Sorry for the late update on this, everyone. I was in New York celebrating my 21st birthday on Sunday (shameless shoutout).
And thanks to Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, I was really tempted to start those celebrations a day early.
First things first, credit to Real Madrid for capturing yet another Champions League title. Believe me when I say it’s not easy to win the UEFA Champions League.
But to win three trophies in a row and have claimed silverware in four out of the last five tournaments? Now that is an impressive feat and it must be recognized.
Bleacher Report‘s Sam Tighe said it best:
Three in a row for Real Madrid. This team is made of different stuff. To normalise winning the Champions League is remarkable. Don’t forget that.
— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) May 26, 2018
Liverpool certainly didn’t play their best game, but football is game of opportunities. Madrid capitalized and benefitted from the ones they got. Props to Los Blancos.
It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise unbelievable season for Liverpool.
A second consecutive Champions League berth, the rise of Egyptian star Mohamed Salah and an unlikely run to the Champions League Final is certainly nothing to scoff at.
But the final itself? Well …
The Salah Effect
When Sergio Ramos took down Salah midway through the first half, Liverpudlians and Reds fans all over the world collectively held their breath for the winger’s health.
Salah did come back on to the field briefly, but only before the pain was too much to bear.
It was heartbreaking to see a player who is destined to be a Ballon d’Or candidate have the biggest game of his career stripped away from him, by a historically dirty player.
But do I think Ramos wanted to hurt Salah? No. Did he want to take the Egyptian down to the ground? Yes. And was he more aggressive, knowing Salah was the key player for Liverpool? Hell yes.
With Salah, Liverpool had Madrid on their heels early, pushing into the offensive end right off the bat, and the Reds had a stellar chance with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s shot that unfortunately was right at Keylor Navas. Salah even had the match’s first shot just 45 seconds in.
But without The Egyptian King, the Reds looked like a four-year old kid at Walmart without his mom.
Madrid eventually regained momentum and began controlling the possession and dictating the game’s ebbs and flow. These were the factors that Liverpool needed in order to control and ultimately compete.
Many thought that Salah’s injury would encourage Liverpool to play more aggressive, and provide the Reds with an extra incentive to win.
Even I joined in.
— Coach Cal (@CalDymowski) May 26, 2018
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Liverpool made it interesting with Sadio Mane’s workmanlike goal, but the offense was lackluster overall. There were some small bursts and chances, with the best being Mane’s shot off the post, but nothing really threatened Navas and the Madrid backline other than that.
Loris Karius: Mayhem in Net
Man, this is tough for so many reasons.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious: you have to feel sorry for Karius. He made two massive mistakes in the biggest game of his career thus far. In the end, they were ultimately the difference.
Karius’ first blunder came after Isco nearly gave Madrid a 1-0 lead, with his shot smacking off the crossbar.
Moments later, a missed overhead pass to Karim Benzema, which turned into bewilderment on behalf of Liverpool, saw Karius scoop the ball up and carelessly toss it off the outstretched foot of Benzema.
At first glance, you may think that Benzema knocked it out of Karius’ hand.
Karius’ poor throw to Liverpool defender Andy Robertson left Liverpool down 1-0 without Madrid really cracking the Reds’ defense.
In the later stages of the Final came the German keeper’s second mishap.
On as a substitute, Madrid winger Gareth Bale settled a pass, eyed up a shot, moved in a for a better shot, hit the ball well, but it was right at Karius.
As soon as the shot was hit, most people assumed it would either be parried away or caught. A ball with such dip and pace, especially from the foot of a player with Bale’s quality at that range would unlikely be caught.
But Karius had other plans.
He went for the catch in a good position, only to then take a quick step over to the right and have the ball sneak between his hands and in for Bale’s second of the match. It was the decisive third goal for Los Blancos.
At that point, it was 3-1 Madrid with little more than 10 minutes left to be played and Liverpool left emotionally and mentally drained.
But despite all that, what makes this loss tough to swallow is the fact that, for the last 5-7 seasons, the Reds have struggled with finding a reliable goalkeeper. Liverpool has been unsuccessful in finding a replacement to proven and experienced shot-stopper Pepe Reina.
Lately, Liverpool has entrusted younger, more promising keepers such as Adam Bogdan, Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius. But none have managed to make a lasting impression on the squad.
Liverpool were defeated in a Champions League Final, and it arguably boiled down to the multiple blunders made by the team’s last line of defense. It’s the type of loss that hurts, stings and sucks.
