Before heads hit pillows last night, Gareth Bale’s bicycle kick would have been spinning on a continuous loop in every football fan’s mind.
The Welsh wizard issued an emphatic come-and-get-me plea after a two-goal display in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Bale’s first, one of the great European goals, was absurd in its thought and execution, but scoring crucial goals in cup finals has hallmarked his Los Blancos career.
Indeed, the 28-year-old cemented his legacy as British football’s finest export by scoring in a fourth major cup final win.
Below is a look at all five goals he’s scored in winning finales.
2013/14 Copa del Rey final, Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
The goal, which before Saturday’s strike, had come to define his career. It was quintessentially Bale in its raw athleticism, a dizzying blend of power, pace and precision.
His 50m gallop to win the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona was the most important in his career at the time but it was also one of his most jaw-dropping.
The Welshman’s first touch was on the half-way line as he pushed the ball past Marc Bartra but despite being bumped off the pitch, he accelerated in a long arc to reappear ahead of the defender.
He tore into Barca’s box and then jabbed the ball through Jose Pinto’s legs, racing away in celebration as if unable to stop his blistering momentum.
2013/14 Champions League final, Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid
For all the savagery of his Copa del Rey final finish, a simple nod of the head was enough for another significant strike.
Atletico Madrid were minutes away from a glorious Champions League triumph but after a Sergio Ramos header secured extra time, Bale broke their hearts to make it 2-1.
He actually missed a hat-trick of chances earlier in the clash but as Angel Di Maria surged and slalomed on the left, running between an exhausted Juanfran and Miranda, the Argentine’s deflected flick off Thibaut Courtois looped to the far post.
Bale jumped first and leapt high, calculating the spin perfectly to squeeze his header inside the post.
2014 Club World Cup final, Real Madrid 2-0 San Lorenzo
To all but English football, the Club World Cup carries great continental significance and so Bale’s finish to seal a first victory for Los Blancos in the format deserves mention alongside his other exploits.
The goal itself is the weakest of his five. Toni Kroos tapped it to Isco on his right shoulder and he slipped the ball into Bale’s path as the winger drove into the box.
His first touch to collect the ball was sweet and although his swivelled left-foot strike wasn’t clean, the ball squeezed under a pretty pathetic dive from San Lorenzo stopper Sebastinn Torrico for Madrid’s second.
2017/18 Champions League final, Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool
Two goals, both equally absurd but for completely contrasting reasons. His first, just minutes after climbing off the bench is a thing of beauty.
Football in its raw element is an art form and Bale’s left-foot paintbrush produced a masterpiece as he lifted himself into the Kiev atmosphere.
The thought process to even attempt the overhead was as impressive as the execution. The cross from Marcelo seemed well out of his reach, too fast, too high and too far behind him to be manipulated back towards goal.
But the image of Bale hanging in the air, ball gripped to the sweet spot of his left foot will decorate his career.
In equal measure, the second will linger over Loris Karius for a long time. Emboldened by his opener, Bale smacked a long-range drive which while it dipped and swayed in the air, should have been a simple grasp for the Liverpool stopper. It slipped through his hands and Bale had his fifth final goal.
Real Madrid wrote their name into the history books by becoming the first team in the Champions League era to win three- straight trophies in the competition following a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Saturday’s final.
Here are Seven Deadly Stats from the game.
MADRID’S TRIED AND TESTED
There’d been a lot of debate over the team Zinedine Zidane would select for this final. With options such as Benzema, Bale, Isco, and Marco Asensio to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, it wasn’t an easy decision.
In the end, however, everyone should have just looked at Madrid’s team sheet from last year’s final. That’s what their manager did.
It’s the first time the same line-up has been selected for consecutive finals.
11 - Real Madrid have the same starting XI as in the 2016-17 Champions League final; the first time that a team has started with the same 11 players in different European Cup/Champions League finals (excl. replays). Familiar. pic.twitter.com/pVhjVQC0aP— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 26, 2018
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Zidane has kept faith with compatriot Benzema the entire season, even as the French striker was the target of criticism from pundits and his own home fans as his form dipped.
Perhaps it takes one great Frenchman to recognise another. Two goals in the second leg of the semi-final, followed by the opener in the final – is anyone doubting Benzema now?
RED ARROWS MAKE HISTORY
Mohamed Salah‘s final was cruelly cut short half an hour into the game with a shoulder injury, so his team-mates had to dig deep.
Thankfully for Liverpool, they have one of the best attacking tridents in football history. When they fell behind and people wondered how they’d fight back without their talisman, Mane stepped up to remind everyone there were other stellar forwards in this team.
