Thibaut Courtois dropped a performance for the ages as Real Madrid secured their 14th European Cup with a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Stade de France.
Real Madrid secured their record 14th European Cup title by beating Liverpool 1-0, in the final of the UEFA Champions League 2021/22. The result marks the second time in four years they have beaten the Reds in a UCL final, with the previous win coming in 2018.
Heading into this game as the underdogs, Real Madrid predictably embraced a conservative approach to the proceedings. They allowed Liverpool to control possession and had problems dominating the proceedings. They were even quite lucky to get away with a few chances from the opposition, needing Thibaut Courtois to make a couple of world-class saves.
But for all of Liverpool’s dominance, Real Madrid never lost their shape and offered danger on the counter. After 40 minutes of LFC dominance, Los Blancos found their opening just before half-time, when Karim Benzema took full advantage of a lucky break to score the opener. But the goal was ruled out due to offside, which was quite a controversial decision given the ball may have ricocheted off Fabinho.
In the second half, Liverpool predictably upped the ante, hoping to convert their series of pressures into a goal. They came quite close on multiple occasions but were denied by an in-form Courtois time and time again. The Belgian international even ended up making a total of nine saves.
Courtois’ heroic performance resonated through the whole team as they kept things neat and tidy. Their patience paid off around the hour mark when an unlikely break from Federico Valverde led to Vinicius Junior’s opener, putting Liverpool on the back foot.
Given how much the Reds struggled in putting the ball in the back of the net, the solitary goal was enough to seal the Champions League for Real Madrid. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over their players in yet another Champions League final victory against Liverpool, which sees them secure La Decimocuarta, with Carlo Ancelotti becoming the first manager to win the competition four times.
Thibaut Courtois: 10/10
Made a couple of world-class saves in the first half to keep Real Madrid in the contest and prevent Liverpool from overrunning the game. Somehow had an even busier game in the second half, where he was asked to make a series of top-class saves to prevent Liverpool from scoring the equaliser.
Thibaut Courtois just dropped the greatest goalkeeping performance in Champions League final history 🐐 pic.twitter.com/6hkkLObcBJ
— GOAL (@goal) May 28, 2022
Courtois’ save to deny Mane in the first half, and his stop to prevent Salah from scoring late in the game were two of the saves of the season in the Champions League this term, capping off a performance for the ages from the Belgian international.
Dani Carvajal: 8.5/10
Dani Carvajal had a lot on his plate as Luis Diaz caused all sorts of trouble. But the right-back fared rather well with the danger and used his experience to minimise the influence of the Colombian attacker, especially in the first half.
He was alert to the danger even after the restart, keeping up with Diaz. Although he did have his bad moments, the Real Madrid full-back was quite solid at the back and played a key role in helping his team retain the clean sheet.
Eder Militao: 8/10
Eder Militao produced a memorable display at the heart of the four-man backline for Real Madrid. Strong in challenges, and uncompromising in tackles, the former FC Porto starlet played his heart out and ran his socks off while trying to defend against the threat from the Liverpool attackers.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) May 28, 2022
David Alaba: 8/10
David Alaba’s presence in the Real Madrid backline was crucial as he offered the experience and composure in the final third. His leadership at the back was also useful in motivating his teammates, as they made life difficult for the Liverpool attackers.
Ferland Mendy: 8/10
Ferland Mendy had his moments of sloppiness while defending against the threat of Mohamed Salah. But overall, the left-back produced an excellent shift on the far side. He always stuck to his marker and tried his best to minimise the Egyptian’s influence on the proceedings. A commendable display from a left-back.
Toni Kroos: 8.5/10
Toni Kroos was always going to play a key role in this final due to his experience and composure. The German didn’t disappoint either, offering grace in Madrid’s approach play while using his passing range to unleash dangerous balls in behind the Liverpool backline.
Kroos’ presence in the middle of the park was one of the key factors why the likes of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho weren’t able to completely dominate the proceedings.
Casemiro’s defensive game by numbers vs Liverpool:
100% aerial duels won (5/5)
11 ground duels attempted
8 ground duels won
6 ball recoveries
4 tackles won
3 ball clearances
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) May 28, 2022
Casemiro was the pick of the Real Madrid midfielders on the night, which is quite a feat given how well the entire unit performed in the final third. Operating at holding midfield, the Brazilian mopped up loose balls in his yard and put pressure on the opposing ball carriers.
Casemiro also dug deep and drifted into a central defensive role whenever it was required. The midfielder was involved in the offensive play as well, releasing multiple forward balls to initiate counter-attacks. Arguably the second most impressive performer for Real Madrid, after Courtois.
Luka Modric: 8/10
Starting a Champions League final at the age of 36 is one thing, but starring in a Champions League final at the age of 36 is what makes Luka Modric such a special player. Operating in central midfield, the veteran offered the grace to Casemiro’s grit, although he wasn’t short of any efforts when it came to winning the ball back for his team. A phenomenal shift from the former Tottenham superstar, who has now won the fifth Champions League title of his career.
Federico Valverde: 8.5/10
From a tactical perspective, Ancelotti’s decision to start Valverde out wide on the right made sense as the midfielder operated in a flexible role that saw him become quite useful in the second line of press. His seamless combination play with Modric and Kroos was equally critical in launching attacks forward.
I know we're pretending Valverde is a winger but Madrid's diagonal midfield is very entertaining pic.twitter.com/isUA2vW0KS
— John Muller (@johnspacemuller) May 28, 2022
In addition to his work ethic, Valverde offered the all-important cross that led to Vinicius’ winner in the final third. The Uruguayan international was eventually subbed off during the late stages of the proceedings.
Karim Benzema: 8/10
Karim Benzema’s ability to drop deep and take part in the build-up was invaluable to the Real Madrid attack. The Frenchman utilised his qualities to keep the likes of Virgil van Dijk occupied, offering more space and time for Vinicius and Valverde in the process.
Benzema also netted a goal late in the first half, but it was denied by VAR. But despite being denied a goal, the striker never stopped working hard for his team and produced a truly brilliant shift in the number nine role.
Vinicius Junior: 8.5/10
Vinicius Junior was Real Madrid’s only real attacking outlet in a game where they failed to show much intent going forward. The Brazilian’s electric pace down the flanks, coupled with his ability to make darting runs in behind the backline caused problems for the Liverpool backline.
Although Vinicius should have done better on some instances and was largely defended well by Ibrahima Konate, he kept plugging away and was rewarded for his efforts with a goal around the hour mark. Persistence truly pays off.
Vinícius Júnior has been involved in 10 Champions League goals this season. More than a top talent. ⚪️⭐️ #UCLFinal
Quick reminder: Vini’s still 21. pic.twitter.com/gPz2nYt5u1
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) May 28, 2022
Eduardo Camavinga: N/A
Eduardo Camavinga was brought in around the 85th-minute mark to offer more energy in Real Madrid’s second line of press.
Dani Ceballos: N/A
A late replacement for the tiring Modric, Dani Ceballos should have done much better to score from a late opportunity and kill the tie for Real Madrid.
The hero in the semi-final against Manchester City, Rodrygo didn’t have much left to do, as most of the work was already done by the man he replaced – Vinicius.