Decoding Real Madrid’s Commanding Presence in the Champions League: A Numerical Analysis

Real Madrid have clinched another European title, raising the question: How do they consistently pull this off? We’ve plunged into the Opta data to explore this enigma.

Champions League soccer is deceptively straightforward. Twenty-two players chase a ball for an hour and a half, and somehow, Real Madrid always emerge victorious.

This formidable squad secured their 15th European crown at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. Clutch goals from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Junior in the dying minutes overcame a determined Borussia Dortmund.

The recent six victories arrived in just 11 years, following a painful 12-year hiatus after La Decima in 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti.

Sustained glory in Europe’s top club competition is rare, and Madrid’s recent dynasty is particularly notable.

How does this modern streak compare to past glory? And how does the squad with their suave Italian coach measure up against historical European rulers? Let’s take a closer look at the Opta data.

Is this the second-greatest team in Europe? Given today’s deep talent pools, Premier League allure, and some clubs’ financial might, modern-day Madrid might boast the most compelling success story in European history.

Their ability to dominate the toughest knockout competition frequently over 11 years, even while replacing legends like Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, illustrates a remarkable capacity for transformation.

Yet, it might be premature to crown this current lineup as the most dominating in European history. That distinction still belongs to Madrid of yesteryear.

Between 1955-60 under Jose Villalonga, Luis Carniglia, and Miguel Munoz, Madrid captured the first five editions of the European Cup.

This era’s climax was a legendary 7-3 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 final, featuring a hat-trick by Alfredo Di Stefano and Puskas netting four goals.

While Puskas joined later, contributing to two of those victories and Madrid’s sixth in 1966, Di Stefano was instrumental in the first five tournaments, netting 36 goals.

Paco Gento, matching Di Stefano’s 35 appearances, played until 1966 and became the first player with six European titles—a record only equaled last Saturday.

After a 32-year dry spell post-1966, the Galacticos clinched three titles within five years from 1998 to 2002, highlighted by Zinedine Zidane’s iconic volley against Bayer Leverkusen.

Other teams have had their moments of dominance, like Benfica, Inter, and Liverpool with consecutive titles and Ajax and Bayern Munich with three-peats.

Though briefly interrupted, Madrid’s recent string of successes, including a three-peat from 2015-16 to 2017-18, mirrors the brilliance of the 1950s and 1960s team.

If Kylian Mbappe’s anticipated arrival next year leads them to a 16th title, the modern squad might just eclipse their legendary predecessors.

Don Carlo: The undisputed GOAT When it comes to coaching, Ancelotti reigns supreme in UEFA’s flagship Tournament.

With Saturday’s victory marking his seventh European title, including two as a player under Arrigo Sacchi at Milan and five as a coach, he’s matched Milan’s own tally of seven titles.

No other manager has secured more than three Champions League titles, placing Ancelotti at the pinnacle, especially notable during his tenure at Madrid.

He’s won 71.4% of his Champions League matches across two stints with Madrid—more than any other Madrid manager since 1992.

Experiencing eight finals as a player and manager, Ancelotti’s only defeat came during Liverpool’s unforgettable comeback in 2005.

Madrid’s European Mystique Despite not always being the most consistent or visually appealing team, Madrid’s historic clout often propels them past knockout phases.

Their iconic white kit alone seems to unnerve opponents at critical moments, contributing to their improbable European journey.

For instance, in last season’s semi-finals, two quick goals from Rodrygo overturned Manchester City’s previous dominance.

In 2023-24, City launched 33 attempts at Madrid’s goal over 120 minutes—the highest in a knockout game since Liverpool’s 34 in 2020—yet Madrid prevailed on penalties.

Frequently outperformed on expected goals (xG), Madrid’s knack for clutch performances often defies logical analysis.

This year’s final against Dortmund, which saw them outpaced in xG in the first half, is a prime example.

Despite often losing the xG battle, as in four of six knockout matches this season, Madrid’s knack for pivotal moments often prevails.

Why? Their roster of big-game changers makes all the difference.

In recent finals, Courtois’ goalkeeping heroics have been vital. He shut out 12 shots in the last two finals based on Opta’s expected goals on target model, preventing 3.4 goals.

Meanwhile, Madrid’s offensive firepower has often exceeded expected numbers, with players like Vinicius and Jude Bellingham outperforming their xG this season.

Previously, Benzema and Ronaldo have both significantly exceeded their scoring expectations, underscoring Madrid’s offensive prowess.

Let’s not overlook players like Ramos, whose dramatic moments have sealed crucial victories, or midfield maestros like Modric and Kroos, dominating well into their thirties.

In the final match of his club career, Kroos was a statistical standout, leading in touches, passes attempted and completed, and creating four chances, including the vital assist for Carvajol’s opener.

Under Ancelotti, and previously Zidane, Madrid has allowed some of the sport’s top talents to flourish, often rendering the data secondary.

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