Liverpool have become the first side in Champions League history to have three players score 10+ goals in a single campaign.— CaughtOffside (@caughtoffside) May 26, 2018
Mo Salah - 10
Roberto Firmino - 10
Sadio Mane - 10
What a trio they are! #MUFC pic.twitter.com/LkuvBOU2FD
MANE CARRYING THE FLAG
Mane was making history just by playing in this game, becoming the first Senegalese to feature in a Champions League final. What better way to mark the occasion than to score.
The Liverpool forward is already a hero in his country, and his stock only rose on Saturday.
Mane is the first Senegal player to play UCL final and he scores. 💯— Mr. Ameen (@Sir_Muller1) May 26, 2018
FIRST IN 30 YEARS
Everyone knew what was at stake for Madrid on Saturday. Win, and become the first team ever with three-straight Champions League titles.
Not since the 1970s, when this was still the European Cup, had this trophy been won three times in a row.
3 – Real Madrid have become the first team to win the European Cup/Champions League in three successive seasons since Bayern Munich between 1974 and 1976. Specialists. #UCLfinal #RMALFC pic.twitter.com/bH57Q7iTI4— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 26, 2018
SACKED IN THE MORNING?
Despite all the success Zidane brought his club, when Madrid slumped in La Liga this season there was serious talk that he could get sacked.
Nobody’s going to be calling for his head now after the ninth trophy in two-and-a-half years.
NO GOALS, BUT RONALDO STILL WRITES HEADLINES
Ronaldo became the first player to score in three different European finals this year, and he was hoping to make it four.
He ended up having a subdued night, getting only one clear chance and hitting that straight at the keeper, but it didn’t matter – there’s no keeping the Madrid superstar from making history.
Karim Benzema opened the scoring, intercepting Loris Karius’ throw out howler in the 51st minute before Sadio Mane equalised from a set-piece four minutes later.
From there, it was the Welshman’s stage after he entered the field for Isco in the second-half.
He netted an audacious bicycle-kick to put Madrid ahead before his effort from range drew another nightmare from the Liverpool goalkeeper.
Goals – 3
Shots – 14
Possession – 66%
Tackles – 11
Dribbles – 10
Goals – 1
Shots – 13
Possession – 34%
Tackles – 18
Dribbles – 9
The Madrid boss set his side up in a 4-3-1-2 formation with Isco and Karim Benzema both getting the nod ahead of Bale. The defending champions struggled in the early part of proceedings as they failed to assert their authority on the ball.
Mohamed Salah’s injury turned the game in their favour as they began to create chances. After Mane equalised, Madrid weathered the storm and looked the stronger outfit again. Zidane capitalised on that advantage by throwing on Bale who did the rest.
There were no surprises from Klopp as he deployed Liverpool’s usual and ever-so-effective 4-3-3 formation that tends to extract the best out of their fearsome front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane.
The injury to their talismanic Egyptian threw a spanner in the works and Adam Lallana who came on in his stead barely mustered a modicum of the threat Salah posed. The Reds switched to a 4-4-2 and predictably lost their edge.
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
MADRID STEP UP
Before Salah went off injured, Liverpool had nine shots and none for the rest of the first half following his substitution in the 31st minute. That’s the kind of weight his presence carries in terms of Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Zidane pushed his troops forward thereafter as they grew in confidence, ending the the opening 45 minutes with 67 per cent of possession. Marcelo, though having to cope with Mane instead, was able to venture forward with more freedom while Madrid’s midfield began to move the ball around with greater authority.
BBC THE REAL FRONT THREE
Leaving Bale on the bench was the only real question mark over Zidane’s team selection given the Welshman’s form of late. Isco did hit the bar but didn’t have his most influential outing. Once Bale replaced the Spaniard on the hour mark, it changed the dimension of their attack.
Isco tended to drop off Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo but with Bale on the pitch, the front three interchanged seamlessly. His incredible first goal will dominate headlines but the impact his introduction had and the openings it created were priceless.
PINNING MADRID DOWN
The high press is a big part of Liverpool’s game but against Madrid, Klopp seemed to tweak that aspect of their repertoire. Their front three took up great positions to contain Los Blancos inside their own half in the opening exchanges, and threatening in the transition every time there was a turnover.
Had they closed them down aggressively like they normally tend to do, they would’ve run the risk of Madrid’s technically gifted players passing the ball around them. This strategy helped them gain the upper hand in the early exchanges.
Nothing spectacular about the Frenchman’s tactical input other than the Bale substitution but his greatest strength has always been getting the best out of the world class talent at his disposal and he did that once again.
Rating – 7/10
His set up was unquestionably the better of the two managers’ but he didn’t prepare for the worst case scenario. His introduction of Lallana was uninspiring, although he was lacking options.
Rating – 6/10