Real edge the Reds for No.14


Champions League.

Real Madrid are European champions, plus ça change.

That's 14 captures of the Champions Cup for Los Merengues, twice as many as the next most successful side, Milan. 17 final appearances put Liverpool's 10 in the shade.

For the 60,000 odd Liverpool supporters who endured interminable journeys to even get to Paris, followed by extraordinarily chaotic crowd management on the night which saw kick-off delayed over half an hour, it will not be a night to cherish.

The pre-match madness brought uncomfortable memories of Heysel back for those of us who recall that fatal night in Brussels, but thankfully, despite some pepper spray being used, there was no hooliganism in Paris. Still, the confusion at an 80,000-seat stadium well used to sell-out events since 1998 is hard to fathom.

Liverpool fans tear gassed in Paris.
Chaos at the Stade de France before kick-off

UEFA blamed fake tickets and fans trying to rush or scale the gates. Liverpool fans complained the gates were inexplicably shut for long periods when they had arrived in plenty of time before the match. An inquiry is essential. Wembley Stadium's chaos at the Euro 2020 final was blamed for England withdrawing its bid for the 2030 World Cup so these things matter.

What a pity that the first fully-attended Champions League final since the pandemic was such a shambles for supporters. Lessons must be learned.

As for the match, Real repeated their rope-a-dope trick of absorbing pressure from a more energetic opponent before darting like a cobra to administer the killer blow.

Liverpool's first-half alacrity without a goal was reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund dominating the opening half-hour of the 2013 final at Wembley but losing in the end to Bayern Munich, like Real, a wise old head in these matters.

When Luis Diaz, so impressive and incisive this season, was withdrawn in the 65th minute having failed to dominate the tough and experienced Dani Carvajal, one sensed it might not be Liverpool's night.

Real did not exactly play catenaccio, but closed every space and blocked every shot so expertly and had an absolute rock of a custodian in Thibaut Courtois to thwart whatever Liverpool's world-class attack of Diaz, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota, and Mohamed Salah could throw at them. The Belgian No.1 had a masterclass when it mattered.

Real celebrate 14th win.
Marcelo lifts the Champions' Cup in Paris

One shot on goal was all Madrid needed to win. Vinicius Junior touted as a potential match-winner, did the business in the 59th minute.

Liverpool tried to play around them but crosses whipped in by their flying full-backs Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson invariably found white shirts massed in the box.

The Reds outshot the Whites 23-1 (9-1 on target), but the sterling defence opposite kept them out.

Afterwards, Klopp, a little dazed as to why his side could not win this evening, mused he might have brought more men upfield and attacked through the middle but was quick to add Real's counter-attacking threat was a persistent worry which held him back.

Carlo Ancelotti, the quiet man of club management, became the most successful manager in Champions League history with four wins to add to his crown of winning the title in Europe's five big leagues. His pleasing self-effacing demeanour was again on full display at the end.

50-50 was the final possession stat, and 1-0 the result. A narrow win. It was a professional performance from the masters of European football, who after defeating Inter, PSG, Chelsea, and Manchester City en route to Paris, are worthy winners.

When it most counted, in the final, they kept their shape, played a solid mental game, held firm, and made the sucker punch - job done.

Along with Ancelotti's calm head, the side's experience counted. Real's midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kross and Luka Modric was the same that started the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv, when they also beat Liverpool.

Having been jilted by Kylian Mbappe this week, it was a happy French connection for the Whites tonight.

As for the Reds, it was just one of those games, but they will be back next season, maybe even in the final.

"Book the hotel," joked Klopp.

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(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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