Ahead of the start of their 2016-17 Champions League campaign against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday, AFP Sports takes a look at five reasons defending champions Real Madrid can conquer Europe for the 12th time:
– It is “their” competition
Understandably given Madrid are by a distance the most successful team in the history of the competition, no club associates themselves more with the history of the Champions League. A second title in three years took Real four clear of AC Milan as the undoubted kings of Europe and when it comes to big European nights come the springtime, the Santiago Bernabeu is transformed into a cauldron.
A huge part of their success comes from the fact when it comes to balancing priorities at the business end of the season, unlike some others, Madrid always side with the Champions League over domestic duties. Expect this season to be no different.
– Settled squad
Coach Zinedine Zidane and president Florentino Perez insisted Real’s squad was “impossible” to improve upon as they shunned splashing on a Galactico signing in the transfer market.
The return of Alvaro Morata from Juventus was Real’s only significant move, which has left an unusual air of stability at the Bernabeu.
Morata’s arrival also adds depth in one of the few positions that needed strengthening as the Spanish international will battle Karim Benzema to be Zidane’s first-choice central striker between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale
– Ronaldo nears Champions League century
Top scorer in the competition for the past four seasons and of all-time, Cristiano Ronaldo is Mr. Champions League and has another significant milestone in reach.
The Portuguese is just seven goals short of a century in the Champions League and having hit double figures in Europe for the past five seasons and recently returned to fitness following knee ligament damage, another barrel load of Champions League goals to take him into three figures seems certain.
– Bale eyes glorious homecoming
As if Madrid needed any more motivation to defend their title, one of their superstars has an extra special reason to make it back to the final.
Gareth Bale said he came to Madrid to win the Champions League and has done just that in two of his first three seasons. However, the chance to win it in front of a home crowd in Cardiff on June 3 next year is especially enticing.
“It would be very nice. I’ve experienced the Super Cup in Cardiff before and it would be amazing to experience an actual Champions League final in Cardiff as well,” said Bale last week.
– Challenge of repeating enthrals
One of the very few feats left for Madrid to conquer in the Champions League is breaking the remarkable 26-year run since the trophy was last retained.
Madrid have tried and failed four times since Milan did it in 1990, but the experience gained from six successive semi-finals means they are better-placed than ever to defend the trophy.