The Spanish armada is ruling the Champions League waves once again. After a brief spell of German dominance, vast fleets of Madridistas will converge on Lisbon in three weekends’ time threatening another period of Spanish rule.
After a boom over the turn of the millennium, with five Spanish sides making the final in five seasons between 1998 and 2002, La Liga struggled for success. Just three of the 22 finalists prior to this year were provided by Spain, although Barcelona won on all three occasions, beating Arsenal in 2006 and Manchester United in 2009 and 2011.
After three successive semi-final exits under Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid finally rediscovered the winning formula on the grandest stage to extend their own record to 13 final appearances and put them close to the holy grail of a 10th title 12 years after their last. Neighbours Atletico will be playing in their second, seeking to improve on their 1974 replay loss to Bayern Munich in Brussels.
Indeed, this season’s final will be the fifth time in which both sides have come from the same country – the second time from Spain. Real Madrid beat Valencia in the first such final in 2000, before Italy (2003), England (2008) and Germany (2013). The success of Spanish sides this season – and Real’s victory over Bayern – contrasts greatly with last spring, when Real and Barcelona were on the receiving end of a combined 11-3 semi-final humbling at the hands of Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.
Those results suggested a period of German dominance, the culmination of the country’s restructuring of youth development. The Bundesliga provided four finalists over the last four seasons, Bayern losing out in 2010 and 2012 before beating compatriots Borussia Dortmund at Wembley last May.
Pep Guardiola’s side ultimately became the latest holders to fail to retain their title, leaving Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan as the last team to hold on to their crown, 24 years ago, but Italian sides have long lost their dominance.