Real Madrid v Celtic: European champions shift towards youth in thrilling reinvention

Real have gone two games without victory - now the European champions are aiming to click into gear against Celtic
Real have gone two games without victory – now the European champions are aiming to click into gear against Celtic
Venue: Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid At your place: Wednesday, November 2 Time: 17:45 GMT
Coverages: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland Extra/DAB/810MW, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

It was one of their icons, Ferenc Puskas, who said it best about the ridiculously demanding Madridismo at the Bernabeu.

“They only stop whistling when their mouths are full,” said the great Hungarian, who won three European Cups and five La Liga titles in his storied years in the city.

The inner sanctum of the Bernabeu is one giant museum, a place where the heroes of the old come back to life through the technology of today.

“In the Bernabeu nothing is more real than magic,” said former general manager and Argentina international Jorge Valdano.

When you walk in the room with their 14 replica Champions League trophies then you get Valdano’s drift. This is a place of magic right enough.

It’s also a place where brutal reality exists. What Puskas was getting at is as true now as it was when he said it all those years ago. The Madrid fans don’t spare their players no matter how many trophies they may have brought to the club.

Gareth Bale, deserving of the status of a Madrid great, was chased out of town. There was no love lost when many others involved in their astonishing five Champions Leagues since 2013-14 exited. Time moves on and so do the Madridismo. Quickly.

This is a club that lives for the European Cup. Winning it is sometimes not even enough. It’s how they win it. It’s the drama. The theatre.

Of their 14 triumphs the most recent one was Madrid to the core. A home loss to FC Sheriff in the group stage sparked an inquisition. The idea that this team were going to go on and win the thing was fanciful this time last year.

In their knockout game with Paris St-Germain they trailed 2-0 on aggregate with half an hour left. Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick to put them through.

Against Chelsea they were 4-3 down on aggregate with 10 minutes remaining. Benzema leveled and Rodrygo won it in extra time.

The Manchester City games were the piece de resistance. Trailing 5-3 with 17 minutes left, Madrid prevailed. Rodrygo scored two in a minute and Benzema secured victory five minutes later. Astonishing. The 1-0 win over Liverpool in the final was humdrum by comparison.

Masterful Modric ties it all together

On Wednesday they play Celtic on the back of losing to Leipzig last week and drawing with Girona on Sunday. The Celtic game has been described as a must-win by the Madrid media. In the real world, it’s not. In the real world, it is.

Reading the comments of players and management you get a sense that the club is about to shift gears now that the knockouts are approaching, just as they did last season.

The other day, the great Andres Iniesta spoke about Carlo Ancelotti’s team and 37-year-old Luka Modric in particular. “Modric is among the best there has been and ever will be,” he said of the Croat.

In a side where the age profile is getting younger, Modric is a mainstay, the one who continues to tie it all together.

This is what’s irresistible about this Madrid team, the combination of experience (Modric, Toni Kroos and Benzema) and a thrusting youth. Currently Real are being linked with Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, 19, and precocious Palmeiras winger Endrick, 16. This is the direction of travel at the Bernabeu.

The evergreen Luka Modric scored Madrid's second when they won 3-0 in Glasgow on matchday one
The evergreen Luka Modric scored Madrid’s second when they won 3-0 in Glasgow on matchday one

If it’s possible for a reigning champion to fly under the radar then that’s Real this season. Much of the Champions League chat has revolved around the brilliance of Napoli and the superhuman goalscoring of Erling Haaland at Man City.

City, Bayern Munich, PSG and Liverpool are all ahead of them in the betting. Ancelotti’s team are like the shark in Jaws. They’re circling the waters right now.

You didn’t need to speak the lingo to understand the sentiment behind the front page of the Madrid daily newspaper AS on Monday. Dominated by an image of Real’s brilliant young Brazilian, Vinicius Jr, the headline simply read ‘Renovado’. Renewed.

The winger, and match-winner in last season’s final, had committed to the club until 2027. The inside spread, a paean to the player, told you how big a deal this really is. In many ways, Vinicius is the embodiment of what Real have been doing these past few years. Instead of going with the galacticos they have shifted towards youth.

Vinicius is 22 as is the outstanding midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni. Rodrygo is 21. The brilliant Eduardo Camavinga is 19. In recent seasons Real have reshaped their squad and made it younger and they’ve done it by spending less money in a few years than the likes of Newcastle have spent since January.

They spent big on Tchouameni and relatively big on Camavinga, but they’ve brought in about £185m selling Casemiro, Raphael Varane, Martin Odegaard, Ashraf Hakimi and Sergio Reguilon.

A game to quicken the pulse awaits Celtic

In 2018 Real won their 13th European Cup but the guts of that team has broken up. Keylor Navas, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale all played in that 3-1 win over Liverpool and have subsequently moved on.

In their place – more energy, more young stars. Recently, Kroos said that the vastly improved Federico Valverde was now in the top three midfielders in the world. Valverde is only 24.

The job Ancelotti has done on Valverde is quite something. The midfielder, who created the winner in the 2021 final, scored zero goals in La Liga last season and had only netted six in 148 games for the club leading into this term.

In the summer, Ancelotti announced that if he couldn’t get a player of Valverde’s quality to score at least 10 in a campaign then he would tear up his own contract and quit management for good. Valverde is currently on seven. He’ll crash through the 10 barrier soon enough.

This is what Celtic does. A game to quicken the pulse for sure. A game in one of the world’s great footballing citadels against a side that’s thrillingly reinventing itself.

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