Liverpool saw an excellent season end on a sour note as they fell to defeat in the UEFA Champions League final to Real Madrid
Paris, the city of love, appeared to be an appropriate venue for Liverpool to rekindle their love affair with the European trophy. However, it ended in heartbreak and an anti-climatic ending to a campaign that will live on in memory of Liverpool fans for years to come.
It is not every day that a team can compete for the quadruple. And despite coming up short, the Reds have gone further than anyone else in achieving just that. Playing in their 63rd game of the campaign, Jurgen Klopp’s men were comfortably in sync and outplayed Real Madrid for at least half of the game at Stade de France.
Unfortunately, it was not enough, and Real Madrid secured their 14th European Cup on the night thanks to a Vinicus Jr. effort. It was a bitter pill for the Liverpool faithful to swallow, and the disappointment was evident on the players’ faces.
This is now the third time in five seasons that Real Madrid have got the better of Liverpool in Europe, two of which have come in finals. Los Blancos appear to be the bogey team for Klopp’s juggernauts in the UEFA Champions League, who are yet to find a way to get past them.
The Reds went into the game as favourites and appeared confident of their chances. Mohamed Salah’s optimistic take on the game and a thirst for revenge dominated headlines. In the end, it all came to nought. The Hard Tackle looks at what went wrong for the Reds on the night in Paris.
Profligacy in front of the goal
0 – Despite winning the League Cup and the FA Cup, Liverpool failed to score a single goal in five-and-a-half hours of football in major finals this season. Halted. #LIVRMA #UCLfinal https://t.co/yOijyI5mTD
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 28, 2022
Liverpool were in the ascendency in the first half and took the game to their opponents. The trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz all appeared up for it and tested the Real Madrid defence.
Despite carving out several opportunities, the Reds were unable to finish off their chances. This profligacy in front of goal has become a feature for Klopp’s side in major finals. They fired blanks in both the Carabao Cup final and the FA Cup finals as well this season, eventually winning both games on penalties.
Mane and Salah in particular, got into some good positions but were unable to find a way past the Real Madrid defence. The latter could have had a hat-trick on another night.
Not taking chances against a team like Real Madrid is always a risky prospect. It proved to be the case as Los Blancos scored with one of their only two shots on target to steal the tie. Liverpool can have little to complain about given that they were not clinical on the night, and Real Madrid showed them why they are dangerous, especially in the Champions League.
Lack of penetration from midfield
Naby Keita vs Real Madrid
15 passes (88%)
2 ground duels won
Was fouled once
— KeitaXtra (@KeitaXtra_) May 28, 2022
With Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara declared fit, Klopp played his best midfield three on the night. The trio that also included Jordan Henderson did well to keep their Real Madrid counterparts quiet and even dictated the tempo at times.
Unfortunately, while they did hold the upper hand, the lack of drive in central areas was apparent. This forced Liverpool to focus their build-up on the wings. Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah were often at the heart of Liverpool’s attacks, with only Mane drifting into central areas. Real Madrid were able to counter this threat effectively by double-teaming the Reds’ wingers or herding them onto the byline.
Naby Keita was brought on in the second half to change just that, but the Guinean international failed to make the most of it. Real Madrid were content to sit deep and defend their lead in the closing stages of the game. Had Liverpool been able to inflict more damage in the middle, they could have had a better shot at securing their seventh Champions League/European Cup crown.
A Thibaut Courtois masterclass
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 28, 2022
If Thibaut Courtois is ever in Liverpool for Halloween, he might as well put on Gandalf’s garb and stand outside Anfield screaming ‘You shall not pass’. The Belgian was Real Madrid’s best player on the night and at times, kept them in the game single-handedly.
Liverpool, to their credit, peppered the Real Madrid goal and could have been clear and out of sight had it been for a lesser keeper. Courtois showcased why he is one of the best goalkeepers of his generation by putting in a display that bordered on a masterclass.
He prevented Mane twice on the night and single-handedly cost Salah a Champions League final hat-trick. The latter was up for what was a revenge tie and could have written headlines in his favour had it not been for a lone Belgian who held the fort in the Real Madrid goal.
Courtois also organised the Real Madrid defence well on set pieces and was assertive throughout the night. All in all, it was a perfect night for the 30-year-old who proved his salt as one of the world’s best shot-stoppers on the night.
Lack of overlap on the wings
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have both been the cornerstones in Jurgen Klopp’s side and get themselves a ridiculous number of assists over the course of a season. Both players are adept at making overlap runs and providing inch-perfect crosses into the box.
Little of that was on show on Saturday night in Paris. Neither player made enough overlapping runs to stretch the Real Madrid defence and were largely content to play a supporting role for Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah. Alexander-Arnold did get forward at times but it was nowhere near as often as he usually does, and most of it was to drift inwards rather than hog the sidelines.
Robertson was largely solid in defence but failed to get forward adequately enough to support Diaz, who was forced, at times, to run up closed alleys. Real Madrid deserve credit for forming a rigid backline that gave little to no space to exploit. But given that Liverpool were the more dominant team on the night and crafted opportunities, they could have pushed their advantage and done with their usual suspects turning up.
Spamming the Real Madrid penalty area with crosses could have inspired chaos in the box and led to an opening or two that could have proved decisive. Instead, all we got was a half-hearted approach from the Liverpool full-backs who both fell asleep in the build-up to Real Madrid’s winner.
A touch of destiny
𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗹 𝗠𝗮𝗱𝗿𝗶𝗱’𝘀 𝗮𝗴𝗴𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝘅𝗚 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗖𝗵𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗟𝗲𝗮𝗴𝘂𝗲 𝗸𝗻𝗼𝗰𝗸 𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗴𝗲:
Real Madrid (2.15) 3-2 (3.34) PSG
Real Madrid (2.58) 5-4 (4.58) Chelsea
Real Madrid (4.28) 6-5 (4.38) Man City
Real Madrid (0.92) 1-0 (2.19) Liverpool
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) May 28, 2022
Not many would have been brave enough to back Real Madrid to win the Champions League this season. They were less than convincing in the group stages and struggled against Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16.
Chelsea and Manchester City were also the better teams in the Last Eight and semi-finals and were just mere minutes away from dumping Real Madrid out of the competition. Carlo Ancelotti’s men showed remarkable willpower and fortitude to overcome odds and took their chances when presented with them.
Liverpool were comfortably the more dominant side on the night in Paris, and on another day, might have won the game comfortably. There just appears to have been a sense of destiny about Ancelotti’s men and their Champions League run this season. Luck plays a major role in such competitions, and Real Madrid certainly appear to have a rabbit’s foot in their pockets.