There is no overstating how ridiculous Real’s squad is. Isco, a player who just bossed a Champions League semifinal, doesn’t even start for this team when at full strength! James, another player every single team in the world would love to have, can’t get minutes to save his life! Marco Asensio, arguably the single most exciting young Spanish talent in the world, is one of Madrid’s least-used players! Álvaro Morata, the team’s leader in non-penalty goals in league play, has more goals (15) than starts (13)! Mateo Kovačić is also very good and doesn’t play a whole lot! So is Lucas Vázquez! This is not normal!


Credit for much of the building of this historically amazing roster goes to Pérez, who we’ve previously maligned for his odd transfer and management decisions. (Though let’s not pretend like he actually knew what he was doing. Throwing hundreds of millions of Euros around every summer is bound to work eventually if you stick with it long enough. But still, it did work. So good job.) Lots of it also must go to manager and iconic former Galáctico, Zinedine Zidane. Zidane has committed to using the deep bench available to him by constantly rotating the squad. After 35 matches in La Liga, no Madrid player has more than 26 starts. In contrast, six Barça players break that 26-start threshold, and an entire eight do for Atleti.

Rotation to this extreme is often dangerous, as chopping and changing lineups every week can prevent players from forming the instinctual connections between each other that are so necessary for the unit to function as a single, coherent entity. However, Real’s players—the majority of whom have been at the club for many years now—are so accustomed to playing alongside each of their fellow teammates that they still manage to perform at their best even without the continuity you normally see from good teams. Zidane’s implementation of simple, flexible tactics also helps with this dynamic. On top of that, giving so many different players minutes keeps everyone fresh, involved, happy, and allows the team to challenge in every competition during the long, grueling season.


Real’s unbelievable squad is why they can lose quite possibly their best forward, Gareth Bale, plug Isco in as a replacement, and go on to cruise past Atlético in the Champions League semifinal. It’s also why they can start their A-team in the first leg of the Atlético tie, rotate out nearly every single starter from that match during the league game the following weekend to preserve the A-team’s legs for the second leg, and come away victorious on all fronts. And—by learning from the mistakes they made during the first Galácticos era and this time focusing on nabbing nearly every available young star at a range of different positions, not just on signing fully realized flashy attacking types—it’s how they’ve constructed Europe’s most dominant team with a depth of quality we’ve never seen before. Madrid now head into their third Champions League final in four seasons as favorites to win the first back-to-back European trophies since AC Milan in 1990.

Because of this sustained European success, the league title they’re also on track to hoist, and the blindingly bright future of their squad, it’s hard to argue that Real haven’t finally surpassed Barcelona and their nearly omnipotent star, Messi. It didn’t happen exactly like the club envisioned, and luck certainly played a factor (chiefly because of Barça’s own lax attitude toward doing what Real have done so expertly, i.e. proactively suffusing their squad with ever-younger talent to take over for the aging stars of yore). But that doesn’t and shouldn’t matter to Real Madrid’s players and fans. They had to beat the best player in the world to get there, but Real have returned to the pinnacle. To hear them tell it, that’s exactly where they belong.