Real Madrid have beaten Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.
Having stunned Paris, survived an onslaught against holders Chelsea, and then stunned Manchester City in the semi-finals, Real Madrid proved their resilience again as they edged Liverpool in the final. Karim Benzema has been in the form of his life, but it was Vinicíus Júnior who supplied the winning goal in the final.
How is it possible to lose at home to Sheriff and then go on to win the competition? The route map helps explain. Madrid won nothing last season and, by their own admission, were desperate for trophies at home and in Europe this time round. The 5-0 away victory over Shakhtar reset Madrid’s GPS in the group stage. Defeat in the first leg at Paris did the same – leading to a different high-pressing approach which reaped further reward at Stamford Bridge. Then, freshly crowned as Spanish champions, they surpassed all those efforts in that impossible-to-analyse tie against City. Liverpool might have overwhelmed them in the final, but Vinicíus Júnior’s goal (and Thibaut Courtois’s saves) earned them the title.
Working within a 4-3-3 template, Madrid have a strong spine starting with Courtois and running through centre-back Éder Militão to the experienced midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos with all that technical quality, vision and experience. And then you get to the in-form Benzema up front – a master of the arts of centre-forward play. They also have the energy of increasingly influential younger players like Vinícius Júnior and Federico Valverde, as well as that intangible knowhow that gets them out of the tightest of spots.
Many people wondered where Real Madrid’s goals would come from when Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018, but the France forward has more than stepped up to the plate to become the club’s talisman. He scored Madrid’s 1,000th European Cup goal against Shakhtar earlier this campaign then turned around their last-16 tie with Paris with a second-half hat-trick before striking the decisive blow in extra time against the Blues to make it four goals in the tie. His Panenka against City almost defied belief and he was nerveless from the spot in the return too to send his side to the showpiece.
The manager who steered Madrid to ‘La Décima’ in 2014 returned last summer for a second stint in charge. He is the first coach to have won the European Cup/Champions League on four occasions, and the first to manage in five finals.
Madrid reached the European Cup final for the 17th time this season, six more than any other club. They have now won all eight of their UEFA Champions League finals and, of course, their total of 14 titles is unsurpassed.