Zinedine Zidane rides his luck and other things learned as Real Madrid win third straight Champions League

Andy West 27/05/2018
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Real Madrid claimed a fourth Champions League title in the space of five seasons with a crazy 3-1 victory over Liverpool, bringing a bizarre campaign for Los Blancos to a suitably strange end.

Here are the game’s three big talking points.

Zidane rides his luck

It has regularly been asked whether Zinedine Zidane is a good manager or just a lucky one. The answer, surely, is that he is both – and his team certainly had a few more doses of fortune to lift the trophy after a campaign full of strange incidents.

Firstly came the first half injury to Mohamed Salah which significantly altered the pattern of the game, forcing Liverpool onto the back foot as the English team were denied the services of their most potent forward.

Then Madrid took the lead with a freakish goal as Loris Karius inexplicably ignored the close proximity of Karim Benzema as he rolled the ball out, allowing the Frenchman to stick out his foot and incredibly send the ball trickling apologetically over the line.

If that was one of the strangest strikes in Champions League history, Madrid’s next was one of the best as Gareth Bale – introduced by Zidane just a few minutes earlier – met Marcelo’s cross with an outrageous overhead volley which made Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike at Juventus a few weeks ago look commonplace.

The result was then sealed when another horrible error from Karius allowed Bale to net again, and the fact it took an injury to the opposition’s best player, two horrendous goalkeeping errors and an absolute worldy to lift the title says everything about Madrid’s campaign.

Zinedine Zidane.

Zinedine Zidane.

Bale makes his point

A few weeks ago Bale appeared to have no future at Real Madrid, having dropped down the pecking order to fall behind Marco Asensio, Isco and Lucas Vazquez as the attacking partner for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

It seemed certain that the Welshman would be sold in the summer, and he was so far out of favour that he didn’t even really feature in conversations about Zinedine Zidane’s strongest eleven. But an excellent goal to earn a draw against Barcelona reignited his season, and he headed into the final with confidence renewed after a strong run of form.

But nobody could have predicted the incredible impact he would make upon the final, netting a stupendous overhead volley which would have been decried as unrealistic if it had been scored on PlayStation. And although Bale’s second goal was largely due to Karius’s horrible mistake, the fact that he was prepared to shoot from long-range showed how good he was feeling – and now maybe he will still be in Spain next season, after all. Some big decisions lie ahead for him and the club.

Gareth Bale.

Gareth Bale.

Karius costs Klopp

It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for Loris Karius after his two terrible errors played a major part in losing Liverpool the title, and the German keeper’s tearful reaction at the final whistle made it perfectly clear just how bad he was feeling. He does not need anybody to tell him how costly his mistakes were.

Nevertheless, there’s no escaping from the fact that Karius was the weak link in this contest, and sadly that will not surprise too many people after he struggled to convince throughout the campaign despite managing to displace Simon Mignolet as Jurgen Klopp’s first choice.

Klopp’s decision to stick with his compatriot ahead of the Belgian will undoubtedly be questioned, but the most important thing now is the future and it’s clear the Reds need to recruit a new keeper during the summer.

Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak would be the best possible option but he is far more likely to join Paris Saint-Germain if he does leave. Roma goalkeeper Allison is another name linked, along with Gianluigi Donnarumma from AC Milan. But whoever the new keeper is, one thing is clear: it has to be someone.

Loris Karius.

Loris Karius.

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Mohamed Salah delivers a flood of tears for Liverpool and Egypt supporters

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Mohamed Salah cried as he left the pitch in Kiev.

Liverpool fans expected Mohamed Salah to deliver a flood of goals in Saturday’s Champions League final.

Instead, they got a flood of tears.

Heartbroken and hopes shattered, the forward’s 26th-minute coming together with Sergio Ramos caused reverberations from Merseyside to Cairo.

It provided a sour note to one of the great debut campaigns. One that had delivered 44 strikes in 51 appearances before this doomed 52nd run-out.

From the moment the 25-year-old’s shoulder was driven into the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex turf, whether malicious or not, hopes of European glory were doomed to failure. A defeat, eventually by three goals to one, was inevitable as Real Madrid were gifted an open goal in their quest to land a third-successive continental crown and record-extending 13th overall.

