The magic of Real Madrid in the Champions League works its spell to deny Liverpool


None were more vital than the tip of a Sadio Mané shot onto the post early on. None were more impressive than the sprawling dive to deny Mohamed Salah, as Liverpool desperately searched for a way back in. By the sheer weight of their pressure and pot-shots on Courtois’ goal, they should really have found the equaliser they desired. And yet at the same time, they were short on truly clear-cut opportunities, even during a first half which went entirely to expectation.

Luka Modric and Karim Benzema are now five-time Champions League winners

Liverpool were the better side then but Madrid, in a single moment, posed the greatest danger. The length of the VAR check that followed Karim Benzema’s disallowed goal – some three minutes in all – felt disproportionate until the explanation for the decision emerged and the debate over it lasted five times as long and took up the entirety of the interval. Ironically, Fabinho completed all 49 of the passes he made in the first half. All the deliberate ones, that is.

Otherwise, Madrid were not in the first half. The award of a corner in the 36th-minute brought waves of celebration at the end of the Stade de France that was a bank of feverish white. They were watching a performance that was more akin to a side fighting for their own survival rather than the opportunity to be champions of Europe, the type of side that Liverpool typically dispatched with ease on their way to a 92-point league campaign. But they were still alive, you see. And with each opportunity that went begging, each wave of attack that they survived, they were closer to what increasingly felt like their destiny.

That sense of destiny has been consistent throughout this run, despite Madrid turning their status and history on its head, acting and playing like plucky upstarts rather than European football’s most dominant force. Part of that is down to Carlo Ancelotti who, in his wisdom, realised the limitations as well as the strengths among his squad and tailored their style of play accordingly.

Ancelotti’s reward is to become the most successful manager in Champions League history, surpassing Zinedine Zidane and Bob Paisley. And despite being outplayed across practically all four of their knockout ties, it is hard not to conclude that it is deserved. A practical, pragmatic approach to extract the best from what is still one of the best teams in Europe succeeded, earning the luck they got along the way. There is no magic, no sorcery, no secret guiding force. When there is a European Cup final to win, there is only Real Madrid.

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