In four of the last five seasons, the Spanish side have made Europe’s premier club competition their own, losing just one of 20 knockout ties.
But this time, they must do without Cristiano Ronaldo, the competition’s all-time record goalscorer and the man who scored 34 times in those matches.
This time around, Ronaldo will be looking to fire Juventus to glory, having swapped the Spanish capital for Turin last summer, in a £105million move that shocked world football.
The deal was unprecedented, with it’s announcement was some four months in the making – going back to Ronaldo’s role in Juve’s demise last term and the breakdown in relations between he and Florentino Perez.
“When we played in Madrid, Mendes came over to us like it usually happens on Champions League matchdays,” revealed Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici.
“I told him, ‘Cristiano’s scored some incredible goals.’ I still had in my eyes, with admiration and pain, the comeback [Juve coming from three goals down only to lose to an injury-time penalty.
“He looks at me and replies: ‘You won’t believe it but Cristiano, if he changes teams, wants to join Juve. Keep in mind it’s less strange than you may think. We’ll talk about it later.’”
Fast forward three months later, after Real Madrid’s Champions League final victory over Liverpool in Kiev.
Ronaldo had spoken immediately after the game – amid the celebrations of his teammates – and was in sombre mood.
“In the next few days I’ll give an answer to the fans who have always been by my side,” declared Ronaldo. “It was beautiful to be at Real Madrid .”
That night, when the comments were pointed out to Blancos’ president Perez, the outspoken former politician hit back: “Now is not the time for individual issues; the club is more important than anyone.
“I am glad he has five European Cups, like me. The same thing is heard every summer and then nothing happens.”
The stance was clear. Not that Ronaldo was not more important than the club, but rather that he was no more important to the successes than the president; that his 450 goals – at an average of more than one per game – and all his successes were no more important than Perez.
Speaking 24 hours later, Ronaldo revealed he regretted the timing – but not the message.
“I spoke when I shouldn’t have done but something is going to happen. It wasn’t the right time, but I was honest. “In a week I’ll say something because the fans have always supported me and are in my heart. I don’t speak much, but when I speak, I speak.
“Obviously I have something to say, but it wasn’t the right time, although I don’t regret it, because I was honest. I’ve kept putting up with this but then I couldn’t control myself.
“This has been coming for a long time. Money is not the problem.”
Rather, the problem was Perez.
Ronaldo, having been signed by Perez’s predecessor, Ramon Calderon, had never truly a been a Perez favourite and amid claims he had broken his word over a new contract following the 2017 final in Cardiff , a relationship that had grown increasingly strained in 2017-18 was now destroyed beyond repair.
With Zinedine Zidane departing after a trio of Champions League triumphs and the continued flirtations from Perez towards Neymar, Ronaldo’s mind was made up.
The only question now was where to go, and at the end of June, Paratici found himself with Mendes again, as Juve sealed a €40million deal for Joao Cancelo.
“I found myself at Linate’s private flight airport with Mendes and Giovanni Branchini [another agent] to close a deal for the phenomenon Cancelo, which was a no-brainer,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Mendes looked at me again. Now it was clear that he was serious: ‘Remember the other thing – you’ll see Ronaldo leave Madrid.
“‘I’ll tell you clearly the player only wants to sign for Juve. He played for Manchester United , who are the biggest English team, then Real Madrid. He only plays for teams with history. He’s never played in Italy, he wants to win the Italian title too.
“If you want him, he’s there.’”
That led to further talks, Mendes laying his cards on the table: “This is the salary, this is the transfer fee” and Paratici asked for a few days.
Paratici took the terms back to Juventus ‘ chiefs, most notably chairman Andrea Agnelli, who initially asked for a couple of days to think about it himself.
At a shareholders meeting in 2014, Agnelli had been lambasted by fans for failing to sign a big name player that summer, having lost coach Antonio Conte just months into pre-season after his declaration that “you can’t eat in a €100 restaurant with only €10 in your pocket.”
Agnelli’s response at the time had been: “One day, we will be able to sign players like Cristiano Ronaldo .”
This was his opportunity, and while it meant loosening the purse-strings considerably, Agnelli realised that this could be the ultimate in terms of the ‘speculate to accumulate’ priniciple.
Within three hours Agnelli had returned to Paratici and a hastily-arranged shareholders meeting was quickly put in place.
Swiftly, the decision was made and the ball began to roll on an £105million transfer and the Portuguese superstar’s eye-watering £26.5million-a-year contract at the Allianz Stadium.
On July 4, reports first started to come out that Juve were plotting their move and the following day Mendes flew to Madrid to meet with Perez and Jose Angel Sanchez, in a bid to secure Ronaldo’s exit.
Afterwards, Mendes stoked the fire, declaring when asked about a move: “If that happens, it would only be to start a new stage in his career, to undertake a new challenge in what has been a brilliant career.”
And six days later, Real Madrid confirmed a fee had been agreed with Juve, to take Ronaldo to Turin.
What followed was a share price that rose 35 per cent in the next eight days, a major spike in social media activity – gaining 1.4 million Instagram followers, 1.1 million Twitter followers and an extra 500,000 likes on their Facebook page over his opening weekend at the club – and then his grand unveiling on ‘#CR7Day’.
All in, it will almost certainly, record revenues when the Italian side announce figures for the 2018-19 season.
On the field, Ronaldo has already found the net on 20 occasions his latest strike coming in the 3-0 win at Sassuolo, as Juve extended their lead atop Serie A to 11 points, still unbeaten after 23 matches.
More important however is what’s to come, with Juve’s Champions League obsession having only grown after two finals in the last four years and Ronaldo having shot them down in each of the last two seasons.
That desire was foremost in minds when the decision to land the biggest goal poacher in the game was made, tge club desperate for a first European crown in 23 years and counting.
“I know the competition will be tough, but we have to be calm and focused because it’s not easy to win the Champions League,” he told reporters at his unveiling.
“Of course I want to try to help, Juventus have been one step away from it and couldn’t win. Even if you get to the final it’s not certain you’ll win, but I hope I can be the lucky charm.”
As the competition returns at the round of 16, with Juve preparing to meet Atletico Madrid next week, if Ronaldo fires them to success he will have been worth every penny.
Juve spent big to turn their dream into a reality. And if Ronaldo does just that, then it will be a nightmare for Perez.