At the same time, 96 million Egyptians united in panic and anger. Salah carried the hopes of a football-obsessed nation into a first World Cup since 1990.

Not even the legendary Mohamed Aboutrika ever matched Salah’s nerveless last-minute penalty against Congo in October that secured hallowed passage to Russia.

Initial, unverified reports of a suspected dislocation came with a six-to-eight week spell of convalescence. This was later softened by the Egyptian Football Association’s assertion that the injury was just to the shoulder joint, following conversations with the Reds’ medical staff.

Egypt’s World Cup opener against Uruguay is just 18 days away. Either way, only a medical miracle will see him run-out at Ekaterinburg Arena.

Yet alone the Group A-tests to come against hosts Russia on June 19 and Arab neighbours Saudi Arabia on June 25.

Such an inviting set of fixtures sparked real hope of deep progression. Those aspirations can be shelved now, if the prognosis holds true.

But the ramifications of this collision with Ramos should be felt by all football lovers. Not just those of an Egypt or Liverpool persuasion.

Salah seemed poised to raid the citadel built up around Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. This pair have held an iron grip on the Ballon d’Or for the last decade, rewriting the norms of the game with campaign after campaign featuring 40-goal+ hauls.

A curly-haired usurper had arisen in electrifying fashion during 2017/18. Each inspired strike making the £34 million (Dh171.1m) handed to Roma last June seem like a theft of the century.

Regularly plundering goals of outstanding quality and invention. Putting sides of Manchester City and his former employers from the Eternal City’s quality to the sword with impunity during this enlivening run to Eastern Europe.

This prowess replicated on the global stage would have cemented legendary status, regardless of any sane football lover’s affiliation.

Now, this dream of glory to last a lifetime has gone.

Ramos’ intentions are sure to be debated in the days, weeks and months to come.

Their collision had seemed benign on first viewing. Yet the crossing of arms and forceful fall to the floor driven by the Spain centre-back appeared unnatural at best, malevolent at worst.

Salt was thrown on open wounds as the Madrid skipper showed little remorse and then went on a personal mission to get Senegal forward Sadio Mane disciplined with a succession of theatrical dives.

The impact this intervention had on proceedings cannot be overstated. With Salah on the pitch, Liverpool had fired in nine attempts on goal before his pained removal on 30 minutes.

This figure was not added to in the remaining minutes of the goalless first half.

Madrid had appeared unsettled and unnerved with the ‘Egyptian King’ ruling proceedings.

He had been involved in a flowing third-minute move with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and Brazil forward Roberto Firmino.

A sensational pass also almost played Mane into space, only for France centre-back Raphael Varane to diligently step across.

Given the full 90 minutes to wreak havoc, he would have been sure to breach a Madrid backline that had creaked previously against Juventus and Bayern Munich.

Sadly, this is now all just conjecture. Egypt fans will pray to avoid the same, hollow feeling.

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Gareth Bale throws Real Madrid future into doubt after double in Champions League final

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Gareth Bale with the Champions League trophy

Gareth Bale came off the bench to fire Real Madrid to Champions League glory, before throwing his future with the 13-time European champions into doubt.

Bale’s stunning overhead kick, just over two minutes after coming on, handed Zinedine Zidane’s side a 2-1 advantage against Liverpool, before an error from Loris Karius allowed the Welshman to grab his second of the night and seal the win.

Zidane had left Bale among his substitutes in Kiev, with Isco and Karim Benzema preferred to the 28-year-old, but he certainly made his presence felt, as his goals sealed Madrid’s third Champions League title in a row.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale said: “I need to be playing, I need to be playing week in, week out and that hasn’t happened this season for one reason or another.

“I had a five or six week injury at the start of the season and I’ve been fit ever since.

“Obviously now I have to sit down in the summer and discuss it with my agent and we’ll take it from there.”

On his frustration at not starting the final against Liverpool and his performance from the bench, Bale added: “You have to make an impact. I was disappointed not to start, but you have to keep working until the end.”

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