European fixtures away from Spanish shores against German club sides invoke the fondest of reminisces for everyone associated with Real Madrid – just as long as we’re talking about the ones played in Scotland. Glasgow’s Hampden Park has been the venue for two of Madrid’s most celebrated European Cup wins and on both occasions German clubs – Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960 and Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 – proved accommodating fall-guys in narratives that served to further embellish Real Madrid’s glittering European Cup story.
But while games against German teams in Glasgow have brought joy, spectacular goals and era-defining performances; the far more frequent encounters with German teams in Germany have brought only bewilderment, misery and a sobering number of hefty shellackings. Probably conscious that UEFA would be sniffy at the prospect of them switching all future away games against German clubs to Glasgow, the Spanish giants are forced to endure the ritually humbling experience that their regular trips to Germany have historically proven to be.
When Carlo Ancelotti’s side travel to face Schalke 04 upon resumption of this season’s Champions League, this will be the 26th European fixture Real Madrid has played in Germany. Just one of those previous 25 encounters resulted in a Madrid win, a scarcely credible stat considering this is the most successful side in European competition history we’re talking about. Madrid’s strong record at the Bernabeu against German opposition suggests there is no hoodoo per se, but there does seem to be some sort of mental block when playing on German soil.
At one time or another Madrid has lost in Germany to nine of the ten Bundesliga and Oberliga sides they have faced. The club’s first visit there in 1966 as reigning European champions to play Munich 1860 ended in defeat, as did their most recent trip to face Dortmund in the semi-final of last season’s Champions League. With an overall record of 18 losses from those 25 visits, it’s fair to say that most of the games in between have been little more rewarding either. The city of Munich has been a particular footballing graveyard for Los Merengues with their eleven visits to play 1860 and Bayern yielding nothing better than a paltry draw to sit alongside those other ten defeats. Their single success in Germany came at Leverkusen in 2000, and even that 3-2 win was of no great significance coming in a broadly inconsequential Champions League group stage game.
Unsurprisingly considering their awful record there, some of Madrid’s most torrid European hammerings have been dished out by rampant Bundesliga opposition. The 1980s was a particularly desperate decade with Madrid conceding five goals on three different visits between 1980 and 1985 alone, with each game marred by poor discipline brought on by frustration at their own ineptness. The UEFA Cup defeat at Kaiserslautern in the 1981-82 season set a particularly low watermark. Madrid travelled to Germany defending a 3-1 lead from the first leg, but their resistance and composure in the return crumbled as early as the 7th minute when keeper Agustin threw in an opener for the home team. The remaining 83 minutes brought almost as many red cards for the Spaniards (3) as further unanswered goals from Kaiserslautern (4) and Real Madrid had suffered what is still their joint worst-ever European defeat.
Being aware of this odd statistical anomaly is one thing; trying to understand the rationale behind Madrid’s apparent Germanophobia is somewhat harder to pin down. Jose Mourinho offered up his thoughts last season: “The reason Madrid have not thrived historically in Germany is down to the quality of the opposition. If they did not come from a country with a strong footballing tradition, it would be different,” he stated at a press conference, just before his Madrid charges further reinforced their wretched record with a thumping 4-1 defeat to Dortmund. It’s a reasonable stab at the truth by Madrid’s former coach but one that doesn’t explain why Madrid have done perfectly well at home against the same opponents, or why they have a substantially better away record against teams from European Leagues of comparable quality to the Bundesliga.
This season Madrid will be firm favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals at the expense of a patchy Schalke 04 side, but don’t be surprised if the nine-time winners have plenty of work to do in the second-leg back at the Bernabeu.
See some of Real Madrid’s German humblings at our Real Madrid in Germany On Film video page.