Real Madrid continues strong Champions League start, overpowers largely Pulisic-less Dortmund

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Here are some competing statistics for you. Of the last 10 Champions League winners, seven also won their domestic league that season. Yet during Real Madrid’s ongoing dynasty of three European crowns in four years, it has claimed La Liga just once — last year.

This year, things aren’t looking good for Zinedine Zidane’s side on that front either. In its first six league games of the season, Real has already spilled seven points. Remarkably, all of them have come at home — ties with Valencia and Levante and a loss to Real Betis. On the road, meanwhile, Real is perfect with victories against Deportivo La Coruna, Real Sociedad and Alaves.

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Real is also perfect in the Champions League thus far, where it pursues a 13th title, while nobody else has more than seven. Tuesday’s 3-1 away win at Borussia Dortmund, which only fielded the American teenaged phenom Christian Pulisic for an anonymous final 15 minutes, followed a 3-0 rout of APOEL in Los Blancos’ opener.

In Dortmund, Real enjoyed some of that luck that has eluded it domestically. Because Sergio Ramos might well have been sent off for a handball early in the game but wasn’t. Dortmund should surely have gotten a penalty on that play but didn’t. Gareth Bale scored a wonder goal to break the home team’s resistance. Raphael Varane cleared a ball off the line early in the second half. And Die Borussen blew several chances to get back into the game, before Real put it away.

But let’s talk some more about Real’s seeming inability to consistently win at home and on the continent at the same time. Recent history suggests that a good team domestically was also a good team continentally — provided you came from one of the four major leagues, of course. So why has this kind of success on two fronts eluded Real?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale had Real Madrid humming in the Champions League. (
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale had Real Madrid humming in the Champions League. (

It hasn’t helped that Barcelona has had a dynasty of its own, becoming Spanish champions six times in nine years. The arch-rivals from Catalonia won it in 2016, while Real conquered Europe again. In 2014, Atletico Madrid’s miracle season kept Real from the league title — and took the Champions League final to extra time.

But in the age of the super team, it’s also worth asking if it’s simply becoming a good deal harder to win two major, season-long competitions. In Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico, Real has three strong teams to worry about in addition to Barcelona. This is becoming a theme in the other big leagues as well — Germany, England and Italy. Whereas all of those leagues were monopolies or duopolies at some point in the very recent past, all now have a small handful of legitimate title contenders.

A run to the Champions League final packs 13 games on top of an already-congested domestic season. Logistically, it’s becoming ever trickier to compete well on both fronts.

Tuesday’s contest felt like a microcosm of that development. Dortmund is off to its best Bundesliga start ever with five wins and a tie. But it was largely outplayed by a Real team that has stumbled out of the gate in La Liga. The roles, in that sense, were reversed in Europe from what they were in their home leagues.

Still, Real was a tad fortunate. In the 14th minute, on a Dortmund breakaway, Andriy Yarmolenko lifted his cross over the head of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But it was volleyed on goal by Maximilian Philipp, whose effort from a hopeless angle was pawed away by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and onto the hand of Ramos. It was a split-second play. He had hardly any time to react. But his hands were also up in an unnatural position. It should have been a penalty. And at least a yellow card.

And just four minutes later, Real went ahead. Dani Carvajal dropped a ball into Bale, who volleyed it past the helpless Roman Burki with a magnificent finish.

It was a pleasing game, with both teams creating chances. After halftime, Dortmund again went close only for Real to score almost immediately thereafter. Following Varane’s aforementioned clearance, Cristiano Ronaldo got the first of his two goals to mark his 400th game for Real. He ran away from the defense and met Bale’s low cross.

Five minutes later, in the 54th, Aubameyang dragged his side back into the match by karate-kicking Julian Castro’s service past Navas.

But Ronaldo finished the game off in the 79th minute, smashing in the third for his side after he was launched by Luka Modric. He had Marco Asensio wide open to his left but Burki left too much room at his near post and Ronaldo capitalized. That made it an unfathomable 411 goals in his Real career — again, in just 400 games.

It all felt fairly routine for Real in the end, just as its league games have mostly been anything but that. Because one of Real’s campaigns is perfectly on track, and the other is not.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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