After two straight seasons of being halted at the semifinal, it’s time Real Madrid come through and reach the Champions League final for the first time in over a decade. With Cristiano Ronaldo playing better than anyone in the world, not to mention scoring on every big occasion, there’s no reason that Jose Mourinho doesn’t get the chance to become the first manager with three trophies for three different clubs.
And even beyond the two Portuguese stars, there’s plenty to be confident of. A team that has found its way over the last couple of months through two weeks that determined the season, getting rid of both Barcelona (in the cup) and Manchester United (in the Champions League) and creating the kind of belief and confidence that this season, not even penalties or German teams will stand in their way of winning the 10th trophy the club has been waiting for since 2002.
Leading the scoring in the Champions League, it’s not a matter of who scores more, him or Lionel Messi. Ronaldo has 11 goals in 900 minutes (not resting a second so far) but the more important thing has been his clutchness this season. He has scored in every big match for Real Madrid – against Manchester United, against Barcelona, against Galatasaray. All the early season silliness is over, and it’s no longer a matter of being happy or not. Not contending for the league title has put everyone, and it looks like Ronaldo more than anyone else, in perfect focus to come through as victors in the Champions League. Lionel Messi might be a better player, but no one is playing as well as Ronaldo has been for the past few months.
The last time Real Madrid lost a match was against Granada, 1-0 away. Since then, in all competitions, with every match mattering, it’s been 11 wins, two draws and one loss to Galatasaray which didn’t mean anything eventually. They’ve won against Barcelona twice, home & away. They beat Manchester United at the Old Trafford. They’re being able to mix both possession and counter attacking football for the first time under Jose Mourinho. Yes, the defense concedes a goal every single match or close to that, but with the offense clicking so well, it’s hard seeing them not making up for anything that comes their way.
Still not perfect, but quite incredible to watch at 19. It’s not the speed, quickness of reaction and physicality that’s so impressive about the teenage French international. It’s his composure, calmness and timing in his tackles, dealing quite well with some of the most formidable strikers in the world since finding a place in the lineup. Yes, someone like Robert Lewandowski, just like Didier Drogba, might manage to overpower him or outsmart him here and there, but that’s expected from someone so young, so inexperienced. And yet Varane never had growing pains, and lacks that immaturity that sometimes plagues Pepe or Sergio Ramos’ decision making process. He’s usually the man-to-man CB while someone else covers ground and the man attacking from behind. At the moment, he’s the safest bet Mourinho has in his defense.
The Supporting Cast
Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Angel di Maria. None of them (Except for Alonso) are European champions or even finalists, but it really doesn’t matter. Real Madrid have more than just Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch, even if he does steal away the focus from everyone. Real Madrid seem to be one tight-knit group once again, maybe for the first time. Dortmund aren’t as talented, and don’t have the cohesion advantage anymore like they did in the first two matches between the teams this season, when Real Madrid were a different team mentally and professionally. Better prepared, more talented, this time they’ll not look shocked by how good Dortmund are.
Which leads us to the final point/reason. Jose Mourinho wants a third title with a third team more than he cares about Real Madrid winning their 10th. That shouldn’t change the fact that he’s still the best manager in the world, who hasn’t lost his reaction abilities on the pitch to anything that happens. Mourinho and his players were caught a little off guard by Dortmund and their fitness the first and second time around. Like he managed to learn how to handle Barcelona, he’ll probably find the right adjustments to limit Dortmund, just like Malaga did so well in the second leg at one of the most intimidating stadiums in Europe.