Real Madrid are into the 2021/22 Champions League final! With 89:20 on the clock, Los Blancos needed two goals and were on the brink of elimination. By 90:50, Rodrygo had already scored twice to take the tie to extra time, where a Karim Benzema penalty set up a meeting with Liverpool at the Stade de France. It was a truly epic comeback and a fascinating one too. Here, we answer three pre-match questions that were cleared up, as well as three new ones stemming from Real Madrid’s semi-final win.
1. One more comeback?
Real Madrid have developed a reputation over the years for producing epic comebacks at the Bernabéu on European nights, from the legendary fightback against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1980s to the PSG and Chelsea back-and-forths of recent weeks. So, would there be one more here? Well, that was the theme of the pre-match motivational video that Ancelotti and his coaching staff played for his players. It showed several of the epic comebacks from over the years and finished with the message “Falta una más”, or “There’s one more missing” in English. Now, thanks to the drama of this Wednesday night, another comeback has been added to that collection.
2. Would Manchester City pay the price for their intense title race?
With Real Madrid having won LaLiga Santander so convincingly and so ahead of time, they have been able to rotate in recent weeks, ahead of and in the middle of this semi-final tie. Manchester City haven’t had that luxury, as they’re engaged in a tense Premier League title tussle with Liverpool. So, would Real Madrid be able to make the most of this and outlast Manchester City physically? Well, yes, it appears they could. Not only did the substitutes off the bench bring extra energy to Real Madrid’s play, but even those who played the 90 minutes, like Nacho or Fede Valverde, were able to finish the game still sprinting after every ball. Luka Modrić was even outsprinting City starters when he was still on the pitch and running like the Duracell Bunny. That energy simply wasn’t present in the City players, perhaps because of their draining title challenge.
3. Would Guardiola be the man to stop Real Madrid?
Coming in to the match, there was a sense that if one coach could stop Real Madrid from activating the comeback spirit of the Bernabéu then it might be Pep Guardiola. In the end, this wasn’t the case, but Guardiola clearly knew what to expect. He spoke at length in between the first and second legs about how Real Madrid can never be ruled out until the final whistle, a fact Guardiola knows better than most from his years of watching Real Madrid as a kid, playing against them as a player and coaching against them as a coach. Coming into this game, he’d only ever lost one of nine matches at the Bernabéu, drawing two and winning the other six. Now, Guardiola has lost there for just the second time as a coach and must shoulder some of the blame for his decisions, such as sending on Fernandinho for the final minutes when City were cruising and when his assistant Domènec Torrent seemed to be telling him not to.
1. Is this the most difficult run to a Champions League final ever?
Real Madrid are into the final and they’ve done it the hard way, having to come through PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City. And, if Los Blancos go on to win it, they’ll have had to defeat another of Europe’s top clubs in the shape of Liverpool. So, is Real Madrid’s 2021/22 Champions League run the most difficult ever? Quite possibly. At the start of the season, the bookies ranked the Champions League favourites as follows: Manchester City, PSG, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Chelsea. Real Madrid’s paths have now crossed four of these five teams, highlighting just how impressive it is to have gotten this far.
2. What now for Rodrygo?
Rodrygo was the hero again, levelling the tie just like he did against Chelsea in the previous round. The Brazilian has hit a good run of form of late, with six goals in his past six matches, while it should also be remembered that he had become a regular starter for Ancelotti earlier this season. So, what does the future have in store for him? Will he be content to come off the bench in 2022/23? Will he ever get a consistent run of matches at the same position? These are all questions for further down the line, since he has a contract until 2025, but they’ll need to be discussed at some point.
3. What are the narratives for the final?
Of course, Real Madrid fans around the world can start looking ahead to the final, so it’s only fitting that we round off this piece with a quick discussion of Real Madrid vs Liverpool, which will take place in Paris on May 28th, at the Stade de France. There are so many narratives that spring to mind already, such as: Ancelotti coaching against the club he met in the 2005 and 2007 finals, Klopp and Ancelotti resuming their Merseyside derby rivalry, Liverpool and Salah wanting revenge for the 2018 final when he had to go off injured, the 1981 European Cup final between these sides in the same city... That showpiece event really will be one to look forward to.