The club-football calendar has finally come to an end with the denouement of the UEFA Champions League. Real Madrid unexpectedly concluded their season with a treble of silverware, adding to their mighty trophy cabinet LaLiga, Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Champions League titles.
Usually called the Kings of European football, Real Madrid were the underdogs to win any silverware this season because of the revamp they were going through. They were restructuring not only their main squad but also their managerial department.
Out-of-contract club captain Sergio Ramos leaving for Paris Saint-Germain was the first big blow for the team last summer, as Los Blancos lost in him a leader after his sixteen years of service to them. Ramos made the much-talked-about move to PSG on a free after his contract talks with the Real Madrid board broke down.
Along with Sergio Ramos, his centre-back partner Raphaël Varane also made a move away from Madrid, leaving for Manchester United after spending ten years in Spain.
Losing out on two of the most important players of their defensive setup who won the club numerous trophies and achievements was a major blow for Real Madrid right at the start of the season. Martin Ødegaard was another player leaving the squad after spending a loan spell at Arsenal, who signed him on a permanent deal for €35m plus €5m as bonuses after he impressed them during his half-a-season loan. Alvaro Odriozola and Takefusa Kubo were a couple other players leaving the squad for Fiorentina and Mallorca respectively.
To add to their vows, Zinedine Zidane had also stepped down from his role as the first-team manager. Eyebrows were raised when the Real Madrid board decided to bring Carlo Ancelotti back from Everton to replace the outgoing Frenchman. Ancelotti was returning to the club on the back of an unimpressive run with Everton. Whether the Italian still had it in him to help stabilise the club was a major question in the minds of the Madridistas.
However, Real Madrid did have something to cherish at the beginning of the season with the arrival of David Alaba from Bayern Munich on a free transfer — a major reinforcement for the centre-back role. Alaba was expected to bring in the experience he gained from playing for the mighty Bayern Munich to step into Sergio Ramos’ shoes. In Alaba came not only a versatile and experienced player who could occupy both the centre-back and the left-back positions, but also a proven champion whose trophy cabinet boasted ten German Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other accolades.
Eduardo Camavinga, the French youth sensation from Rennes, was also brought onboard as a backup to the existing midfield. Camavinga was mainly roped in as a backup for Casemiro in the defensive midfield role and as a prospect for the future. He was signed for €31m plus €9m in bonuses on the back of his outstanding performances with Rennes, with him having also broken through into the French senior national squad. Real Madrid invested a considerable amount for Camavinga who was into his final year of contract with Rennes.
Karim Benzema’s contract extension until 2023, which was never considered to be a doubt, can be said to be the highlight of the club’s business management, reason for which goes unsaid because of the season he went on to have. Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez also extended their contracts.
Yet, the prospect of silverware was considered far-fetched because of the revamp the club were undergoing.
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Real Madrid, surprisingly, had a bright start to the season, with their first defeat of the season coming after eight matches. They were placed alongside Inter Milan, Sheriff Tiraspol and Shakhtar Donetsk. Their first defeat was a shocking result as they lost 2-1 to Sheriff, a team from Moldova. Their second defeat came immediately after the Sheriff defeat — against Espanyol in LaLiga as they again lost 2-1.
Real Madrid were heavily criticised for these two defeats, and it was believed that this could be the point where the team lost momentum, suffering a major downfall in the season. After their loss against FC Sheriff in the Champions League, Real Madrid were not even among the top ten favourites to win the tournament.
However, against all odds, showing their champion mentality and calibre, Los Blancos stood tall and went unbeaten for the next fifteen matches. They came back from their early stumbles in the Champions League to finish first in their group with five wins.
Real Madrid won their first silverware of the season in January, winning the Spanish Super Cup 2-0 against Athletic Club, Luka Modric being the star of the match with a goal and a brilliant performance.
Given their form at the time, Real Madrid were also the front-runners to win the Copa del Rey, but to their disappointment they lost to Athletic Club in the quarter-final of the competition. They conceded a slim 1-0 defeat, which they had to immediately overcome so as to not let their morale down as they were tied up against Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League Round of 16 tie.
With the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi in their squad, the Parisians were easily the favourites to emerge victorious in the tie. Mbappé, in particular, was the point of discussion for this fixture, as rumours about his future were looming large and a move to Real Madrid was highly expected, although he put off all the rumours at the time by making an open statement, saying he was highly focused on winning the Champions League with PSG.
