2013 was a full year for Madridistas. We saw the Jose Mourinho era come to an end with a whimper and the Carlo Ancelotti era begin with refreshed hope. The changing of the guard began as fan favourites departed and future stars arrived. Here are the memorable moments of the year:
Diego Lopez purchased from Sevilla
When Diego Lopez arrived at the Bernabeu in January, few viewed him as more than a temporary replacement while Iker Casillas was out with a broken hand. However, Lopez soon usurped the club captain, and he continues to start La Liga matches over Casillas in the latter part of 2013. Several factors contributed to the breakdown of Mourinho’s reign, but none alienated fans and players so much as relegating San Iker to the bench.
The new guy would make quite a name for himself, though, and some believe he has earned his place. After his stunning performance against Manchester United in the Champions League round of 16, Mourinho described Lopez as the best player on the pitch.
Two successive Clasico victories
After a tight 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Copa del Ray semifinals, Los Blancos blasted into the finals with a 3-1 win over Barcelona in the away leg. Four days later, they tasted Clasico success once again, this time in a more tense 2-1 victory at the Bernabeu. Such results against their archrivals in so short a time span gave Madrid fans something to gloat about, particulary because Barcelona were already favourites for a title they would go on to win.
The fixtures were also notable for the dynamic performance of young defender Raphael Varane, who was still a teenager at the time. The Frenchman, then 19 years old, dominated the back line, putting in a lights-out performance against one of the most dangerous offenses in the world, and he rendered 2013 Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi virtually invisible. He was not content simply to defend, though: Varane scored on a towering header to seal the Copa victory. The defender has been sorely missed in the 2013-14 season as he struggles to regain full fitness after undergoing knee surgery over the summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Manchester in Champions League tie
If winning against Barcelona twice in four days was not enough to budge the hardest of Madridista hearts, a dramatic Champions League trip to Manchester United in the same week as the Clasicos surely must have done the trick. Even the storyline of Cristiano Ronaldo receiving a warm welcome from the club with whom he won the Champions League in 2008 was overshadowed by the drama of the match itself, from Nani’s controversial red card to Luka Modric’s stunner to Diego Lopez’s pure heroics and — you guessed it — Ronaldo’s inevitable winner (respectfully without a celebration). La Decima would not come for Jose Mourinho, though, as Madrid could not produce enough to complete a second-leg comeback against Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals. At least Los Blancos avoided the embarrassment of Bayern Munich’s aggregate 7-0 dismantling of Barcelona in the other semifinal.
Copa failure marks end of unsuccessful year — and end of Mourinho
The 2013 Copa del Ray was seen at the time as the last chance of grace for Jose Mourinho. By May, everyone in Madrid expected him to leave, he had alienated half of the dressing room and more of the fans, and the season looked to be a bust after Barcelona ran off with the league title and the Champions League final sported an all-German playbill. The Copa final with crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid began at a blistering pace, but as it dragged on into an extra 30 minutes, it became scrappy and heated. Both Ronaldo and Mourinho received their marching orders, as did Atletico’s Gabi, but Atletico secured their 10th Copa title and ended a 14-year winless run against Real. Los Blancos ended the season with only the Spanish Super Cup trophy.
New Season, New Beginnings
Madrid saw significant changes over the summer, and these began with introduction of Carlo Ancelotti as manager. The Italian had coached Paris Saint-Germain to a Ligue 1 title the season before coming to Madrid, and he won the Barclays Premier League with Chelsea in 2010 and two Champions League titles with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. With him came an influx of new, young talent in purchases of Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro as well as the full promotion of Jese Rodriguez from Castilla and the recall of Dani Carvajal on loan.
More prominently, Gareth Bale was signed from Tottenham Hotspur after a drawn-out transfer saga for an astronomical €91 million. The Welsh winger took some time to acclimatise to the Spanish capital and struggled for match fitness initially, but he has since settled in and demonstrated why he cost so much.
However, the new beginnings also marked the departures of several other notable players. Kaka returned to his former club AC Milan to seek more playing time in a move that most Madridistas viewed respectfully. Fan favourites Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain were sold to Arsenal and Napoli, respectively, in moves that displeased more fans than Florentino Perez would have hoped.
La Decima Hopes Alive and Kicking
Perez said last week that Madrid fans are “a little obsessed” with claiming a record 10th European Cup, and their chances of accomplishing that feat this season look good. A 6-1 demolition of Galatasary capped by a CR7 hat trick opened the quest for La Decima with aplomb. Madrid then cruised through to the round of 16 with more goals than any other team, led by Ronaldo’s record-setting nine goals in the group stage.
Madrid will face German side Schalke 04 in a matchup that should be comfortable enough. Although current holders Bayern Munich remain an intimidating side in this year’s version, Los Merengues are among the favourites to hoist the trophy in Lisbon.
Cristiano Ronaldo scores … and scores … and scores
Cristiano Ronaldo netted more goals in 2013 than any other player. He has been so consistent in scoring that it is almost expected, but he exceeded his own history and set a personal record for goals scored in a calendar year. Since joining Madrid, he is averaging more than one goal per game and has set such an incredible standard that only Messi can compete with him closely.
The Portuguese winger continued his habit of scoring in Clasico matches, broke a Champions League group stage scoring record, and single-handedly dragged Portugal to the World Cup with a home goal and an away hat trick against Sweden in a stunning performance.
He made it to the three-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or for the third year in a row and has high hopes for the January award ceremony. The 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year faces tough competition from Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery and his longtime rival Messi, but the odds look good for him to hoist the golden ball.