Thirteen and counting

Well that was pretty bonkers.  It was always going to be an entertaining game with goals, but nobody could have quite predicted the events that would lead to Real Madrid’s 13th European Cup, their 7th since the Champions League era began in 1992.  It was also their third consecutive win, a record in the post-1992 period, and their 4th in the last 5 seasons.   For younger readers, Madrid won the first 5 European Cups consecutively between 1956 and 1960, and they will struggle to either equal or supersede that record, but their achievement in the modern era is nothing short of remarkable, especially with the quality of the opposition hanging around the competition these days. 

Liverpool, to prove the theory, were not even on the long list for reaching the final this season, and yet they could quite plausibly have won this game, if the rub of the green had gone their way, and their best player (Salah) had not been removed on the half hour.   The loss of Carvajal to Madrid was trivial in comparison, and he’d been playing poorly anyway. Nacho came on and held firm, despite the constant raids and harrying of Mané, Liverpool’s best player on the night.

Madrid

In the end, the game was decided by two bizarre mistakes by Loris. But he’ll be fine as a warrior in the next Game of Thrones series, plus the fact that Justin Bieber likes his tattoos.  The game was also decided by Gareth Bale, previously sitting grumpily on the bench rehearsing whatsapps to his agent regarding the host of clubs he might negotiate with during the summer.   In literary terms, Bale is a ‘Deus ex Machina’, the character in Greek drama introduced near the end (on a crane) to resolve the unresolvable.  And that was some first touch.  The debate now begins as to whether that was a better goal than the one scored in Glasgow by the man who relegated him to the bench in Kiev, Monsieur Zidane.  Let the tweets begin.  It was a fantastic goal, only scored because I got up to have a pee, and I’ve noticed over the years in major competitions that if I get up to make some tea or go for a pee someone scores.  I have accumulated a substantial amount of data to prove this thesis.  From my position inside the loo, I heard my wife squealing from the lounge, and so I knew it had happened again. I arrived just in time for the replay.   His second goal wasn’t bad either, blasted from an unfeasible distance, and poor Loris just wasn’t up for the challenge.

Bale’s ‘chilena’, as it is called in Spain, was a consummate act of timing and athleticism, spectacular in its execution and exactly what was needed after Mané’s equaliser had threatened to poop the party.  It came about because Marcelo’s cross, unusually executed with his right foot, was actually a poor one and was floating behind the Madrid forwards, when Bale decided to pull out the party trick which will write him into the history books, probably a few weeks before he leaves the club.

Bale

Zidane – whose own iconic goal in Glasgow was probably technically superior – in terms of how to strike a falling ball – had decided that the best tactical approach to the game was through ball retention, given Liverpool’s physicality and speed on the counter. He was probably right, except that Isco struggled to adjust to the pace of the game, Kroos was unimposing, and Modric was being knocked off the ball too easily.  Like legions of Orcs, Liverpool were swarming all over Madrid for the first 25 minutes, with Salah dangerous every time he got hold of the ball – able to adjust the orientation of his runs in any direction because of his two-footedness and speed of thought.

Lord-of-the-rings-orcs
Liverpool getting on top

You could see Madrid slowly going under until the fateful moment when Sergio Ramos tussled with Salah and seemed to pull him to the ground like an experienced wrestler who knows how to inflict maximum damage in a single move.  The accusation may be libellous, but it looked dodgy from where I was sitting.

Be that as it may, the game changed radically thereon.  Without Salah to worry about, Varane and Ramos pushed up the line, Modric got into more interesting positions, and Madrid began to function.  Mané continued to threaten, but Firmino looked lost without Salah and suddenly Henderson and Milner were on the back foot, unable to supply the forwards as before.

Salah

The other strange aspect of the game was that Benzema was one of Madrid’s best players. Pilloried and scorned all season, he was back to what he does best, dropping back between the lines and holding up the ball for the midfielders (and Marcelo) to advance, and to link with Ronaldo, should the great one actually require the ball – minimal as his contributions tend to be these days.  Benzema opened the scoring in the second half when he anticipated Loris’s throw, stuck out his foot and diverted the ball into the net for one of the Champions League’s most comical final-night goals. Apart from that, he thoroughly justified his inclusion.