As expected, PSG and Kylian Mbappe rose to the occasion and won the first leg 1-0 at their home ground, the Parc des Princes. Mbappé scored a brilliant 94th-minute winner in this fixture. In the return fixture at the Santiago Bernabéu, PSG were again favourites to win the game and made a strong start, Mbappé again scoring the opening goal. Although it was a heartbreaking sight for the Madridistas to see their team losing at home, they went on to applaud Mbappé for his heroics, expecting the Frenchman to be donning their shirt come the summer of 2022.
However, Karim Benzema had other plans, as he went on to score a brilliant hattrick within 20 minutes in the second half of the game to knock PSG out of the Champions League, Real Madrid winning the tie 3-2 on aggregate. It was a comeback that was never expected, and yet it came through thanks to the heroics and brilliance of Benzema.
It was an announcement on the grand stage: Real Madrid were not underdogs and were in the competition to win it.
Real Madrid’s clinical performances in LaLiga proved to be the major reason for their success last season. Since they were in control and in the driving seat in the domestic league by being comfortably top of the table, they were able to play their Champions League fixtures with total focus and commitment. The only major defeat they conceded in LaLiga, though, was against arch-rivals Barcelona, losing 4-0. Although it was a huge defeat for Los Blancos, it was not a defeat of big concern in the long run as they were comfortably top of the table in LaLiga.
Next up in the Champions League were the defending champions, Chelsea. Thomas Tuchel and his men were again considered the favourites in this fixture because of their strong run of form coming into this tie. Real Madrid, though, were highly motivated because of the magical form their striker Karim Benzema was in.
Putting on another magical performance, Benzema scored another hattrick and Real Madrid won the first leg 3-1 away at Stamford Bridge. Since the second leg was at home, Real Madrid were thought to be in complete control of the tie. Chelsea, however, came all guns blazing at the Bernabéu and scored three goals to make the aggregate 4-3 in their favour. The Blues were in control until the 80th minute, when Rodrygo scored for Real Madrid, levelling the aggregate score 4-4. Going into extra-time, Benzema scored what would be the winning goal in the 96th minute of the match, proving once again to be the match-winner.
Benzema was in the form of his life, and he was destined to bring glory to the team once again.
In the Semi-final of the Champions League, Real Madrid were up against the runners-up of the previous season, Manchester City. Pep Guardiola was coming into this came highly confident and hopeful to win not just the Semi-final, but to finally clinch the Champions League trophy with the Cityzens.
The first leg of the tie, played at the Etihad Stadium, ended in a 4-3 defeat for Real Madrid. Once again, though, Karim Benzema was the star performer of the game, having scored two crucial goals for his side.
Real Madrid went on to secure their second trophy of the season in their next match, clinching LaLiga with four matches left to play. A thumping 4-0 victory over Espanyol handed them their 35th Spanish topflight title and made Carlo Ancelotti the first manager to capture domestic league titles in each of Europe’s top five leagues in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France. It also made left-back and long-time club servant Marcelo Real Madrid’s most decorated player ever with 24 trophies.
Despite being high on motivation, in the second leg of Real Madrid’s Champions League Semi-final tie against Man City, the Madridistas at the Bernabéu were left deflated when Riyad Mahrez scored in the 73rd minute for City, putting the aggregate score 5-3 in his side’s favour. City were in total control of the game until the 90th minute, when Rodrygo once again took it upon himself to turn the game upside down and scored two goals in two minutes in the added time, levelling the aggregate score and pushing the game into extra-time. Then, Karim Benzema, the star of Real Madrid’s season, won a penalty in the 96th minute and duly converted it, putting the aggregate score 6-5 in his side’s favour.
That was it. Real Madrid would go on to hold their nerve and win the tie 6-5 on aggregate, booking their spot in the UCL Finals against Liverpool in Paris.
With another match-winning performance with one assist and one goal, Karim Benzema made himself the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or.
Real Madrid finished their domestic season against Real Betis, a game that ended in a 0-0 draw. Having accumulated 86 points with twenty-six wins, eight draws and just four defeats, Real Madrid convincingly concluded their domestic season with a 13-point margin over second-placed Barcelona. Carlo Ancelotti definitely needs to be applauded and highly appreciated to achieve this feat.
