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Real Madrid kept Champions League respectability without Ronaldo, Messi-less Barcelona could not

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The Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo era was one of the greatest in the history of Spanish football, yet everyone knew that it would one day come to an end, however with both players having now left their respective clubs in LaLiga, it’s worth looking at who has fared better in the Champions League.

Barcelona lost Messi less than six months ago and already find themselves in the Europa League having finished third in their Champions League group.

Barcelona only scored goals against Dynamo Kiev throughout the group stage, failing to find the net against either Bayern Munich or Benfica in four matches.

The level of attacking output has dropped since Messi departed, and that can’t be a surprise, but the way the rest of the team has appeared to collapse has taken many at the Camp Nou by surprise.

Ronaldo left but Real Madrid survived

In the summer of 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo departed Real Madrid after helping Los Blancos win the Champions League in 2017/18.

He signed for Juventus and Real Madrid were left to negotiate their next Champions League campaign without the player who had been their talisman for the better part of a decade.

Having not lost a Champions League knockout tie for over three years, Real Madrid would ease through their group of Roma, Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow before suffering a shock defeat to Ajax in the round of 16.

Winning 2-1 in Amsterdam in the first-leg appeared to bring complacency to Santiago Solari‘s side, and with Sergio Ramos suspended they would suffer a harrowing 4-1 defeat at home to the Dutch team.

Another Round of 16 failure

The 2019/20 season was the year when Los Blancos were supposed to put their failure of a year earlier behind them, although they were handed a difficult group on paper.

Los Merengues and PSG easily qualified, but it was the Spanish giants who had the misfortune of finishing second, ensuring they had to play Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the round of 16.

This two-legged tie played over six-months due to the outbreak of COVID-19, would be perhaps the lowest moment of the post-Ronaldo era, as Los Blancos were simply outclassed.

They could barely lay a glove on the English side and the lack of attacking firepower was clear.

A resurgence under Zidane

The 2020/21 campaign was the third season without Ronaldo and Real Madrid were now fully used to not having him around.

The club would rally under Zinedine Zidane and reach their first semi-final since Ronaldo left, before being beaten by a well-organised Chelsea team who would go onto win the tournament.

Los Blancos’ record shows that it takes time to adjust to life after losing a generation talent like Messi and Ronaldo, but the stronger foundations at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu allowed the club to avoid a catastrophic drop into the Europa League, whilst Barcelona‘s collapse appears to have proven they were literally being propped up by the Argentine.

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