European Football

Lessons from Liverpool vs Real Madrid Champions League final

Football can be a cruel game
The half hour mark brought a major blow for Liverpool as Mohamed Salah was forced off the pitch with a shoulder injury. The Egyptian looked heartbroken as he wandered down the tunnel in tears following a challenge with Sergio Ramos. And then, not long afterwards, Carvajal had to do the same. The Real Madrid full-back appeared to pull a hamstring as he tussled with Andrew Robertson – the same injury that forced him off in last year’s final against Juventus. All that preparation, all the hard work in the build-up and it’s all taken away in the blink of an eye. Heartbreaking.

Liverpool rocked by Salah injury
The injury to Salah really seemed to affect Liverpool. They had been much the better side in the opening exchanges, completing six shots in the first 15 minutes to Real Madrid’s one. But in that period before half-time, with the slower Adam Lallana on Salah’s place, momentum switched.

Liverpool might be in the market for a new goalkeeper this summer…
What is it about Real Madrid and goalkeeping howlers? First Bayern Munich’s Sven Ulreich in the semi-final and then Karius here. The German stopper has undoubtedly been one of Liverpool’s most improved players this season after picking up the No 1 jersey in the New Year but he had a night to forget here. The first error came just after half-time. After picking up the ball from an overhit through ball to Benzema, Karius inexplicably tried to roll the ball out to Trent Alexander-Arnold with the French forward still right next to him. Benzema just stuck his leg out as Karius attempted the pass, letting the ball cannon off his foot and into the net. The second with 10 minutes left. Bale – fresh off scoring that wonderful overhead kick – tried a speculative shot from 35 yards. Karius had plenty of time to watch it and should have made a regulation save. Instead he fumbled it into his net and gifted the Champions League trophy to Real. Might Saturday night be the one that sways Klopp to listen to Karius’ detractors and get a new top class keeper in this summer?

Zidane’s Midas touch
The big talking point before kick-off was whether Bale would start for Madrid. Instead, Zidane chose Benzema up front and the Frenchman had a fantastic game, holding the ball up and being a constant menace. He got his goal and Zidane would have felt justified in his decision-making. But the manager’s night got even better shortly afterwards as he decided to bring Bale on and watched the Welshman score two goals that sealed yet another Champions League crown. Zidane has plenty of doubters but, looking in his gleaming trophy cabinet, it’s unlikely he cares too much.

Madrid sit deep
One of the hallmarks of Liverpool’s play is their gegenpressing: the harrying of opponents high up the pitch and scoring goals on the counter-attack. In Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, the Reds possess a lightning quick forward line which even the best defences across England and Europe have struggled to contain this season. In a bid to combat this threat, Zinedine Zidane had his defence sit deep, with centre-backs Ramos and Raphael Varane often lurking not much farther forward than their 18-yard box leaving little space in behind for Liverpool’s forwards to attack. Salah’s injury was undoubtedly a blow but Real’s tactics helped to stifle Liverpool’s other forwards.
Real Madrid’s love affair with the Champions League continued as they won their third successive title, and 13th in all, with a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Kiev.
The Reds, looking for a sixth crown themselves, started well, but star man Mohamed Salah’s first half injury halted their progress. Sadio Mane did get on the scoresheet, but it wasn’t enough thanks to two Loris Karius mistakes and a Gareth Bale wondergoal.

Bale grabbed a second from the bench after Karim Benzema opened the scoring; Karius was at fault for both.