The most awaited match of the club-football season, the UEFA Champions League Final, was set to be played between two sides dominating not only their own respective regions, but also Europe: Real Madrid and Liverpool. The match had made headlines even before it started, as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah made a public statement through his Instagram post, pronouncing that Liverpool had “a score to settle” against Real Madrid. Liverpool were coming into this game off the back of a final-day league decider, where to their disappointment, they lost the Premier League title to Manchester City by just a point.
The UCL Final at the Stade de France in Paris ended up being a low-scoring affair, with Real Madrid clinching a 1-0 victory over Liverpool. Though it was Vinícius Júnior who scored for Real Madrid in the 59th minute, it was Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid’s wall, who was the star performer of the game, saving brilliant efforts from the Liverpool strikers left, right and centre. This victory handed Real Madrid their third trophy of the season and their fourteenth Champions League trophy. With that, Los Blancos reclaimed their well-deserved status of being the Kings of Europe.
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Star performer of the season
Undoubtedly, Karim Benzema has been the top performer for Real Madrid. Throughout the season, Benzema collected for himself numerous accolades and achievements:
- Pichichi trophy: Top goalscorer in LaLiga 2021-22 with 27 Goals in 32 appearances,
- UEFA Champions League 2021-22 top goalscorer with 15 goals in 12 appearances,
- UEFA Champions League 2021-22 Player of the Season,
- becoming the second-highest goalscorer for Real Madrid, tied with Raúl with 323 goals, and
- front-runner to win the 2021 Ballon d’Or.
With match-winning performances and major contributions in helping the team to knock-out heavyweights like PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in the Champions League as well as providing major contributions to Real Madrid’s LaLiga- and Spanish Super Cup-winning campaigns, Karim Benzema has put his name among the greatest players to have ever donned the legendary white jersey of Real Madrid. The 2021-22 season is one of the best and most memorable seasons Benzema has had with Los Blancos so far. The hattricks and the comebacks in the knockout stages of the Champions league will forever be remembered by both him and the Madridistas.
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The Mbappé transfer saga
For Real Madrid, the Kylian Mbappé transfer saga had been looming around and making the headlines for the past two seasons. Hopeful of roping him ahead of next season, the club made constant efforts to sign him. However, Mbappé broke the hearts of millions of Madrid fans when he finally announced before the Champions league final that he would be staying at PSG, having penned down a three-year contract with them and ending the hopes of Florentino Pérez and Carlo Ancelotti to make him a part of the Madrid project for the forthcoming season.
Although Benzema is in the best form of his life currently, one season down the line, age will not favour him to play effectively across all major competitions, and that is where Real Madrid needed a major reinforcement in their striking department. Mbappé, with his youthful spark and an abundance of skill and experience that he has bagged for himself at such an early age, would have been the perfect direct replacement for Benzema in the years to come. However, “no player is above the club” is something that Real Madrid have always maintained throughout their existence and will continue to do so. The situation paves way for youngsters like Rodrygo and Valverde to perform at the highest level and make their way into the main team. The out of favour Marco Asensio who used to play a key part in Zidane’s set-up also has a chance to rise to his potential if he plans to continue with the club. On the other hand, Eden Hazard, who has been going through a rough patch in his career by not being able to perform and shine for his team from the moment he signed for them because of recurrent injuries, will also have the opportunity to showcase his talent and experience. He claims to have a lot of football left in him.
Summer transfers and speculations
Antonio Rüdiger has already been roped in by Real Madrid from Chelsea on a free transfer, the Germany international having agreed to a four-year deal. His signing makes the defensive lineup of Real Madrid an extremely strong one, given he is considered to be one of the strongest centre-backs in the world at the moment. With an abundance of experience and titles to his name, Rüdiger will be reunited with his former Chelsea teammates Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois and will be hoping to have a splendid stint at the club.
Aurélien Tchouaméni is another young talent who is making the headlines. Real Madrid are making their best efforts to sign the highly-rated defensive midfielder from AS Monaco. Tchouaméni has had a breakthrough season with the Monégasque club and has also become a part of the French senior national team. Big clubs like PSG and Liverpool also have him on their radar.
Heartbreak for the Madridistas is currently making the headlines, with stars like Isco, Gareth Bale and Marcelo all leaving the club following expiration of their contracts. The three of them will be leaving the club with five Champions League medals each and numerous other accolades.
Carlo Ancelotti and Co will be extremely proud of this season gone by, and they will be looking forward to another brilliant season.