The preseason is finally coming to an end. After what feels like much longer than three weeks, Real Madrid will wrap up their 2019/20 preamble with a match against Roma on Sunday before their first league match against Celta Vigo next weekend. It’s been a pretty mixed bag for Zidane’s men so far with the recent win against Red Bull Salzburg set against a backdrop of humiliating losses, dysfunctional wins and a large body count. In that sense, Italy is the perfect place for Real to end their preseason as its long history of visiting Mediterranean coast and playing its team have yielded similar takeaways.
Spain vs Italy has always been one of international’s football premier sporting rivalries, dating all the way back to the 1920 Olympic games where La Roja won sliver after beating Italy in the quarter finals. Though Spain have asserted themselves as the stronger side in recent showings, much of the historic rivalry has seen those roles reversed with Italy dominating the head-to-head and recording some controversial victories along the way. In fact, it took Spain 88 years to record a second victory over the Azzurri in a competitive tournament, knocking them out in the Euro 2008 quarter finals on penalties.
Though not exactly like their national team counterparts. LaLiga and Serie A enjoy a similarly storied and heated rivalry with Real Madrid, as Spain’s most veteraned presence in Europe, often the protagonist. Two of European’s competition most common matchups feature Real Madrid facing an Italian team (AC Milan and Juventus). Real Madrid vs Juventus is the second most played fixture in European history, though 18 of its 21 matches were played across the 1990s. Currently, Real Madrid lead the way in wins with 10, though none of these victories were straightforward and were often bittersweet as defeat in the second game often came with heavy consequences. Up until their 4-3 aggregate win against the Old Lady two seasons ago, Real Madrid had never beaten Juventus in a Champions knockout tie, a record spanning four separate ties and eight games. This was largely down to Los Blancos to get a result away, winning just one of their six knockout visits to Turin and losing the other five.
As much as Turin has been the location of recent heartache, Milan has been the much more traumatic city for Madrid historically. Los Blancos have played AC Milan 16 times in their history, the most famous meeting being the 1958 European Cup final which Real Madrid won after extra time. The game is often cited as the 50s generation most challenging final due to how well the Rossoneri played and little has changed in the intervening years.
In their last 12 European matches against Milan, Madrid have won only four of them. Among the five defeats they have suffered, was a 5-0 hammering against Arrigo Sacchi’s team in 1988, it remains the club’s heaviest European away defeat. Another defeat to Milan the following season spelt the symbolic beginning of the end for the Quinta del Buitre at Real Madrid. Just two decades earlier, defeat to Inter Milan had also ended another dominant dynasty at the club.
Few sides got under Real’s skin like Internazionale did in the 1960s. Led by former Barcelona manager, Helanio Herrara, Inter swept aside Real Madrid in the 1964 European Cup final with a convincing 3-1 win in Vienna. The defeat startled the club into action and began a mass clear out of the five in row European Cup winning side, Alfredo Di Stefano among those to call the match his last game for Madrid. When the two team’s met again in the semi-finals two years later, only Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento had survived.
It’s not all negative for Madrid in Italy, of course. Part of the club’s identity was also been born from meetings with Italian sides, “90 minutes in the Bernabeu is a long time” was first uttered by Juanito after a 3-1 defeat to Inter Milan in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup. Real Madrid won the second leg 5-1 and the phrase has become knitted into the club’s identity ever since. Sunday night’s opponent represent a more positive experience for Madrid in Italy as well, ending a number of longstanding Italian hoodoos in 2015/16 on their way to winning the Champions League in Milan of all places.
This is undoubtedly a little too much digging for a preseason game, but the competitive campaign rarely offers us a chance to look back and appreciate how far we’ve come, not to mention that a mixed preseason ending in a country where Real Madrid have a unique history of mixed emotions overlaps a little too nicely to pass up on discussing. Ultimately, what one might take from this little history lesson is the ability of this particular squad to rise above pass failings for the optimist and the sirens call that many special teams have heard following defeat in Italy for the pessimist. I know which I prefer.