The Great Escape
I know I complimented Real Madrid earlier in the article, but let me be very frank about this: Madrid escaped with the trophy this time around.
Last season saw a complete dismantling of Italian giants Juventus, in a final that ended 4-1 in favor of Los Blancos and was never really a contest.
Just two seasons ago, it was the experience and leadership of Madrid that carried them past rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties.
In 2014, Madrid was rescued by a Ramos header, coupled with the collective brilliance of Ronaldo, Bale and Marcelo in extra time, which ultimately salvaged the Galacticos from the graveyard.
This time, Madrid were fortunate and benefitted from Liverpool’s poor goalkeeping on the day.
Liverpool lost this game. Madrid benefitted from the careless mistakes made by a Liverpool team rattled after losing their best player. Klopp’s Reds, anxious for the chance to be recognized as one of Europe’s biggest clubs again, dropped the ball.
From the kickoff, Madrid was considerably flatfooted before being bailed out by Karius at the other end.
Bale’s bicycle kick goal gets no argument from me.
It was one of the most impressive goals I’ve ever seen. Ever. It was immaculate from the timing of the jump, to the connection of the ball to the Welshman’s boot and the moment the ball hit the back of the net.
But Madrid certainly was far from impressive.
Ronaldo didn’t do much at all. In fact, someone needs to check Alexander-Arnold’s back pocket to make sure the Portuguese star isn’t still in there.
Let’s also not forget arguably the Final’s second-best moment.
It's moments like this that have turned Andy Robertson into a new hero at Anfield.
Huge tackle 👏 pic.twitter.com/hBV7FZsOhc
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 27, 2018
It’s that hustle and tackle on one of the legend’s of the game that you cannot teach.
Man of the Match
Bale struggled to fit into the First Team at Madrid this year, but the Welshman showed everyone that he can still play with the best in Kyiv, this past Saturday.
His golazo is one thing, but his energy and willingness to go forward provided a spark that Madrid desperately needed in order to get over the hump and capture their fourth Champions League trophy in five years.
Karius may have gifted Bale his second goal of the match, but when you look at the mechanics of his shot and the movement of the ball that in and of itself is a beautiful thing to watch.
Bale became the first substitute to score two goals in a Champions League Final, and in this day and age, where we see star athletes controlling almost every aspect of the game — Lionel Messi, LeBron James, etc. — this feat is certainly impressive.
Liverpool is definitely on the right track. Klopp’s side just need a few more pieces in order to continue to compete.
Naby Keita and Fabinho will join the Reds at their Melwood training ground on July 1, but the Reds should continue looking for a new keeper, too.
Alisson of AS Roma is on Klopp’s wish list, as well as Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak. Both are young but established players, who would certainly be capable of solving Liverpool’s keeper conundrum.
Additionally, adding another center back may be in the works.
Virgil van Dijk is the record-signing, but Dejan Lovren isn’t. Look for Liverpool to target a defender with experience.
Adding explosive players like Nabil Fekir and Thomas Lemar would give Liverpool a level of depth that would have the Reds competing for both a Champions League title and Premier League Trophy in the upcoming season.
For Madrid, decisions will have to be made regarding Bale, Isco and Marco Asensio.
All three are top-tier players who would bring Los Blancos a few pretty pennies. But questions remain whether Madrid will be willing to throw money at the players, in order to keep them in the Spanish capital.
Bale wants out for more first team minutes.
Isco has been itching for a new move and teams all over the world are ready to shovel money at the feet of Zinedine Zidane for Asensio’s services.
It’s a big summer window for all three players, but also the player in Ronaldo.
In a post-game interview, Ronaldo sure sounded like a man on his way out. But then, hours later, the Portuguese star appeared committed to a future that includes staying at the Bernabeu.
Nobody knows what Cristiano will do, but with Paris-St.Germain, the former front-runners for his signature, in deep water with Financial Fair Play rules, a move to the Ligue 1 Champions looks unlikely.
MLS? Commissioner Don Garber sure gave David Beckham a great deal. Ronaldo could get all that and more. Heck, Garber could make him the Assistant Commissioner, give him a future franchise, and more.
And Cris, if you’re reading, I hear Philadelphia is lovely this time of year. Just saying.
It was a disappointing Final, but again, Madrid is Madrid and Liverpool will be back at this stage soon.
Aaaaaannnnnnd you heard it here first: Mohamed Salah will lead Egypt to the Quarterfinals in Russia and take home the Ballon d’Or.
Thanks again. Chat me in the comments or reach me at @caldymowski on Twitter. Cheers.