Why are Real Madrid playing at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano and not Santiago Bernabeu?

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Real Madrid host Chelsea tonight in a mouth-watering first leg of their Champions League semi-final, but such an occasion will be played out in slightly more modest surroundings.

Despite two of European football’s biggest sides facing off for a place in European football’s biggest match, the game will be played at theEstadio Alfredo Di Stefano and not at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here’s a look at the reasons why, and what impact it could have...

Why aren’t Real Madrid playing at the Santiago Bernabeu?

Renovation works at the Santiago Bernabeu began in the 2019/20 season and were due to be stepped up in the summer as part of the club’s ambitious plans to modernise their famous home and have El Nuevo Bernabéu ready in time for the 2022-23 season.

The project will see the stadium fitted witha space-age shell all in shiny metal and a retractable roof to cover the pitch, while a number of leisure facilities will be added to improve the matchday experience for fans.

When Spain went into lockdown due to Covid-19 and it was clear that there would be no football with fans for the foreseeable future, Madrid decided to crack on with the renovations in order to ensure the project is ready in time for 2022.

Part of the works have taken place inside the ground, making it impossible to play in there - and Real have been playing at the Di Stefano since June 2020.

Where is the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano and which team usually plays there?

The Di Stefano is based at Real Madrid’s training complex in Valdebebas, an area in the north of Spain’s capital. The stadium is usually used by the club’s youth team, Castilla.

Inaugurated on May 9, 2006 with Madrid legend Di Stefano (who passed away in 2014) present, the ground has the same pitch measurements as the Santiago Bernabeu and capacity for 6,000 fans.


What have Real Madrid’s players said about the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano?

Before the switch was made, captain Sergio Ramos said: “On a personal level, I would rather play at the Bernabeu, but we will respect the decisions.”

But goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said that it is ‘an honour’ to play at the stadium named after Real Madrid’s greatest-ever player and added that he hoped Los Blancos could mark their time at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano by winning the title... which they did.

Zinedine Zidane said: “The Di Stefano is also our stadium. We are used to playing at the Bernabeu, but we will adapt”... and adapt they did!

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

What else is notable about Real Madrid’s new home?

Real Madrid’s first team had previously never played a competitive match at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano until last season.

However, Zidane played his last-ever Real Madrid match in the stadium’s inauguration, a 6-1 win over Stade de Reims on May 9, 2006. “I can’t understand why he is retiring,” Di Stefano said on the night.

The Frenchman later began his coaching career at Real’s ‘B’ side, Castilla, overseeing home games at the stadium between the summer of 2014 until his appointment with the senior side in January 2016.

Sergio Ramos scored the first goal at the ground, netting the opener against Stade de Reims in that friendly. Roberto Soldado, now at Granada, netted the first official goal as he hit a hat-trick against Malaga B in the Segunda Division on May 21, 2006.

Getty Images
Getty Images

What have other coaches said about the stadium?

Jurgen Klopp was unimpressed at having to play the Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Di Stefano, where his side lost 3-1, calling it “really strange.”

He added: “It was really difficult, a different situation with the stadium, but Anfield is at least a proper stadium and that will be good for us.”

However, Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has previously rejected the notion that the stadium could play a role, with there being no fans in attendance making a far greater difference.

“It’s disparaging to a big club like Madrid (to say it is a training pitch), they’ve chosen the time to do renovation works at their stadium and they’ve chosen well,” Koeman said.

“Madrid are used to playing on that pitch and the opponents have to play there, and that’s that. For players the tough thing is playing without any fans.”

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