Real Madrid’s 2013/14 side are part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Teams of the Decade series.
Although the 2013/14 season saw Real Madrid finish third in a two-horse race in La Liga, it will still go down as one of the greatest seasons in Los Blancos’ rich history.
Why? Because Carlo Ancelotti’s men finally delivered the hallowed Décima – the club’s tenth European Cup success, and their first for 12 long years. It was a glorious moment that Real’s players, managers and hierarchy had obsessed over for more than a decade, and it would spark a new era of unprecedented European domination.
There was success in a domestic cup too, as a remarkable individual goal from ?Gareth Bale secured victory in the Copa del Rey final against arch-rivals Barcelona.
However, the league title would go to ?Real’s city rivals Atlético, who sensationally pipped both Los Blancos and Barça on the last day of the season to collect a first ?La Liga crown since 1996. Consequently, it seems unbefitting to focus on Madrid’s domestic struggles when paying homage to a side that was built for European football.
The summer of 2013 saw the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti as manager, replacing José Mourinho following his ill-tempered three years in the Spanish capital and what the Portuguese described as the ‘worst season’ of his career. Looking back, it was a highly successful summer transfer window for Madrid, with Gareth Bale joining in a then world-record deal, alongside 2012 Golden Boy winner Isco, Dani Carvajal and Casemiro.
However, despite the quality and promise of those arrivals, the main man was of course already residing in Madrid; ?Cristiano Ronaldo would inevitably make a huge contribution to Real’s runs to both the Champions League and Copa del Rey finals, netting 20 goals in the process. He would rattle in 31 goals in La Liga, too.
This was a squad that redefined strength in depth, with quality options in every position from front to back. Ancelotti deployed a fast, counter-attacking playing style in a 4-3-3 formation that would devastate numerous opposition on the continent that season. An interchangeable front three led the line, which would include any of Bale, Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata, Angel Di Maria, Isco and the immovable Ronaldo. Meanwhile, the likes of Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira or Casemiro would sit deeper and dictate the play. At the back were the ever-present rocks Pépé and Sergio Ramos, although the former would miss the Champions League final due to injury, with a young Raphael Varane deputising.
Ancelotti’s men were pitted against Juventus, Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen in the Champions League group stage, and started the campaign as they meant to go on with a resounding 6-1 romp against the Turks in Istanbul. That man Ronaldo picked up a hat-trick, while Benzema nabbed a brace and Isco also got off the mark in the competition.
Real would proceed through the group phase unbeaten, only dropping points in a creditable away draw against Juve in Turin and finishing with a goal difference of +15 – the best in the competition by some margin, with nine scored by CR7 alone.
Tougher tests would follow, but not in the last 16. Real repeated their 6-1 away demolition job, this time in Gelsenkirchen as they dispatched Schalke 04 in the first leg, effectively putting the tie to bed halfway through the 180 minutes. Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo were the architects of that blitz, each registering a brace as Ancelotti’s side ran riot.
The next round would see Real avenge their semi-final defeat in 2013. Drawn against German opposition once again in the quarter-finals, Los Blancos would again make short work of their opponents in the first leg – this time defeating Borussia Dortmund 3-0 at the Bernabéu. A Marco Reus masterclass in the return leg was not enough to deny Real, who scraped through to the semis following a 2-0 defeat – their first of the competition.
Standing between Real and a first crack at La Décima since their last success in 2002 were Bavarian giants and current European champions Bayern Munich, but first came the small matter of a Copa del Rey final against arch rivals Barcelona – an encounter they would have to negotiate without the injured Ronaldo.
Step forward Gareth Bale, or rather sprint forward at blistering pace and deliver your side to glory against their nemesis. With 85 minutes on the clock and the game poised at 1-1 on a balmy night at Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla, Fabio Coentrao played the ball to Gareth Bale just inside his own half on the left touchline. The Welshman then proceeded to knock the ball past onrushing defender Marc Bartra before evading his attempted body-check by sprinting off the pitch to round his flailing opponent. The former Tottenham man charged into the penalty area, composed himself, and prodded the ball through the legs of Barça keeper Pinto. Cue pandemonium and shots of Cristiano Ronaldo swamped by celebrating teammates in the stands.
A week later, attentions turned back to the pursuit of that elusive tenth European Cup as Bayern arrived in the Spanish capital. An edgy 1-0 victory meant the tie was still in the balance for the return leg, but Madrid would produce yet another magnificent away performance to put themselves on course for a first Champions League final in more than a decade. Inevitably, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo were the protagonistas, scoring two goals each as Real won 4-0 at the Allianz Arena.
It was fitting that the final would be contested between Real and their City rivals Atlético, who had had a remarkable season having beaten Los Blancos and Barcelona to La Liga title just a week prior to their defining meeting at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon on 24 May. While confidence was high for both sides with silverware already in the bag, it was Real who would eventually prevail after an intense 180 minutes of attritional football.
Atléti would take the lead after 36 minutes as Diego Godin’s header looped the ball over the stranded Iker Casillas. Real had no reply until the 93rd minute, as Ramos’ pinpoint header rescued his side from the brink and devastating their knackered opponents. Riding on a wave of adrenaline after the latest of equalisers, Los Blancos grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck in extra time and scored thrice more in extra time. First, Bale’s continued his knack of scoring huge goals as he capitalised on a Thibaut Courtois parry, straining every muscle in his long neck to head home. Then, Marcelo drove home to put the result beyond doubt and the indomitable Cristiano added a last-minute penalty to put a strange shine on the result. You always knew he’d have the final say, didn’t you?
The final whistle brought wild celebrations as the 12 years of frustration, pain and hurt in world football’s biggest club competition was finally relieved for the world’s biggest club.
La Décima had been delivered.
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