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Why a 3-1 lead is dangerous for Real Madrid

Having to overturn a 3-1 deficit against the holders will not be the easiest of tasks for Napoli on 7 March – but Real Madrid have surrendered that exact lead several times in the past.

Luis Enrique feels the pain as Real Madrid meet Paris in 1993
Luis Enrique feels the pain as Real Madrid meet Paris in 1993 ©Getty Images

Having to overturn a 3-1 deficit against UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid will not be the easiest of tasks for Napoli on 7 March – but there are some useful precedents to give them hope.

One is a tie Napoli would want to forget: their lone previous round of 16 appearance, against Chelsea in 2011/12, when the Italian side won 3-1 at home only to then lose 4-1 after extra time in London. Yet Madrid's fortunes after winning a home first leg 3-1 are not that much better.

In all, Madrid have previously held such a lead eight times going into UEFA club competition second legs, and have made it through on only four occasions – two of them back in their run of lifting the first five European Cups. That contrasts with the figures showing that overall in UEFA club competition, teams winning 3-1 at home in the first leg have prevailed 254 out of 329 times (77.2%).

We look back at the Merengues' past ties, bookended by two famous meetings with Manchester United.

Madrid won the 1957 European Cup
Madrid won the 1957 European Cup©AFP

1956/57 European Cup semi-finals:
Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester United
Manchester United 2-2 Real Madrid (agg: 3-5)

Defending the trophy they had lifted 12 months earlier in its first season, Madrid came up against Matt Busby's thrilling United 'Babes'. Alfredo Di Stéfano was among the first-leg scorers, before Madrid went 2-0 up in Manchester prior to a stirring United fightback which, while in vain, impressed the visitors' president Santiago Bernabéu so much he offered Busby the job as coach. While that invitation was turned down, the pair struck up a friendship that led to the Spanish club helping raise funds after the Munich air disaster.

1959/60 European Cup semi-finals:
Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona
Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid (agg: 2-6)
Di Stéfano struck twice in the first leg and Ferenc Puskás, after also netting in Madrid, added two in the return as Madrid moved on to Glasgow and the famous 7-3 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt. Barcelona, under Heleno Herrera, had previously taken the Liga title from Madrid and indeed retained it on the eve of the semi-final first leg, but they were swept aside in Europe. Revenge came in the first round the next term when Barcelona finally ended Madrid's unblemished European Cup streak.

Great UEFA Champions League comebacks

1971/72 UEFA Cup second round:
Real Madrid 3-1 PSV Eindhoven
PSV Eindhoven 2-0 Real Madrid (agg: 3-3, PSV win on away goals)
Now began a run of losses for Madrid after 3-1 home first-leg victories. They had beaten PSV in the 1970/71 European Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals but efforts from Eef Mulders and Oeki Hoekema overturned their advantage on this occasion.

1978/79 European Cup second round:
Real Madrid 3-1 Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers 2-0 Real Madrid (agg: 3-3, Grasshoppers win on away goals)

The Zurich club had lost all previous ties against Spanish opposition but had reached the previous season's UEFA Cup semi-finals. Law student and future FIFA Disciplinary Committee chairman Claudio Sulser was Grasshoppers' hero with both second-leg strikes, and in all notched a competition-leading 11 in the European Cup that season.

1981/82 UEFA Cup quarter-final:
Real Madrid 3-1 Kaiserslautern
Kaiserslautern 5-0 Real Madrid (agg: 6-3)
A result that still stands as Madrid's joint-record biggest defeat in Europe. Hans-Peter Briegel was the fulcrum for Kaiserslautern's incredible second-leg triumph in which Friedhelm Funkel wiped out the home side's deficit with two goals in the first 17 minutes, though first-half red cards for San José and Laurie Cunningham, and another late on for Francisco Pineda, hardly helped the Merengues.

1982/83 European Cup Winners' Cup second round:
Real Madrid 3-1 Újpest
Újpest 0-1 Real Madrid (agg: 1-4)
Madrid were to lose the final to Aberdeen but they at least halted their habit of going out after 3-1 home first-leg wins. Santillana registered twice in the first leg and once in Hungary.

1992/93 UEFA Cup quarter-finals:
Real Madrid 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 Real Madrid (agg: 5-4)
David Ginola scored in both legs of a contest that had a dramatic conclusion. Deep into added time in Paris, Iván Zamorano pulled Madrid back to 3-1, seemingly forcing extra time. However, Antoine Kombouaré had other ideas with a trademark header in the dying seconds, just as he had done against Anderlecht in the previous round.

2002/03 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals:
Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester United
Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid (agg: 5-6)
The Old Trafford return is rightly remembered as one of the competition's great games, with Madrid keeping their title defence alive courtesy of a hat-trick that earned Ronaldo a standing ovation from the United faithful. The hosts won on the night thanks to a late double from David Beckham, who had been surprisingly left out of the starting line-up.