All going to plan, the journey will end back in the Turkish city on June 10 next year for the final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, the same venue where Liverpool defeated AC Milan on penalties in 2005.
Istanbul was supposed to host the final in 2020 and again in 2021, but on each occasion UEFA moved the game to Portugal due to pandemic-related restrictions.
Another late change was required last season, with Saint-Petersburg being stripped of the final after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Paris instead stepping in to host Madrid’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool.
The Spanish giants have now been crowned kings of Europe 14 times, twice as many times as the competition’s next most successful club, AC Milan, and they started this season by defeating Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt in Helsinki to lift the UEFA Super Cup.
“The joy and satisfaction you get after such wins tends to stick around, making you feel like no one should ever take your place. And that’s a pretty strong motivation to keep winning,” coach Carlo Ancelotti told UEFA.com in a recent interview when asked about the chances of a repeat triumph for his side.
Their success is likely to be recognised elsewhere on Thursday, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Karim Benzema nominated alongside Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne for the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year prize for last season.
Ancelotti is nominated alongside City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp for the coaching gong.
As for the draw itself, Real are in Pot One along with the champions of Europe’s other leading leagues in the shape of City, Bayern Munich, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto and Ajax, as well as Europa League winners Frankfurt.
Liverpool will be in Pot Two, meaning there is a possibility that they could get a rematch with Real. Chelsea, winners in 2021, and Tottenham Hotspur are the other English representatives.
– Intense –
Meanwhile, Celtic will be in Pot Four as they return to the Champions League proper for the first time since 2017.
Russian clubs are banned because of the ongoing war, but Ukraine — where a new domestic season kicked off this week — will be represented by Shakhtar Donetsk.
Dynamo Kyiv, who faced Benfica in the play-offs, were hoping to join them but lost 5-0 on aggregate to the two-time winners.
The final places will be decided in this midweek’s play-off round ties, with Bodo/Glimt aiming to become the first Norwegian team to feature in the group stage in 15 years.
What awaits all clubs involved is an intense two months of competition, with a World Cup in November and December forcing UEFA to organise all six matchdays in the space of nine weeks starting on September 6.
There will be an international break in that period too, and the demands on the players will be greater than ever, but the financial rewards will make it worthwhile for the clubs.
A UEFA circular sent to member associations in July detailed the prize money up for grabs this season, and a team going all the way to victory in the final will rake in around 90 million euros ($90 million).
On top of that will be an added share from the television market pool of each country as well as amounts depending on a team’s ranking based on performances over the last 10 years.
That ranges from 1.137 million euros for the lowest-ranked side taking part — who will come from among the winners of this week’s play-off ties — to over 36 million euros for Madrid, who boast the best coefficient.
As a consequence, the rich will carry on getting richer, and the number of potential Champions League winners may continue to narrow as a result.
The draw for the Europa League — featuring the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Roma — takes place on Friday, with the Europa Conference League draw just after.