Here are four talking points from a pulsating game on Saturday evening.
Gareth Bale scored a historic goal, but Loris Karius had a night to forget.
Quite why Zinedine Zidane does not receive adulation on a global scale for his achievements as Real Madrid manager is a real mystery; the Frenchman is now the only man to win the Champions League in each of his first three seasons in the dugout. He may not be a tactical revolutionary, but he showed exactly why his legacy as a coach could one day be as great as his as a player, with his team selection and substitutions.
So often does he make the right decision, and he certainly made two big ones. Bale has been in supreme form of late, working his way back into Zidane’s thoughts, and many tipped him for a starting berth, only to see him on the bench and Benzema preferred. The striker has been whistled by his own fans this season and will not be playing at the World Cup for France; if ever he needed a big performance, it was on Saturday.He stepped up, vindicating Zidane’s choice to start him by pouncing on the first of Karius’ mistakes in the second half; the German looked to roll the ball out, but Benzema was alert and diverted it into the empty net. Bale then stole the show with perhaps one of the greatest goals ever seen in European competition, an overhead kick from the edge of the box, before wrapping the game up with a shot from distance that Karius will not want to see again. Liverpool certainly have a decision to make over their goalkeeping situation this summer.

Liverpool lost a spark with Salah injury after bright start
There was only way Jürgen Klopp was going to set his team up, and the only question was whether Real Madrid were prepared to stand tall against the threat that was expected to come in waves from the first minute. Early signs suggested they couldn’t; Mane, Roberto Firmino and the man all eyes were fixed on, Salah, were definitely in the mood, finding space behind Dani Carvajal and, particularly, Marcelo.
Pressure was building on captain Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane at centre back, and there was no help forthcoming. Firmino was dropping deep, just behind fellow Brazilian Casemiro at the base of Real’s midfield, and he showed his range by picking out a brilliant through ball that only Varane’s pace stopped from developing into a really dangerous situation.
In the semi finals against Bayern Munich, Zidane saw his side completely dominated in midfield; his decision to stick with the same system, a diamond, which was spearheaded by Isco, cemented by Casemiro and completed by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, was therefore questionable. Liverpool had injuries in that area, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out with a knee problem and Emre Can, expected to leave this summer, only fit enough for the bench; Real needed to take advantage and dominate that area, but they couldn’t. Salah’s heart-breaking shoulder injury, which forced him off midway through the first half and could put his participation at this summer’s World Cup in doubt, gave them something of a reprieve.
Liverpool lacked an out ball; Firmino was staying deep, but with one fewer willing runner in behind, Los Blancos gained a foothold and were in the ascendancy before the break, seeing a goal scored by Benzema ruled out for offside. The second half started sloppily for Klopp’s men, too, and although Mane appeared just four minutes after they went behind to restore parity with a superb header, they just didn’t have enough.

Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos were excellent for Los Blancos
Ramos is perhaps the most befitting player of the pantomime villain role in world football; he will certainly have been the target for Liverpool anger after his role in Salah’s early departure. But he is a phenomenal defender and leader, embodying the never-say-die attitude of Real Madrid and, alongside Varane, kept their house in order when the Reds started with such ferocious intensity. The midfield was not helping them; Marcelo and Carvajal, who would follow Salah in being forced off with an injury before the break, were allowing the Liverpool attack far too much space, but there weren’t many big saves for Keylor Navas to make, other than holding a powerful effort from Trent Alexander-Arnold, thanks to the solidity of the two defenders.
From the base they created, Real grew into the game as it developed, becoming more confident with every passing minute. Bale will take all of the headlines, understandably, but the club’s mentality is ironclad; they never know when they are beaten and fully deserved to make history once again. With 20 minutes to go and victory within sight, Ramos showcased his quality by cutting a brilliant through ball from Andrew Robertson out, before it reached Mane. Real didn’t need to look too far for their man of the match.

Liverpool can be proud of their achievements this season and have a bright future
When Liverpool beat German side Hoffenheim in the qualification rounds back in August, reaching the Champions League final was a dream rather than an expectation. They have contributed to a stunning European season, and while they fell short this year, they are in great shape to push on under the guidance of their charismatic manager, having finished in the Premier League’s top four this season.

Real Madrid play to win, always, and their special relationship with this competition remains in tact. No matter who writes them off, they bounce back stronger, and it is up to the rest of Europe to stop them next season.

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