Brilliant Bale's brace brings Real Madrid another Champions League trophy
Real Madrid won the Champions League for the third season in a row thanks to a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Kyiv.
Loris Karius made two catastrophic errors to gift Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale goals, with the Welshman also scoring a sensational overhead kick as los Blancos won Europe’s premier competition for the 13th time in their history.
Sadio Mane’s strike ultimately wasn’t enough for Jurgen Klopp’s men, who were left cursing the injury-enforced withdrawal of Mohamed Salah in the first half.
Fast start brings no reward
It was no surprise to see Liverpool come flying out of the traps in the early stages. The first moment of danger came within 30 seconds, when a Salah through-ball almost found Mane in behind the Madrid backline. Georginio Wijnaldum tried his luck with an ambitious effort soon after, before Raphael Varane was called into action to deal with a low, driven cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The reigning champions spent the opening exchanges on the back foot, with Liverpool keen to regain the ball high up the pitch whenever possession was ceded. There were a few signs of nervousness in Madrid’s play – Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal both misplaced relatively simple passes – but they gradually gained a foothold in the game, and the best early chance fell their way. Cristiano Ronaldo drifted into the right-hand channel and carried the ball into the box, but the Portuguese elected to shoot from a tight angle rather than picking out a team-mate in the centre.
Liverpool continued to hassle and harry Madrid, who were forced into some desperate defending as Mane, Salah and James Milner all had shots blocked in quick succession. Roberto Firmino also found an opposition defender in his path when he pulled the trigger in the 23rd minute, but the loose ball fell to Alexander-Arnold, whose fierce strike was well held by Keylor Navas.
The impetus was with Klopp’s side as the match ticked into its second quarter, but there was concern from all those of a Liverpool persuasion when Salah went down clutching his shoulder under the challenge of Sergio Ramos. The Egyptian tried to continue but was forced to withdraw on the half-hour mark, a development which prompted several Reds fans to place their heads in their hands.
Costly error gifts Madrid lead
Madrid, clearly emboldened by the forced exit of Liverpool’s star man, started to string together some passes in midfield, albeit without really testing the Merseysiders’ rearguard. Liverpool’s heavy pressing gave way to a greater willingness to sit behind the ball, with the focus shifted to holding Madrid at arm’s length and springing forward at pace in transition.
Zinedine Zdane’s men did have the ball in the net before the interval, Benzema turning home the rebound after Ronaldo’s header was parried by Karius, but the linesman’s flag denied them the showpiece’s opening goal. Benzema then turned provider, floating a fine pass to the back post which was slammed into the side-netting by Nacho, a 37th-minute replacement for the injured Carvajal.
Madrid picked up where they left off after the interval, Isco hitting the bar just two minutes after the restart when Adam Lallana’s botched clearance fell to him in the centre of the box. The Spaniard probably should have done better but his side broke the deadlock in remarkable fashion soon after, Benzema benefitting from a monumental mistake from Karius – and showing great perseverance and intelligence himself – to give the holders the advantage. The German goalkeeper attempted to restart play quickly with a throw out to one of his defenders, but Benzema read his intentions and stuck out a leg to divert the ball into the net.
Conceding in such a farcical manner could have affected Liverpool, but they regrouped well and were back on level terms four minutes later. Dejan Lovren climbed magnificently to power a firm header towards goal from Milner’s corner, with Mane on hand to prod the ball past Navas from close range.
Madrid get job done - again
Suddenly the energy and tempo returned to the Reds’ play, a crunching tackle from Andrew Robertson indicative of their renewed vigour. Madrid are experts at weathering storms, however, and it was they who scored the all-important third goal, Bale showing extraordinary athleticism, invention and technique to connect with the sweetest of bicycle kicks and restore his team’s lead just 122 seconds after he had entered the fray in place of Isco.
Liverpool again refused to let their heads drop, and Mane came close to levelling the scores for a second time when his well-struck drive cannoned off the post. Madrid continued to threaten, though, with a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Robertson denying Ronaldo as the Portuguese ran through on goal.
Liverpool’s dwindling energy reserves made it difficult for them to sustain attacks as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark, and it was Madrid who looked the more likely to score the game’s fourth goal. Bale’s terrific outside-of-the-boot cross found Benzema at the back post, where the Frenchman saw his fierce volley palmed away by Karius.
It was a different story when Bale pulled the trigger from 30 yards in the 83rd minute. It looked like an overly ambitious attempt, but Karius failed to sort his hands out and ended up pushing the ball over the line to move Madrid a step closer to victory. Bale could even have had a hat-trick, but he was dispossessed by a well-timed Lovren challenge as Ronaldo pleaded for a square pass.
In the end it didn’t matter, and the 2017/18 season ended in familiar fashion: with Real Madrid lifting the Champions League trophy.