attempting to create an antidote.
Based on Real's current form, they are a handful for anyone, with all the weapons in place to claim the long-awaited La Decima in May.