How many times has a team come from behind to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League?
In the Champions League era, Real Madrid have been eliminated from the tournament just five times after taking a first leg lead.
When it comes to some of the greatest comebacks in European football, it’s usually Real Madrid who have defied the odds, staging epic turnarounds that have become ingrained in club folklore. But there have also been incidents when the Spanish giants have let a first leg advantage slip away from them - a rare occurrence during recent years. It’s happened just five times with four different clubs showing that all is not lost even after losing the first leg.
In the past, Madrid have been knocked out on the old away goals rule after taking a first leg lead but that rule was abolished last season and no longer counts.
In the 2021/22 Champions League, Ancelotti’s Madrid clawed their way back from the edge of elimination twice during the knockout stage - overturning first leg deficits against PSG and Manchester City. The 14-time winners have built a reputation on the art of the comeback, they are the true masters of it. But let’s take a look at the times when the boot was on the other foot - the rare occasions when Los Blancos have been sent packing after their opponents came from behind to win a tie.
Real Madrid were drawn against four-time European champions Ajax in the Last 16 of the 2018/19 edition. Madrid went into the tie as favourites - they were the cup holders and facing opponents that had not made it to the knockout round in 13 years. In Amsterdam, Madrid cruised to a comfortable 1-2 win with goals from Benzema and Asensio and with two away goals under their belt, the return at the Bernabéu looked a formality.
But the smallest details can have major consequences in this tournament. Sergio Ramos went into the first leg making his 600th appearance for the club and just one booking away from suspension. On 88 minutes, with the game more or less wrapped up, the Madrid captain went in excessively hard on Kasper Dolberg and was subsequently shown a yellow card. He foolishly admitted that he deliberately sought to be booked so that he would serve a ban and be card-free for the quarter finals onwards. But that didn’t go down well with UEFA who, after an investigation, served the captain a two-game suspension.
So Ramos missed the return leg at the Bernabéu and from the VIP lounge, watched Eric ten Hag’s young Ajax side tear Madrid apart. The Dutch side were 0-3 up by the hour as it ended 1-4 on the whistle, 5-3 on aggregate and Madrid, the defending champions were out.
Bayern Munich overturned a first leg defeat to eliminate Madrid in the Round of 16 in 2006/7. Raúl and Van Nistelrooy found the net for Fabio Capello’s side with Lucio pulling one back for the visitors in a frenetic game at the Bernabéu. Mark van Bommel blasted in a half volley with two minutes left on the clock to make it 3-2 with what turned out to be a vital away goal.
In the return leg a couple of weeks later, Bayern opened up an early lead with Roy Makaay slotting home within the first 10 seconds. Lucio nodded the Germans 2-0 from a corner on the hour and while Van Nistelrooy levelled the tie from the spot in the dying minutes, it ended 4-4 on aggregate and Capello’s troops bowed out on away goals.
All things being equal, Fabio Capello had experienced the opposite - a comeback as the visiting coach two years before his arrival on the Madrid bench. His Juventus side played out an intensely close Last 16 first leg at the Bernabéu in February 2005. A solitary Iván Helguera goal was all that separated the two teams on full-time and the Italian didn’t seem too put out with that. In the return leg in Turin, Juve proved too strong for Madrid. David Trezeguet levelled the tie on 75 minutes and Zalayeta won it deep into extra-time.
Arguably the most famous comeback that left Madrid out of Europe and a particularly embarrassing elimination as it was a madridista, who was out on loan, that dealt the killer blow. Up until February, Carlos Queiroz’s Galácticos had been flying high and were on for the treble - eight points clear at the top of the table, into the Copa del Rey final with Monaco standing between them a place in the Champions League semis. In March, it all started to go horribly wrong.
Lining up for Monaco in that fateful quarter final was Fernando Morientes who had joined the club a few months earlier on a one-year loan. Sébastien Squillaci gave the visitors a first-half lead at the Bernabéu but Madrid came out with all guns blazing in the second half and raced to a 4-1 lead through Helguera, Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo. But a lapse in concentration at the back meant that Madrid’s defence failed to pick up Morientes who was allowed a free header with seven minutes left to play. It ended 4-2 on full-time but Madrid still had a two-goal advantage to take to Stade Louis II.
The return leg turned into a fiasco. Raúl had increased Madrid’s lead on the hour half but Guily replied, volleying home in stoppage-time, making the aggregate score 3-5. The second half had barely started when Monaco took the lead - a looping header from you know who - Morientes. Didier Deschamps’ side needed another goal. It arrived on 66 minutes, Guily flicking in a loose ball in the box to make it 3-1 on the night, 4-4 on aggregate, and Madrid, who had started the month eyeing the treble, knocked out of two cup competitions in a matter of days. And the most painful part was that it was Morientes’ goals in both legs that did the damage.
Madrid faced Juventus in the 2002/3 semi-final - a special moment for Zidane who would be facing his old club for the first time since his move to the Spanish capital. Ronaldo rifled Madrid in front then Trezeguet pulled one back on half-time. Madrid struggled to find a way past Buffon and it took a trademark Roberto Carlos thunderbolt to beat the Juve keeper as the first leg finished in the balance at 2-1.
In Turin, Madrid were outclassed and overrun. Juve stormed to a 3-0 lead with Trezeguet, Del Piero and Nedved finding the target. Zidane’s late consolation goal was not enough, as he and Madrid were dumped out by his old team mates.
Juventus proved Madrid’s undoing in the 1995/6 edition - 30 years after the Spanish club’s last title. Raúl had given Madrid a slender lead in the first leg in Spain but there was no contest when the two teams returned to decide the tie in Italy. A Del Piero free-kick, guided through the Madrid wall and a late strike from Michele Padovano turned the tie in Juve’s favour.