Real Madrid retained their Champions League crown for the second season running after beating Liverpool 3-1 at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium on Saturday.
Real Madrid, managed by the legendary Zinedine Zidane secured their 13th European crown at the expense of a Liverpool team which fought tooth and nail in the Kiev finale. Goals from Karim Benzema and double strikes from Gareth Bale secured an emphatic win for the men in white, leaving Liverpool red-faced in the end.
The game wasn’t one where one team dominated and went on to win with ease; it wasn’t one of those games where one side dominated the other; it was one of those rare, entertaining games which fans tune in to their televisions to watch no matter what the time could be. In the end, though, Real Madrid deservedly won the game, but not all was fair and square.
Here are five talking points from the match, to understand what created the victory and which ends contributed to the defeats. From Liverpool’s relentless pressing to their defensive frailties; from Jurgen Klopp’s tactical plan to Sergio Ramos becoming the pantomime villain for the Reds.
Real Madrid: More than just Ronaldo
It’s often pointed out how Cristiano Ronaldo is the leading man at Real Madrid, and some even go on to claim it is his team, a one-man army. But, the Champions League final told a different story altogether. Ronaldo played one of the most silent Champions League games of his glittering career, let alone a Final.
The Liverpool defence deserves its due credit, especially Trent Alexander-Arnold for his brilliant efforts to keep the superstar quiet all throughout the game. Real Madrid, however, went on to win the clash, albeit by doing most of the damage without their talismanic forward.
It certainly answers questions about whether this team could perform without Ronaldo and Zidane’s men responded in quite the telling fashion. Neither was Ronaldo supplied adequately nor was he able to take on the defence as he usually does. But, in the end, it did not matter, and Real Madrid proved they were more than just Ronaldo’s team.
There’s No Replacing Mohamed Salah
Up until the 29th minute of the game, Liverpool were a dominant force, and the belief was that if they continued that way, they had a genuine chance of lifting the trophy. But, it wasn’t planned that way. To the heartbreak of all Liverpool fans, Salah was taken off injured at the half-hour mark, and the Reds could never replicate their form subsequently.
Salah proved yet again, he was the heart of any Liverpool attack, as he combined ever so well with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to take apart the Real Madrid defence and allow the Reds to play their A-Game against their opponents.
But, the moment he went off, Liverpool looked out of ideas and never really looked like threatening Los Blancos again, let alone winning the game. That was the turning point.
Numbers tell the tale too, as with Salah in the first half hour, Liverpool made 111 attacking touches to Real’s 57. Without Salah in the first half, Liverpool’s number plummeted to just 7 as compare to Real’s 149. Also in the first half, with the Egyptian on the pitch, Liverpool took nine shots and took none after he went off.
This shows his importance in the team, not only as a talismanic figure, but also as the focal point of their attack. Salah certainly was trying to bring the best from his strike partners, full-backs and others that joined the attack.
Two Sides of Liverpool’s story
While the attackers started the game with some vengeance and action, Liverpool’s central defenders looked at complete ease and were threading around the halfway line. There was a certain expectation from Real Madrid from an attacking point of view, but nobody expected that an untimely injury to Salah would spur them on; until that point, Liverpool had become the favourites.
The Reds’ dominance in the game was diminished after the Egyptian’s exit, and Real then took matters into their hands. Surprisingly Liverpool’s attack was flustered, and the only viable outlet was Sadio Mane. A reasonable period for the forward in the second half saw him strike the equaliser and rattle the post, but that was all.
Roberto Firmino’s reputation grew this season with 27 goals in all competition, but he had his worst game of the season as he struggled all through the night. Barring a glorious opportunity to head home an equaliser in the second half, he was so quiet, that even Klopp seemed to acknowledge the fact after the match.
We had analysed before the game where Liverpool could lose the match and precisely pointed out the goalkeeping problem, which had somewhat steadied after Loris Karius’s reinstatement as the No .1. But, barring a few good saves, the German really served up the win to Real Madrid on a platter, especially in the way he allowed Benzema to score the first goal.
While everyone was focused on Gareth Bale’s tremendous, acrobatic second goal, Karius was actually in an excellent position, to perhaps, save the shot with a simple, calculated dive, which he didn’t. For the third goal, all he did was replicate Simon Mignolet when the Belgian miscalculated Granit Xhaka’s same effort in the Premier League, which led to his downfall. Karius’s Liverpool future is now in serious doubt.
Zidane, A Tactical Genius
Most of the post-game praises were directed towards Zidane for his timely introduction of Gareth Bale, but what most of them missed was how he masterminded the game with his reverse tactical nous. Jurgen Klopp’s pressing style looked likely to make Real Madrid skip a beat or two and give away the game, but Zidane had other plans.
To the spectators’ eyes, the pressing seemed pleasing, but what it missed was that the Real Madrid boss had trained his side in a way to absorb most of this pressure and the players took it all in, were patient in the game and attacked when the time was right. They did bear the fruits of their patience and sent Liverpool packing at the end of 90 minutes.
Real Madrid fans might give most of the credit for the turnaround to world football’s number one villain, Sergio Ramos, who was responsible for sending Salah back to the dressing room. But, Zidane was the director of this game and certainly deserves an award.
When the trio of MSN broke up after Neymar’s transfer, people did miss them. But, that wasn’t the case with the BBC. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo haven’t played together as much as the fans would have wanted. But, they reunited once again, probably for the last time and delivered the Champions League crown.
Bale’s future has been speculated in the last few months owing to the lack of starts in big games or otherwise. Even against Liverpool, Isco was preferred to Bale, who only came on at the 60th minute mark on to the field. His introduction, however, will prove to be the masterstroke for which Zidane will be praised.
A looping cross from Marcelo was taken first time with a bicycle kick, and Bale probably scored the best goal in a Champions League final, eclipsing Zidane’s own effort from the 2002 final. If that wasn’t enough, he then rounded off things with a thunderous, albeit hopeful strike from distance to seal the deal for Real Madrid to lift their third Champions League crown in a row.