Ronaldo now has five Champions under his belt, four of them with Madrid.  He also lost a final with Man Utd, but has nevertheless equalled Di Stéfano’s haul.  He is still one short of Paco Gento’s six European Cups, and his rather strange pronouncements into the mike on the pitch at the end of the game had the Spanish commentary team frothing with morbid excitement, just as the other players were gathering to do the trophy dance. ‘It’s been great playing for Real Madrid’ declared CR7, ‘but we’ll talk in summer’.  Is this the end, my friend?  Is he off to Japan to play with Iniesta?  The money’s certainly good.  Ronaldo actually played quite well, peeling off to the left in the first half and working harder than usual, but then fading in the second half and just hanging up front in the hope of some scraps. In the end, Bale eclipsed him and reaped the glory, never a good thing for the Portuguese protagonist.

Ronaldo
Ronaldo decides to get tongues wagging

Keylor Navas was also good when called upon.  It’s still difficult to see why Real Madrid persist in making him feel as though he is a temporary caretaker until someone bigger comes along.  The trophy belongs to him as much as anyone this campaign, and the save he pulled off in the 23rd minute from Arnold probably turned the game.  Two minutes later Salah was gone, and Liverpool never really re-gained the upper hand.

Finally (it’s way past my bedtime), Jurgen Klopp’s a cool dude. I liked the way he went over to Zidane to congratulate him, even before the final whistle had gone, and the sporting way he mingled with the Real Madrid players on the pitch afterwards was great.  He’s funny, intelligent and different, and no wonder they love him in Liverpool.  He’s restored something of their humour and dignity, and given them hope for the future.  Meanwhile, Zidane continues to win big finals (that’s 3/3 as coach) and maintain a state of contentment at the club even after a poor league season, by Madrid standards.  Thirteen and counting, or thirteen unlucky for some?  What seems certain is that the core of this generation of players – the BBC certainly, has probably won its last European trophy with Real Madrid, certainly as a collective. Captain Ramos might still be around for a while yet, but other changes are afoot.  Whatever – it’s been a fantastic ride, and love them or hate them, they’ve been pretty good to watch.

Time for bed.

14 thoughts on “Thirteen and counting”

  1. Great analysis, as usual. I was impressed with all four center backs, who only conceded a set piece and a masterpiece in addition to the keeper howlers. My main talking point all week was the bench. When Liverpool bring on Lallana for the final 60 minutes and Madrid get to bring on Bale, the result is rarely going to favor the Reds. And I’m as gutted for Klopp as I am happy for Zidane.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Florentino has a lot to do in the summer.

    Still I wouldn’t be surprised if the BBC are still there at the end of the transfer window. Highest chance of winning another CL is at real madrid

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  3. Ego fueled dressing room and bunch of sulking superstar and now taking a opposite turn!! Ha Ha Ha… What do u think buddy, Pochettino will take Madrid job if he gets offer? Each and every year we are enjoying success much more because of the silent hater like you. Don’t try to be diplomatic, do ur usual job, we will enjoy again.

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    1. I’m neither a silent nor a voluble hater Raash. Not quite sure where you’ve got that from. But in the midst of success there is always a point to make, and in the slough of despond there’s always light. If you don’t like this approach, no probs, but please try to adopt the friendly tone that everyone does on this site. Criticism is welcomed, of course. And remember….CR7 was sulking after, as was Bale. It’s in the nature of big clubs – but I’m not trying to diminish their achievements. Ed and I are just interested bystanders, like you. If we get stuff wrong, we get stuff wrong. Nobody’s a ‘hater’ here. Ok?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ultra-team sports fans are always one step short of being religious fanatics in their fervour. Critique = opposition. How could you call our gods anything but great ?

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      2. Well, If I accept your point that CR7 and Bale were sulking but still it’s clear that you generalized. You used words like “bunch of”, “dressing room” that’s a clear indication of referring towards a group or institution. For one or two people, you can’t blame the whole group of individuals and remember you wrote those lines to advise Pochettino on taking Madrid job. It sounded like “Don’t go with them, they are bad” type of advice. Madrid is the most successful club in history let alone last 4/5 years, you have no proof to blame the whole team but still you tried, it’s a clear sign of disrespect. You may or may not like Madrid but you have no rights to disrespect a team who is putting lots of hard work to get the success, that’s the basic thing of humanity what I learned at school. Actually, I came here to read Ed Alvarez’s analysis what I really liked from his ESPN days but reading you as well but never heard “in the midst of success there is always a point to make” type of thing on Barcelona or any other club from you, especially not using words like “Ego fuelled”or “bunch of sulking”. So consider all facts, Only A man with conscious or subconscious hate can do such thing, no matter if you accept or not. About friendly tone, respect comes first before being friendly. I hope you know that.

