Despite Club Brugge heading into their fixture against Real Madrid in October atop of the Jupiler Pro League and unbeaten so far in the season, it felt like a formality that Los Blancos would brush the Belgian team aside to again qualify for the Champions League knockout stages.
Although Madrid had been eliminated by Ajax in the round of 16 in the 2018/19 season, they were still considered one of the competition’s most dominant sides. After three consecutive titles, they had earned that right.
However, after the Spanish giants were thrashed 3-0 by Paris Saint-Germain in their opening Champions League group stage game, questions started to be asked of Madrid’s place among Europe’s elite. When half time rolled around against Club Brugge, those lingering doubts had intensified.
Los Blancos had no problem carving out chances throughout the game, conjuring up 27 shots on Simon Mignolet’s goal, but it was Philippe Clement’s side who were prolific early on. Through two rather bizarre Emmanuel Dennis goals, the visitors were up 2-0 by the halfway point.
The then 21-year old was incredibly fortunate with both of his goals. The first came when Dennis miscontrolled a cross straight into the back of the net, given after a lengthy VAR review, and the second saw the winger stumble into the box, somehow managing to chip Thibaut Courtois despite almost losing his footing.
Madrid had been rocked and, despite their attack dominating the majority of the first half, their defence looked vulnerable and had been caught out twice. Going into half time, Madrid had conceded at least two first half goals on home soil in the Champions League for the third straight game, having only done so twice in their previous 124 games.
It was clear that something needed to change for the La Liga side and Zidane made the bold choice of replacing Courtois with loanee keeper Alphonse Areola during the half time interval.
The change seemed to make a difference though as Areola made an excellent save to deny Dennis his hat-trick from a one-on-one situation. From there, Madrid pushed on and immediately pulled a goal back through a Sergio Ramos header.
After club captain Ruud Vormer was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 84th minute, the Real Madrid comeback felt inevitable. But despite equalising moments after the red card through Casemiro’s header, Real couldn’t capitalise and Brugge held on to secure a draw, one of the club’s biggest European results in recent years.
It’s funny how football works and despite the result feeling like a major victory for Brugge, the club failed to win any of their remaining Champions League games. On the other hand, Madrid won three of their remaining four and progressed to the round of 16 where they still trail Manchester City 2-1 after the first leg.
Brugge, however, failed to advance out of the group and instead found themselves in the Europa League, where they were on the end of an absolute thrashing from Manchester United.
Losing 6-0 over the two legs, Brugge were swiftly eliminated from the Europa League and will now focus on winning the Belgian top fight if and when it returns, a division they find themselves 15 points clear at the top of.
While the coronavirus has brought the Champions League to a halt, if and when it gets back underway Madrid will be looking to overcome a 2-1 deficit against City, all the while hoping to knock Barcelona off the top of La Liga. Los Blancos sit in second place, only two points below Barça, as they search for a first La Liga title in three years.
Despite how differently the clubs have fared in Europe since the game, for those 94 minutes the two sides were equal and Brugge gave a performance the club won’t forget anytime soon.