Real Madrid are champions of Europe for a 14th time. Vinícius’ second half goal and Thibaut Courtois’ nine saves saw Los Blancos overcome Liverpool in Paris and win yet another Champions League title. It is a historic night and there’s so much to discuss, so here comes a very special edition of three answers and three questions, looking at some of the pre-match doubts and at a few of the many post-victory talking points.
1. Valverde or Rodrygo?
The only doubt we had regarding the starting line-up was whether Ancelotti would opt for Fede Valverde or Rodrygo. Everything suggested that he’d go for the Uruguayan, especially the way the coach was talking up how great Rodrygo can be off the bench, and it was indeed Valverde who started. And he was absolutely excellent. Besides setting up the goal, Valverde was everywhere he needed to be for Real Madrid. He later admitted that he had suffered pre-match nerves: “I had to go to the toilet today more times than in any other day of my life.” But, it didn’t show at all on the pitch and Rodrygo wasn’t needed except as a stoppage time sub. This was one of the biggest days in Valverde’s career.
2. Should Real Madrid fear the omen of 1981?
Real Madrid don’t play finals, they win them. Whenever Los Blancos have reached finals in recent times, they’ve almost always come out on top. In the European Cup specifically, they came into this Saturday’s match having won each of the past seven finals they’d played. But, the last defeat that Real Madrid suffered in a European Cup final was in 1981 against Liverpool in Paris. Would that be a bad omen? Well, no. Not at all. Real Madrid have now extended their record to make it eight consecutive Champions League finals that have ended in victory.
3. Would this be Marcelo’s last game?
Marcelo’s future was still up in the air coming into this game. But, we now know. His Real Madrid career has come to and end. “This was my final game with Real Madrid, but I can be happy to go out with another Champions League title and as the player with the most trophies in the history of the biggest club in the world,” he said after the game, confirming his departure after 14 and a half wonderful seasons and 25 medals.
1. Was this the most difficult Champions League run ever?
PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool. Real Madrid beat them all. This knockout stage that was supposed to start with a tie against Benfica ended up being one of the most challenging ever. Or maybe the most difficult of all time. Real Madrid’s 2017/18 run of PSG, Juventus, Bayern and Liverpool was similarly difficult, while Manchester United fans will tell you that defeating the 1998/99 squads of Inter, Juventus and Bayern was a tough undertaking. But, perhaps Los Blancos’ 2021/22 route to glory will go down as the most difficult and miraculous ever. Ancelotti’s side overcame the wealth of Qatar and the top three teams of the Premier League to win this title. Even if they were outplayed at times along the way, this achievement is beyond impressive.
2. Is Courtois the best goalkeeper in the world?
Before a Champions League final, it’s normal to do some combined XIs. It’s a fun exercise, so why not? But, it was shocking how many people had Alisson over Courtois in their combined XIs. It’s shocking because Courtois isn’t just the better goalkeeper out of himself and Alisson. He’s the best goalkeeper in the whole world right now. The Belgian made 59 saves in this Champions League run. FIFTY-NINE! That’s never been done since Opta started counting. Every single game, whether in LaLiga or the Champions League, it seems Courtois pulls off a miraculous save at some point. Surely now he’ll start getting the recognition he deserves and start winning more of the individual awards that he is so often left out of.
59 - #Courtois with 59 saves has now set the new record of saves made in a single #UCL campaign since 2003/04 (since Opta collected this data).— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) May 28, 2022
Also with 9 saves he set a new record in a #UCLfinal since 2003/04.
3. Kylian who?
What a difference a week makes. From the rage and rejection Madridistas felt this time last week, when Kylian Mbappé announced he’d stay with PSG, to the joy and jubilation felt on this Saturday night, as Real Madrid lifted a 14th European Cup in the city whose club hasn’t won a single one. Real Madrid do, of course, need to plan for the future, but this season’s continental success has shown that there is life without Mbappé. As Florentino Pérez put it after tonight’s game: “Today, Mbappé doesn’t exist. Today, what exists is the party of Real Madrid, its players and its fans.”