Soccer Football - Champions League - Real Madrid Training - Celtic Park, Glasgow, Britain - September 5, 2022 Real Madrid's Karim Benzema during training Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

It is fair to say every Celtic fan is still on an almighty high after Saturday’s trouncing 4-0 win over Rangers and understandably so. However, the colossal games just keep on coming for Ange Postecoglou and his team as they make their long-awaited return to the Champions League on Tuesday evening in a match that couldn’t get any bigger. 

Holders and arguably the best team in the world, Real Madrid, will visit Glasgow’s east end and in this piece (although you probably know a lot about them already), we’ll be profiling the Spanish giants by looking at the club’s background, recent form and a player (or probably players in this case) you should keep an eye on. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Club background

Founded 14 years after Celtic in 1902, Real Madrid is one of the world’s greatest football clubs. ‘Los Blancos’ (The Whites) have won a colossal 122 major honours throughout their history to back this up with their most recent triumphs coming in this very competition and resultantly, the UEFA Super Cup where they defeated Frankfurt by two goals to nil in August.

As you probably know, they play their football at the world-renowned Santiago Bernabeu, which holds 81,044 supporters, although once the current renovation is complete, will be able to seat 85,000 spectators.

As a result of said upgrade, though, the stadium can only hold a reduced capacity at the minute, which in turn has halved Celtic’s away allocation to 1,800 for the match day six clash in November.

Nonetheless, it is a ground which has been home to some of football’s foremost players, including Alfredo Di Stefano, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo and someone who is actually of distant connection to Celtic, Ferenc Puskas.

The Hungarian goalscoring machine was in Madrid for eight years yet his relation with the Hoops came in his managerial career when Ange Postecoglou played under him at South Melbourne between 1989 and 1992. The Australian has spoke widely of his relationship with Puskas, recently saying:

“I am sure he would have taken great pride in seeing somebody he had a big influence over on leading a side out against them [Real Madrid].”

Now that we’ve discussed Real Madrid the football club, let’s take a look at how they’ve been getting on in recent times.

Recent form

As mentioned, Real Madrid are the holders of the Champions League. They won the competition for a record fourteenth time back in May when they triumphed 1-0 against Liverpool in Paris. That same 2021/22 season, the club also won back La Liga from city rivals Atletico Madrid to make Carlo Ancelotti’s first season back in charge of Real a hugely prosperous one.

And so far, his latest campaign as boss at the Bernabeu has went swimmingly.

Other than a 1-0 friendly loss to Barcelona and 2-2 draw with Mexican side CF America, Real have been impeccable.

They defeated Juventus 2-0 in their final pre-season match before winning by the same score line against Frankfurt in the Super Cup. In the league, ‘Los Blancos’ have begun their title defence flawlessly. In their opening four matches, they have managed to pick up maximum points, winning 2-1, 4-1, 3-1 and 2-1 against Almeria, Celta Vigo, Espanyol and Real Betis respectively.

Although an aggregate scoreline of 11-4 in Madrid’s favour seems impressive, their performances haven’t been the most convincing.

Against Almeria on the opening weekend of La Liga, they were a goal behind from the sixth minute until Lucas Vazquez’s leveller just after the hour. David Alaba would then bag the winner with 15 to play through a piece of individual brilliance from a free kick. It is fair to say this was somewhat of a laborious win for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, similar to that of their victory over Espanyol a few weeks later.

It looked as though it would be a routine win for Real in Catalonia when Vinicius Jr opened the scoring 12 minutes in however Joselu’s equaliser just before half time threw a spanner in the works. After this, the score would stay at one a piece until two minutes from time when Karim Benzema side-footed in at the back post. Pressure was relieved from the champions’ shoulders with this goal and it was Benzema once more who made sure of the points deep into stoppage time from a free kick.

In their most recent match, Real hosted one of Celtic’s many European foes from last season, Real Betis. Similarly to their previous match, Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early on however Sergio Canales’ low strike from inside the box levelled the score on the 17th minute. As time went on, the hosts would continue to yearn for their second which would come 25 minutes from time thanks to Rodrygo. 2-1 is how the game would finish as Real made sure they would go into Tuesday’s clash off the back of a victory.

These early season wins from Real Madrid undoubtedly contrast Celtic’s league form thus far in 2022/23 in which the Hoops have made a storming start to the season, scoring 25 goals to the reply of only one compared to ‘Los Blancos’ who have had to strive for their victories. Moreover, Tuesday’s visitors to Glasgow do appear to be rather vulnerable at the back and with a full capacity Celtic Park creating the atmosphere it does on a Champions League night, you wouldn’t bet against the Bhoys netting a goal or two.

However, whilst Celtic may be in better shape in terms of being well oiled and sharp as a tac this early in the season, Real Madrid, after all, are the European champions and possess some of the best players in the world, two of which we’ll now go on to discuss in further detail.

Ones to watch – Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr

It is hard not to cherry pick the whole Real Madrid squad when mentioning players you should be keeping a close eye on come Tuesday evening because outlets such as Luka Modric, Rodrygo, Aurelien Tchouameni and David Alaba could undoubtedly do damage.

However two of the foremost attacking outlets in Carlo Ancelotti’s side are Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior.

We’ll start with the former and it is fair to say that in the past few years, Benzema has established himself as Real Madrid’s talisman. Last season, he netted a colossal 44 goals in all competitions, 15 of which coming in just 12 Champions League matches as he ended 2021/22 as the competition’s top scorer. The same accolade was awarded to him in La Liga where the Frenchman was also the second top assister last campaign with 12. It is no surprise many have Benzema down as the favourite for the next Balon d’Or which will be dished out in October.

The 34 year old’s statistics speak for themselves and as the years go on, Benzema seems to be ageing like a fine wine having started this season shiningly, scoring three goals and assisting one in four La Liga appearances.

Some of his core strengths include his clinical finishing ability, optimum football intelligence, capacity to link the play by making some sublime passes and his capability in the air. That’s not to mention Benzema’s leadership (he is now first in line to the Real captaincy) and calmness and composure in pressurised situations. I think it is fair to say he is one of, if not the, best number nine in world football right now.

Yet another prominent attacking outlet for Real Madrid on Tuesday evening will be Brazilian winger Vinicius Jr. The 22 year old predominantly plays on the left wing and signed for Real from Flamengo as a teenager with the capital club shelling out a substantial £40m fee on him in the summer of 2018.

And it is a figure which Vinicius has practically repaid his side having netted the winner in last season’s Champions League final along with 38 other Madrid goals. He’s also assisted 45 in the 175 appearances he’s made for the Spanish champions in just over three years.

In terms of play style, Vinicius, as you would expect from any high performing winger, has profound dribbling ability, possesses a wide range of skills, flicks and tricks yet is also a chief passer and finisher. All of the above is what makes the Brazilian one of the hottest prospects in world football right now with Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland the only two players to have a greater market value than him on Transfermarkt.

We could go on to name countless other members of the Real Madrid squad who stick out although keeping it at two just now seems reasonable in order to restrain your anxieties.

Overall conclusion

Prior to the Champions League group stage draw being made, many Celtic fans were eager to see Real Madrid come to Parkhead and they have finally got their wish.

Tuesday evening’s match will be only the third competitive meeting of the sides and despite the glamour, superstars and might of Real Madrid, many inside the Hoops’ camp will, granted, respect the reigning European champions but believe they can at least score, expose Real’s slight defensive vulnerability and potentially even get a result. After all, that’s what football is all about and if you’re not on that park to compete, what is the point in turning up?

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