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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 3 - 1 Liverpool


Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Real Madrid become champions of Europe for the 13th time in history. They beat Liverpool 3 - 1 (Benzema, Bale x2; Mane). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.

What. A. Rollercoaster.

This game had everything — tactical frailties, game-altering injuries, black magic, anxiety, and a goal that will never, ever be forgotten.

The anxiety was induced when the starting line-ups were released. We could only chuckle (nervously), at Managing Madrid. Last week I had written nearly four thousand words on how Klopp would be licking his lips had he known he was going up against a diamond with Gareth Bale on the bench. It turns out, a lot of those concerns were valid. Liverpool’s press to start was, unsurprisingly, incredible. They eliminated Real Madrid’s ability to build through the flanks, and unnerved Casemiro into giving the ball away more than once — with the first one happening in the very first minute. The coverage for Marcelo was not that bad, as Ramos doubled-up on the flanks efficiently (though he was spread thing at times), but Modric had a lot of right-wing duties, and neither the defending nor attacking in transition was efficient.

Real Madrid had possession, but, like against Bayern Munich, it was laborious, and the lack of outlets was staggering. Zidane’s men just couldn’t penetrate the final third.

Things changed due to an unfortunate situation: an injury to Mohamed Salah in the first half after a Sergio Ramos challenge. Salah, in tears, was forced off for Adam Lallana. From that moment, Liverpool’s presence on the right flank dissipated, their press waned from super-aggressive to hedging off into a lower block. Real Madrid were able to take advantage of a defanged Liverpool side, and schematic issues and all, were able to start pinning Klopp’s men and keep possession higher up the pitch, while creating more chances.

Those chances continued early in the second half, and Isco hit the cross bar in the 48th minute. And then, shortly after, in case you didn’t already believe in black magic, this happened:

It wasn’t done there — Sadio Mane got in front of Marcelo from a corner kick and scored the equalizer. That goal breathed new life into Liverpool, as they started to fire up their high-press again, and had some momentum.

Then, the substitute that rocked the earth, Bale for Isco -- and the dominoes that ensued:

There wasn’t ever going to be another outcome, was there? Real Madrid cemented their authority on the biggest competition in the world. This is pure greatness. Cherish this moment and never let it go. In the end, none of us can take anything away from Zidane. Results over and over again in Europe. He’s special. This team is special. Let’s build on this next season.

Bullet points from Kiyan’s notepad

  • Again, the diamond is wonky. It worked a bit better last season, to be sure -- it hadn’t been scouted much, and the coverage was generally better. Today the team could barely tread water until Salah was injured. There were virtually zero outlets from the back, and Ramos and Varane came up big in the first half with some great interventions.
  • Gutted for Carvajal. I’m glad we could win this for him.
  • Staggering how much the Salah injury changed everything. Again, Liverpool’s press just wasn’t the same, nor was it present at all really. That was huge for allowing Marcelo and Kroos some relief as well, without having to worry about the Egyptian’s presence. A few times Liverpool tried to get the ball out to the flank and Mane was too central to catch up to it.
  • Has to be said though, Alexander-Arnold on that flank was really impressive. He’s been a revelation this season. I’m excited to see his career develop. Has all the tools to become on of the best right-backs in the world.
  • Gareth Bale, man. I didn’t think it was possible to love this man more, but here we are. The goal will go down in history. To me it’s greater than Zidane’s goal, though I’d be fine with either side of the debate. Karius goofed on the final goal, but let’s be clear — that shot was a thunderbolt either way, and ‘Alpha-Bale’, the alien we want to show up and do audacious things, turned up in that moment. Earlier in the season he wouldn’t think of slinging that. He had all the confidence in the world today. Beyond his terrifying offense, he did some tremendous defensive work deep on the right flank.
  • This was one of Sergio Ramos’s best games, ever. His distribution out of the back was immense, and his defense to constantly thwart Liverpool’s attacks over and over again in the first half was crucial. True leader.
  • I don’t think anyone was ‘bad’ tonight. There were schematic issues to start which rectified themselves as the game progressed, but everyone worked hard. Benzema and Marcelo did curate chances, Isco grew into the game, Modric and Kroos both were quite good on the ball, and Ramos and Varane did their thing at the back. Cristiano wasn’t at his best, but he’s allowed some slack, and worked hard by dropping deep to help with the build-up often.

Soak it in, fam.

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