WHAT. A. GAME! Madrid’s win last night broke the internet and set/equaled two records. First, Carlo Ancelotti is the first manager to reach 5 Champions League finals and secondly, Karim Benzema equaled Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League knockout record of 10 goals.
At the highest level, players know that winning is determined by the quality of the players, the tactics of the managers and sometimes, a healthy bit of good fortune.
However, it would be hard to fault the Liverpool players for being a little superstitious and wishing they were facing Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League final rather than Madrid after the comeback we witnessed last night.
Just like in the two rounds before this, Los Blancos were down and out, about to be knocked out of the Champions League final. And then suddenly, they were not.
They started the Champions League campaign with a loss to FC Sheriff AT HOME and are now in the UEFA Champions League final.
Even though Liverpool are a better side on paper, all that talk of Madrid and their “Champions League heritage” has to be at the back of their minds.
Before diving into what that matchup will be like however, here are some thoughts we have from last night’s game.
Real Madrid leave it late AGAIN
In certain parts of the football world, PSG, Manchester City and to an extent, Chelsea, are seen as the new money clubs that have upset the established order.
It must have been especially satisfying for people who hold that opinion to see Real Madrid, the grandest club of the old establishment, not just beat those three clubs but humiliate them by coming from behind to win as the less-fancied side on each occasion.
When Riyad Mahrez scored in the 73rd minute last night, there was still some hope that Madrid could pull off a win even though they’d had no shots on target up until then.
However, as 90 minutes and the end of their dream ticked closer, many fans left the stadium, unable to watch their beloved Madrid knocked out of their competition at home.
A minute into added time, they were level on aggregate as substitute, Rodrygo scored two quick-fire goals to pull them level. From that point, a Benzema winner seemed inevitable and when he converted his 95th minute penalty, it seemed… fated. You can never count this Madrid side out and that’s something Liverpool will need to keep in mind.
On Tuesday, Liverpool traveled to the Estadio de la Ceramica to face Villarreal in a game many expected Merseyside giants to win easily. They eventually won, but not without a scare.
Villarreal took an early lead through Senegalese forward, Boulaye Dia. When former Arsenal midfielder, Francis Coquelin headed in to put Villarreal level on aggregate just before half-time, Liverpool fans began to worry. Luckily, their team responded to Jurgen Klopp’s half-time comments and scored three second-half goals to advance to the Champions League final.
It was a similar story the next day at the Bernabeu. Apart from one early Vinicius chance that he blasted over and the best chance of the game immediately after the game restarted, Madrid’s chances were limited as Man City enjoyed the Lion’s share of possession.
We know what happened by now. Rodrygo and the other subs played their parts perfectly, Benzema did what he does best and Madrid now head to the Stade de France to face Liverpool in three weeks.
We hope the final entertains us as much as the four semifinal fixtures have!
City’s replacement players not as effective as their starters
The move for Madrid’s first goal began with a sublime pass from Eduardo Camavinga to Karim Benzema who squared the ball for Rodrygo to nip in and score before Ederson could get to it.
Replays showed that João Cancelo had kept Karim Benzema onside and the officials allowed the goal to stand. However, the Portuguese defender could have done better to put the French striker off. Walker seldom makes mistakes like that.
Kevin De Bruyne also went off after it became clear that he was knackered. There was little Guardiola could have done to keep them on the pitch but he must be wishing he had them on the pitch to both keep the home side at bay and to threaten them more.
The challenge for City now will be to ensure that they don’t falter in the English Premier League and allow Liverpool to snatch that from them.
Madrid super-subs come up with the goods, City’s don’t
PSG must be kicking themselves at how well Eduardo Camavinga has done at Real Madrid in his first season.
The young French midfielder has not claimed a spot in the starting XI yet but surely, that will come soon. Against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City, he came off the bench and dragged his team back into the fixture. It will be interesting to see what a fully-fledged version of him looks like.
Rodrygo, of course, also came off the bench to score the brace that tied the game. This season, he has shown the promise that made Real Madrid battle Barcelona, Liverpool and PSG for his signature more consistently. He saves his best for the biggest stage – the young Brazilian forward has scored just 6 goals in 70 La Liga games and has now scored 10 goals in 26 Champions League games. He’s another one the Madrid fans will be excited to see kick on next season.
City’s subs, on the other hand, didn’t have the same effect. Zinchenko and Grealish played well enough with the latter almost scoring twice in the 87th minute to put the tie to bed. However, he didn’t. If he’d scored, the narrative would be about him coming up big with the goods. There’s still time for him to come good but right now, the £100 million Man City paid to acquire him looks like a mistake.
Madrid – Liverpool rivalry
what happened the last time Liverpool faced Real Madrid in the Champions League final. This time around, the Egyptian forward and the rest of the team will be eager to finally win the UCL at Real Madrid’s expense and hopefully complete their quadruple.
The Liverpool team will do well to note how the Madrid giants refused to lose against their last three opponents. They will not be playing pushovers or a team lucky to be in the final, but a team who fully deserve their final place and are desperate to win their 14th UEFA Champions League and parade their double around Cibeles.
Sergio Ramos, the villain of the piece in the 2018 final, is no longer at Madrid but he will be watching on and cheering his former teammates. And whenever a Madrid player tackles Salah a bit too enthusiastically, you can be sure he’ll cheer even harder.
Benzema Balon d’Or certainty?
If the season ended today, Karim Benzema would be the frontrunner for the Balon d’Or, such has been his impact this campaign. With a La Liga win under his belt and a trip to the final already secured, his only viable competition is Sadio Mane who won a trophy with his country, Senegal and could still win a quadruple with Liverpool.
As it stands, Benzema is already the favorite for the Balon d’Or in the eyes of many. If he leads Real Madrid to Champions League glory and powers France’s World Cup bid enough, no other challenger will have a case that can rival his.
At 34, he seems to just keep on getting better and better.
Final thoughts: Kylian Mbappe’s future remains up in the air. As Madrid head to the Stade de France, they will be acutely aware that winning the Champions League in their biggest target’s backyard will be the best way to let him know where his future belongs. What do you think?