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Champions League: Five times it has saved Real Madrid's season

Out of the Copa del Rey and 19 points behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona, Europe is Real's only hope of success - not for the first time.

Champions League: Five times it has saved Real Madrid's season
Diario AS

La Undécima (2015/16)

Just as he had as a player - it was his stunning volley that secured the European title in 2002 - Zinedine Zidane the coach led Real Madrid to Champions League glory at the first attempt. With the team third in LaLiga and out of the Copa del Rey after fielding the ineligible Denis Cheryshev at Cádiz, Zidane took over from the sacked Rafa Benítez in January and, under the Frenchman, Real clawed back a 12-point gap to finish just one behind league winners Barcelona. However, it was Europe that ensured smiles on Madridista faces come May - if not without a scare along the way: after seeing off Roma in the last 16, an epic, Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired comeback was required to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against VfL Wolfsburg. Manchester City were then beaten in the last four, before the final against Atlético Madrid - just two years after victory over their city rivals in the decider in Lisbon - saw Real prevail on penalties to claim a trophy that was the springboard for their LaLiga-Champions League double the following year.

La Undécima (2016).
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La Undécima (2016).Javier Gandul

La Octava (1999/2000)

This was also a Champions League triumph that came on the back of a mid-season change of coach: John Toshack was fired in November for telling reporters there was "more chance of a pig flying over the Bernabéu" than him taking back public criticism of his players - after being asked to do just that by Real's president, Lorenzo Sanz. "If he said that, I'll sack him right away," was Sanz's reaction when informed of the remarks. He was as good as his word, and handed the reins to Vicente del Bosque. The Spaniard, then a coach in the club's youth set-up, could not save Real Madrid's league campaign, Los Merengues finishing fifth, seven points behind champions Deportivo La Coruña. In the Copa, meanwhile, Real were knocked out by eventual winners Espanyol in the semi-finals. But it was the Champions League that again rescued the capital club's season: Manchester United and Bayern Munich were defeated in the quarters and semis, respectively, before La Octava was secured with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Valencia in the final in Paris.

La Octava (2000)
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La Octava (2000)Diario AS

La Séptima (1997/98)

Jupp Heynckes' Real Madrid side finished down in third in LaLiga in 1997/98, a full 11 points off runaway champions Barcelona, while a disastrous Copa del Rey campaign brought last-16 elimination at the hands of second-tier Alavés. Only the European Cup could save their season, but that was easier said than done; after all, Los Blancos had not won the trophy for a whopping 32 years. A Real dressing room with a reputation for running itself set its sights on European glory, and, after beating Bayer Leverkusen in the quarters and holders Borussia Dortmund in the last four, found themselves up against Juventus in the final. The Vecchia Signora were the continent's strongest team, and had Zidane in their ranks, but Predrag Mijatovic's goal, which even today provokes furious debate over whether it was offside or not, won La Séptima in Amsterdam - and saw an ordeal of a season end with wild celebrations on the streets of the Spanish capital.

La Séptima (1998)
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La Séptima (1998)Diario AS

La Sexta (1965/66)

With Alfredo Di Stéfano now gone, Real Madrid had suffered a quarter-final exit the previous campaign and, in a tournament they had won in each of its first five years, were not the all-conquering force they had once been. However, a team of Spaniards found its way back to the final in 1966 and, at the showpiece event in Brussels, saw off Partizan Belgrade 2-1 courtesy of goals by Amancio Amaro and Fernando Serena. Having finished second in the league, one point off Atlético Madrid, and been dumped out of the Copa del Generalísimo quarter-finals by Real Betis, it was the only success that Miguel Muñoz's men would savour that season.

La Sexta (1966).
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La Sexta (1966).Diario AS

La Primera (1955/56)

Real Madrid's love affair with the tournament began with a continental title that rescued an otherwise thoroughly unremarkable season. Coached by José Villalonga, Real came third in the Spanish league, 10 points shy of champions Athletic Club, who had also accounted for Los Blancos in the semi-finals of the Copa. However, all that was forgotten when they were crowned winners of the first ever European Cup by beating Stade Reims 4-3 in Paris.

La Primera (1956).
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La Primera (1956).Diario AS

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