EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Get ESPN+

Real Madrid's Champions League mystique: Can science explain their magical run?

It's either magical or biological. At least, that's what they'll tell you.

After Real Madrid lost 4-3 in a first-leg Champions League semifinal against Manchester City that easily could've produced a bigger deficit, Karim Benzema evoked the supernatural. "A defeat is never good," he said. "The most important thing is we never gave up until the end. ... Now we have to go to the Bernabeu. We'll need the fans like never before. We'll do something magical, which is to win."

And what better way to describe what unfolded in the second leg?

City went up 5-3 on aggregate with a goal in the 71st minute, and Madrid didn't come close to threatening the opposition goal during regular time. Then in injury time, Madrid scored with their first two shots on target of the game to send it to extra time. In ET, City defender Ruben Dias, then the defending Premier League Player of the Year, quickly gave up a silly penalty, and it was game over.

After advancing to the final, Luka Modric reached for a more organic explanation. "The most difficult one was the one against Manchester City because there was almost no time left, but the team and the fans believed until the end because it's part of the DNA of this club." He didn't shy away from the paranormal, either, adding, "The most fun was the PSG game; it was 15 or 20 minutes of madness because it's very difficult to explain what happens on Champions League nights at the Bernabeu. It was the start of many magical nights that have taken us all the way to Paris, and hopefully we can win another Champions League."

In the round of 16, Paris Saint-Germain dominated Madrid in the first leg in France, then did the same in the first half in Spain, roaring out to a 2-0 aggregate lead thanks to a pair of goals from Kylian Mbappe. VAR and a couple inches of space were all that prevented the gap from being even bigger ... and then Madrid scored three second-half goals in 17 minutes to flip the tie on its head. In between, Madrid blew a 3-1 lead at home and went down to Chelsea 3-0 at the Bernabeu -- only to score in the 80th minute to salvage some extra time, where the DNA or the magic took over once again, and Benzema scored the winner.

A couple of questions ahead of Saturday's Champions League final against Liverpool: Is this improbable run actually magic? Is it dumb luck? Do players gain some sort of innate ability to execute at the highest-leverage moments possible when they put on the all-white kit?

The beauty and terror of it all is that no one knows for sure.