Why Real Madrid are the team to beat in the 2023/24 UCL

Real Madrid are progressing in their campaign for a 15th UEFA Champions League title. The group stages tell the story of their determination to achieve the monumental feat.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side are playing with a style and swagger that suggests that the Spanish giants might be the team to beat in the current competition.

As it stands, Los Blancos have a brilliant crop of players and one of the biggest winners in football as their manager. Their round of 16 first-leg victory against Red Bull Leipzig edged them closer to a 15th European crown.

With one leg into the quarter-finals of the UCL for the umpteenth time, here is why Real Madrid is the team to beat in this season’s tournament.

Real Madrid are replaying a script

Real Madrid were placed in Group C alongside Italian champions Napoli, Portuguese side Braga, and newcomers Union Berlin. In the last edition of the Champions League’s group stage in this format, Madrid won six straight games to progress with a perfect record.

It is the first time since 2014/15 that Real have reached the knockout rounds without dropping a single point.

Ancelotti first came in as Real Madrid coach in 2013 and led the side to Champions League success in his debut campaign. Their triumph, the fabled La Decima and a 10th Champions League win, was secured after beating Atletico Madrid in extra-time.

Real Madrid then won three consecutive Champions League titles under Zinedine Zidane between 2016 and 2018, becoming the first – and so far only – team to defend the trophy in the Champions League era.

Ancelotti returned as head coach for a second spell in 2021 and guided Real Madrid to Champions League success with victory over Liverpool in 2021/22. That triumph saw Ancelotti become the first coach to have won the tournament on four occasions, having twice lifted the trophy with AC Milan before his two tenures in the Spanish capital.

It is a history no side in European football can match. Can anyone stop the kings of the Champions League?

Lack of genuine contenders

Real Madrid aside, perhaps only Manchester City have struck fear into the hearts of the rest of the competition in the tournament. No other team has appeared a genuine contender for the trophy, with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich enduring mixed fortunes.

Manchester City also won all six group games and beat Copenhagen 3-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie. Pep Guardiola’s side eliminated Real Madrid in last season’s semi-finals emphatically, and are the obvious threat as reigning champions.

There are dark horses in this season’s edition – Inter Milan and Barcelona – though each have work to do to secure progress to the last eight. Arsenal, meanwhile, can not be discounted, though lack experience on this stage in their first Champions League campaign since 2016/17.

In terms of personnel, Madrid have the most experience in the tournament. The club’s core of David Alaba, Thibaut Courtois, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, Toni Kroos, Nacho Fernandez, Lucas Vázquez, and Dani Ceballos have all won the tournament at least twice (Alaba twice with Bayern Munich and once with Madrid).

Real Madrid are doing well in the league

Can Real Madrid transfer their fine form domestically onto the European stage?

Los Blancos are the dominant force in La Liga at the moment, establishing a six-point lead in the title race despite challenges from Barcelona and Girona.

Ancelotti’s side have lost just once in La Liga all season and are unbeaten in 20 league games, a run which stretches back to a Madrid Derby defeat to Atletico Madrid in September. Their only other defeat of the campaign also came against Atleti, losing an entertaining Cope del Rey tie on January 18.

They have not won playing pretty football all the time. This is a team that has played half of the ongoing season with several key players sidelined due to long-term injuries. They have fought back from losing positions and have conceded only 16 goals in 26 games in La Liga.

Against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their round of 16 fixture, they played mostly on the backfoot but managed to secure a precious first-leg lead. Fans are already getting Real Madrid vs RB Leipzig tickets from to catch the second leg of the action.

The odds are favourable for the 14-time winners and should they dispatch Leipzig, the odds of them clinching the Champions League this season will increase greatly.

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