REAL MADRID 1-0 LIVERPOOL: Vinicius Junior gave the Spanish giants victory with his strike just before the hour mark as Liverpool were denied a treble of cup victories this season
Real Madrid won their 14th Champions League title as Vinicius Junior’s goal just before the hour mark saw them edge out Liverpool in Paris.
It was an encounter which was partly overshadowed by concerning scenes outside the Stade de France – where thousands of Liverpool fans were bottle-necked and local police forces used tear gas, with the match delayed by 36 minutes.
Liverpool were dominant in the opening stages with Mohamed Salah three times forcing saves from Madrid shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian goalkeeper was outstanding, with his standout moment being the finger-tip save to deny Sadio Mane whose effort was deflected onto the post.
Despite their dominance, it was the Spanish side who thought they had the half-time lead when Karim Benzema had the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside. Several minutes of VAR eventually confirmed the decision, but it was a highly debated call.
Vinicius did give them the lead two minutes before the hour mark, deflecting in Fede Valverde’s cross-come-shot home past Alisson Becker to break the deadlock.
Here are eight talking points from an emotional and contentious night in Paris.
In their semi-final win at home to Man City, Real Madrid had not had a shot on target in the opening 89 minutes. They won the match 3-1. It is hard to imagine any other team being so deadly and playing so well in key moments.
It was a similar story in the final – Real Madrid had not had a target until Vinicius opened the scoring just before the hour mark. The only other time they had threatened was Benzema’s goal, which was ultimately adjudged to be offside.
As they went ahead with their first shot on target, Liverpool had seven shots on target but were repelled each time by Thibaut Courtois. Being ice cold in the final third paid off.
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The former Chelsea goalkeeper was outstanding for Real Madrid and was the reason why Liverpool did not take a first half lead. He made several excellent stops but none moreso than midway through the half, when he got down to palm Sadio Mane’s stinging effort onto the post. Courtois was slightly fortunate that the ball rebounded straight to him from the post – but it was indicative of his superb performance and calming presence.
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Ibrahima Konate was involved in only 11 Premier League matches for Liverpool this campaign despite his fitness – with Joel Matip the preferred central defensive partner alongside Virgil van Dijk domestically.
However, Konate – the only major arrival of last summer’s transfer window at Anfield – has played in eight Champions League matches this term, all from the start. He was selected by Klopp in six of the side’s seven knockout matches.
He was selected to provide cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold in covering the threat of Vinicius Junior but also for his goal threat – he bagged in both legs of the quarter-final win over Benfica, and is a major aerial presence from attacking set pieces.
Prior to tonight, Konate had not tasted defeat in his first 27 Liverpool matches and this Champions League final was in his home city of Paris.
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The scenes ahead of the match at the Stade de France, leading to a delay of 36 minutes in the kick-off time, must prompt urgent questions of the stadium, policing and infrastructure around the ground.
Thousands of fans were bottle-necked into a dangerous scenario, with police seen utilizing tear gas on supporters and journalists reporting that they were forced into deleting video footage if they were to be allowed into the stadium.
All this must prompt serious questions of UEFA, who blamed fans arriving late for the delay of the match – which directly contradicted the evidence of the thousands who were locked outside the gates, many of whom had been queueing for hours. Football must act and start providing more care and respect to fans.
Offside rule confusion
Benzema had the ball in the net for Real Madrid just before the break but it was flagged for offside, with VAR then reviewing the incident for several minutes before disallowing the goal.
It was an incident which provided much contention – the striker was in an offside position, but it was how the ball reached Benzema that caused the controversy. Fede Valverde’s initial shot was blocked and subsequently diverted entirely into the path of Benzema by both Konate and Fabinho. These actions were deemed by the laws of the game, as interpreted by the officials, not to be “deliberate”. Well of course it was not – but such language is problematic when describing these situations, and leads to huge uncertainty from players, fans and pundits.
Ancelotti clinches record
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Carlo Ancelotti had already completed a remarkable coaching achievement this season. Last month he became the first boss to win a top flight in each of Europe’s top five leagues – Spain, Germany, Italy, France and England.
The Italian then became the first coach to reach five Champions League finals. He managed Milan to the finals in 2003, 2005 and 2007, then reached it with Real Madrid in 2014. Aside from 2005, the Italian has guided his side to victory on each occasion.
The third record he was aiming for was to become the first ever manager to win four Champions League crowns. He has now ticked that off too.
Spanish dominance continues
Spanish teams have dominated European competitions in the past two decades. So much so, the last 16 times that a Spanish team had faced a non-Spanish team in a European final, the team from La Liga had won on all 16 occasions.
That was a run going back to 2001 – when Liverpool beat Alaves to win the UEFA Cup while Bayern Munich then went on to defeat Valencia. The Reds had felt the pain from Spain since, losing the 2016 Europa League showpiece to Sevilla and the Champions League decider against Real Madrid two years later.
That spell of showpiece dominated continued with tonight’s result.
Madrid’s lost stars
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It is now no longer any surprise that none of Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic or Isco are in the starting line-up for Real Madrid’s most important matches. The first two are the club’s record signings while striker Jovic – who was excluded entirely from tonight’s matchday squad – and playmaker Isco were also notable investments by Los Blancos.
The quartet of players are among football’s highest earners but not only were they not involved from the start here, but that is no longer newsworthy nor are they considered even as potential impact substitutions.