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      3. You’re wrong, Raash. Phil has criticised both clubs (and others) when he felt they deserved so. And if you don’t think that the RM dressing room has a few egos, it’s hard to explain why two of their best players announce they’re considering leaving minutes after winning the biggest title in world football… Yes, they work hard and yes, they have been outstanding for a long time, but that does not mean they’re perfect. Great stars tend to have huge egos.
        Plus, who needs Poch?

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      4. “Pochettino, who would be a very good choice, can continue to be the most wanted coach in European football, which must be nice. If I were his advisor, I’d tell him to stay in London and keep his tasty squad together, because there he can continue to work relatively stress-free and away from the problems that an ego-fuelled dressing-room brings in its wake. Pochettino has a strong personality, but might just be bored by the prospect of managing a bunch of sulking superstars.”

        Phill Ball wrote those lines few months ago. Off course he has full rights to opine or advise to Pochettino but isn’t it sounding like “Don’t go with them, they are spoiled child” type of statement? No team is perfect, no human being is perfect but for one or two person you can’t put a sarcastic title to the whole group and remember while writing that piece, Madrid was still reigning La liga Champion and winner of 3 Champions league in last 4 years. So it’s a total disrespect towards a group of professional and club, as I said before there might be some conscious or subconscious hate behind it.

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  4. Hi Raash. Yes, I did indeed write that, but I think you’re misinterpreting my intentions a little. It’s a mild observation, and if you consider the converse of what I’m saying, you could take it to mean that I’m praising Zidane, because for me, one of his main virtues has been to man-manage the squad very well. And remember, if Benitez had had half of Zidane’s tact, he’d still be at the Bernabéu and Zidane would be trying his luck at Huelva, or would still be with the ‘B’ team. Pochettino has an easier job, in that sense. Not everyone can coach Barça and/or Madrid. It’s a simple observation, not ‘disrespect’. And anyway, if it’s necessary, I reserve the right to be disrespectful. It’s a writer’s obligation.

    Just so you know, I spent 12 years writing a column for ESPN, from 2001 to 2013, week in week out. The funny thing was that for most of that time, I was accused of being a Real Madrid fan, and of hating Barcelona. Just goes to show, eh? I also wrote a book for RM’s centenary, called ‘White Storm’. It’s been translated into 8 languages since then, and I had a good relationship with the club (still do). They were very helpful with archive material etc. You can get the book on Amazon easily enough: https://www.amazon.com/White-Storm-Story-Real-Madrid/dp/1840187638

    If that doesn’t convince you, you could buy the one on Beckham at Madrid: https://www.amazon.com/Englishman-Abroad-Beckhams-Spanish-Adventure/dp/0091900824

    Again, without a good relationship with the club, I couldn’t have written this book. Same with Morbo: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Morbo-Spanish-Football-Phil-Ball/dp/0956101127
    …where if you read the reviews/critiques, people tend to say that I’m much more critical of Barça than of Madrid. So as you can see, I’ve put a bit of work in. But hey, I don’t want to sound defensive. If you don’t like this stuff, fair enough. But I don’t think you quite understood my intentions. Ok?

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    1. I haven’t read ur books yet. As you said, you got flak from both Barca supporters, now getting from Real madrid which actually suggesting you are a successful writer. Congratz..

      “Pochettino, who would be a very good choice, can continue to be the most wanted coach in European football”
      -The “most wanted coach in European football” can’t be coach be of Real Madrid\Barca. WOW! It could be a superlative theory! You were praising Zidane! Ha ha ha.. In that article, you wrote- “Zizou would be better popping his hopes into the PSG oven and keeping the season alive, whilst retaining his own job prospects for the season to come”
      Is that a praise, buddy?? You certainly don’t need to be an Einstein to understand the intention you had while writing, don’t think anybody will find it a praise, you could be the exception!
      If writer’s obligation is to disrespect then reader’s obligation is certainly not to give friendly toned feedback, at least. So asking for friendly tone seems very laughable. I understand that in this postmodernist world of social media people like to get like, praiseful comment but asking for friendly tone is too much funny and can you disrespect someone by using writer’s obligation? Well, you can but don’t think any moral justification lies in it.

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      1. You’re a tough guy Raash. Fair cop. But I ain’t looking for praise my friend. I’ve been putting my nuts on the line every week since 2001, and Ed since 2008. You can’t please everyone all of the time. Happy to get flak, as long as it’s constructive. And remember……nobody’s obliging you to read our nonsense. Stay happy.

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