Another Champions League final is in the books, and it was full of drama from beginning to end.
From Mohamed Salah and Dani Carvajal departing in the first half with injuries to Loris Karius’s howlers, the commotion was endless. But in the end, Real Madrid emerged victorious despite a sensational campaign, and effort, from Liverpool.
Here are three winners and three losers from Saturday’s Champions League final.
As expected, Liverpool stormed out of the gates and grabbed control of the match. The Reds had nine attempts to Real Madrid’s two in the opening 30 minutes, and Madrid’s attack was rather invisible because they could not receive the ball.
Credit Madrid’s defence, who limited Liverpool to just two shots on goal. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas was brilliant yet again, apart from one mishap against Virgil van Dijk on a corner in the first half.
The Galacticos back line also ensured Liverpool didn’t have any quality chances. Expected goals – an advanced analytic used to calculate the quality of a shot – showed that Madrid conceded few clear-cut opportunities.
Raphael Varane was especially crucial. Right-back Dani Carvajal was struggling to contain Sadio Mane on Madrid’s right flank, but Varane was there to shut down the Liverpool forward. The individual stats don’t do the Frenchman justice. He didn’t lead his team in interceptions or tackles, but he didn’t need to, because Varane was always in the correct position.
Even in defeat, Sadio Mane was excellent for Liverpool. He led the team in shots (3), dribbles (4), via WhoScored.com, and scored the team’s lone goal in the final. Mane even tracked back to help defend, posting a team-high six tackles.
It’s a mere consolation, but Mane’s performance should please Liverpool fans. He was tremendous all game long.
In the buildup to the final, Gareth Bale was rumoured to start. He had four goals in his last four matches before the final, so many wondered if Bale would sneak his way into Zinedine Zidane’s lineup.
The Welshman had to settle for the role of impact substitute, and he lived up that label. He scored off a stupendous overhead kick and wrapped up the title with a brace, securing Real Madrid’s third consecutive title.
Surely Bale would prefer to start every week, but he’s shown that when fit, he is a valued member of Zidane’s squad.
Sometimes when a player commits individual errors in a match, it’s easy to forget that these are human beings. Mistakes happen. It’s part of life.
Unfortunately for Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, these particular mistakes occurred in the club’s biggest match of the season. The first howler was one of the most bizarre moments in Champions League history, while the second – bobbling a shot from Bale – was just calamitous.
Liverpool was quite toothless up front after Mohamed Salah’s injury, so there’s equal blame to go around. Still, fans will be wondering “what if?” had Karius been faultless for the full 90 minutes.
Jurgen Klopp has completely reinvigorated Liverpool. He did the same at Borussia Dortmund and got to the Champions League final with both clubs.
Both teams Klopp faced – Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – had stronger squads on paper and players with more experience on that stage. Therefore, it’s an accomplishment in its own right to make the final under those circumstances.
However, it’s quite telling that Klopp has won just one of the seven finals he’s coached in, and has lost the last six. Once Salah went off, the intensity dropped and the attack was stymied. There was little response.
Jurgen Klopp's major cup final record:
'12: German Cup
'13 Champions League
'14: German Cup
'15: German Cup
'16: League Cup
'16: Europa League
'18: Champions League
He's now lost six of his seven major finals as a manager
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) May 26, 2018
Naby Keita’s arrival from RB Leipzig in the summer will be a fantastic addition to the squad. The club has also been linked to Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, who could be a proper Philippe Coutinho replacement. If a player of that calibre arrives, Klopp won’t have many excuses left if he gets to another final and loses again.
The World Cup
Mohamed Salah’s record-breaking season in the Premier League was special for a variety of reasons. The fact that he dominated in a World Cup year, with Egypt returning to their first tournament since 1990, was even more noteworthy.
That is why when Salah had to exit the Champions League final with a shoulder injury, all of Egypt held its breath. The BBC has since reported that Salah has a dislocated shoulder, which would rule him out of the World Cup.
— Adriano Del Monte (@adriandelmonte) May 26, 2018
On the other side, Dani Carvajal might be ruled out for Spain as well. Just moments after Salah walked off the pitch in tears, Carvajal was forced to be taken out as well. He’s slated to start at right-back, so a tournament-ending injury would be devastating for all parties.
Here’s hoping both players recover quickly.