Liverpool 0-1 Real Madrid: Champions League defeat caps miserable end to magnificent season amid Paris chaos
Liverpool’s magnificent season once offered up the tantalising prospect of a historic quadruple only to end amid the chaos of Paris with a lop-sided mixture of emotions.
Real’s 1-0 victory, secured by Vinicius Junior’s 59th-minute winner, wrote coach Carlo Ancelotti’s name into the history books indelibly with his record fourth triumph as a coach in this tournament.
For Liverpool, it capped six days of desperate disappointment after missing out on the Premier League to Manchester City by a single point then losing to this experienced, street-smart Real team.
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This final, however, will not simply be remembered for Liverpool’s defeat and Real’s victory.
It will also be remembered for the scenes outside Stade de France in the hours leading to kick-off, when a road leading out of an underpass adjacent to the stadium became dangerously overcrowded with Liverpool supporters.
As you walked alongside those fans, you could feel temperatures and frustrations growing by the minute with large crowds making no progress. It was an unpleasant, uncomfortable experience.
As tension rose, even larger queues formed at entrances to the stadium, ending with French police using pepper spray and tear gas on supporters and the kick-off being delayed by 36 minutes as the Liverpool end of this vast bowl remained sparsely populated.
Liverpool have demanded a formal investigation into the events while Uefa claimed turnstiles “became blocked by thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work”.
This was the desperate backdrop to a game in which Liverpool created so many opportunities but ran into one of the great goalkeeping performances from Thibaut Courtois.
As Liverpool’s players slumped to the turf, with Trent Alexander-Arnold standing motionless for several minutes, manager Jurgen Klopp and his players will reflect on an outstanding campaign that brought two trophies but also ended in undoubted anti-climax.
Alexander-Arnold looked particularly downcast, not just at the pain of defeat but also the fact that Vinicius arrived in yards of space behind him to score what proved to be Real’s winner.
And there is a remarkable statistic which bears examination, especially when it is attached to a team renowned for its attacking prowess.
Liverpool won the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup, both on penalties, against Chelsea. The blank scoresheet here means that in three finals they have not scored a goal in open play, including two periods of extra time.
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Given they have the attacking quality of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Luis Diaz, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, it is always a surprise when they do not hit the back of the net. It did not cost them in the EFL Cup and FA Cup but it did here.
And the man responsible was Courtois, who was as close to perfection as it is possible to be, making six saves from Salah alone plus a quite brilliant effort to turn Mane’s shot on to the post.
This was meant to be Salah’s redemption night after he fell victim to a Sergio Ramos foul and went off injured after only 30 minutes of the 2018 final when Real beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kyiv.
He made his intentions clear with his “we have a score to settle” tweet moments after Real Madrid’s astonishing comeback in the semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu confirmed this latest meeting.
Salah will ask himself forever how he did not score at least one goal here. He might have nightmares featuring the face of Courtois, such was the one-man barricade he formed.
Liverpool have looked a little jaded from their exertions in recent weeks and there was an air of desperation about their attempts to restore equality in the closing minutes in the face of the experience and game management of opponents who are time-served masters of the Champions League art.
Klopp and his players have given everything and will show off the EFL Cup and the FA Cup on their parade of Liverpool on Sunday, but how they would have loved to make it a seventh win in this competition.
No-one in their right mind would paint Liverpool’s season as a disappointment overall, given the silverware they have claimed and the relentlessly thrilling chase of Manchester City that looked, at one point on the season’s final day, that it might bring the title until Pep Guardiola’s side scored three goals in five minutes against Aston Villa.
And but for Courtois’ heroics that giant trophy might well have been making its way back to Merseyside.
Instead, it was the smiling Ancelotti who held it aloft in front of adoring Real Madrid fans so used to this experience. He will enjoy the familiar feeling of a Champions League celebration on his return to Spain.
Real have sailed close to the wind in the Champions League this season, most notably when they needed two goals to survive against Manchester City in the semi-final with 90 minutes gone.
They found a route and any team that can reel off Paris St-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool as those they have defeated fully deserve to win the Champions League. No-one can question it.
For Liverpool, this cannot be called a disappointing season – they have been truly outstanding – but there is no escaping the fact it reached a disappointing conclusion on two major fronts in an unsavoury environment in Paris.
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