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UEFA Youth League recap: Real Madrid top the group

A point in Brugge was enough to secure top spot.

To most people, a glance at this fixture would suggest an easy game for Real Madrid, but academy football can be a completely different ball game. Juvenil A and Club Brugge’s under-19 are the two top teams in the group, ahead of PSG and Galatasary. If Madrid were to lose this final group game, then they would drop down to second place, complicating their entire tournament. Despite Brugge’s good from, Madrid did best them 3-0 in the home tie. A few Castilla players tagged along for the journey, as Antonio Blanco, Miguel Baeza, Jordi and Pedro Ruiz all started...

Even to Castilla in the third division, this level of football differs tremendously. A 0-0 result is virtually impossible, and technical excellence takes centre stage. It is also very difficult to hide, as I witnessed one player get dismantled first hand during the PSG game a few weeks ago. That player started again today, and looked a lot more sturdy as Madrid took the lead through Castilla winger Jordi. That lead lasted a total of four minutes as Armenteros fouled a Brugge attacker in the area, to give them a penalty. The ever dangerous De Wolf converted with ease to set the scoreline for the half way point. Both teams had a whole host of obscure chances throughout the half, but neither side could add to their opening goals.

The second half was almost identical, but Brugge needed to push forward and pile on the pressure to try and climb to the top. Although highly unlikely, they had also not mathematically qualified yet and needed to avoid a nightmare scenario come the final whistle. Madrid made multiple changes, including bringing on my personal favourite Juvenil A player Pablo Rodríguez. As per usual, it would be Pablo who put Madrid back in the lead after 78 minutes. A classy finish from a tight angle bears no challenge for this talent. It looked like Madrid were going to see out a good victor, until a corner came in during the final seconds, which was headed in by... And I still can’t believe this: goalkeeper Senne Lammens. The score finished 2-2, and Madrid confirmed their place at the top of the group, with Brugge just behind them.

Despite still being a relatively new competition, the UEFA Youth League is something that has eluded Real Madrid for too long now. There is a trophy cabinet for Castilla and the academy at the training ground, with a perfect space for the trophy just waiting. As an academy trophy, it’s no surprise to see clubs such as Red Bull Salzburg and Barcelona on the winners list. But Real Madrid’s academy output is just as prosperous, and they stand up tall against the best youth structures in the world. With a first team that have become obsessed with winning the European cup, triumphing in this mini-version would create the best experiences possible for this group of young players. This season now looks like their best chance yet to finally go all the way. Tottenham, Manchester City, Barcelona and Chelsea are some of the sides that are now out. However, it was Hoffenheim that dumped Madrid out of the cup last year - and every qualified side will be in with a chance at the trophy. This won’t be easy, but there is plenty of reason to be positive going into the knockout rounds.