Saturday, July 2, 2022

UEFA Champions League final: Real Madrid’s unlikely, underdog path to facing Liverpool in Paris

It didn’t seem like Real Madrid had a chance at making the Champions League final after a 2-1 loss to Sheriff Tiraspol, a match that was one of the biggest upsets in Champions League history. But here they are with a chance at their 14th Champions Leauge title if they can see off Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, May 28 and you can catch all the action on CBS or Paramout+.

Carlo Ancelotti’s team has been one of the most exciting teams in the competition pulling off comeback victories in their knockout stage matches while also blowing leads due to defensive frailty. But this is Real Madrid’s competition, they live for this stuff, and there’s a reason why if they win the title, they’ll have double the amount of titles as the team with the next most, AC Milan with seven. 

Special performances from Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior led the way for Los Blancos to get to this point, but it has been a true team effort. Real Madrid ran away with the La Liga title to finish top of the table by 13 points over second-placed Barcelona which will give them confidence that against Liverpool, in a rematch of the 2018 Champions League final, they’ll be able to beat Jurgen Klopp’s side once again.

But how exactly did Real Madrid get to this point? Here’s a recap of their path to the final.

Qualification

Finishing second in La Liga during the 2020-21 season, Real Madrid qualified directly for the group stage of the tournament.

Draw

Drawn into Group D, Real Madrid were handed a tricky group that included Inter Milan, Sherriff, and Shaktar Donetsk. It’s a group that Los Blancos were expected to advance from but not without a potential banana peel.

Group stage results

  • Matchday 1: Inter Milan 0, Real Madrid 1
  • Matchday 2: Real Madrid 1, Sheriff 2
  • Matchday 3: Shakhtar Donetsk 0, Real Madrid 5
  • Matchday 4: Real Madrid 2, Shakhtar Donetsk 1
  • Matchday 5: Sheriff 0, Real Madrid 3
  • Matchday 6: Real Madrid 2, Inter Milan 0

Round of 16 results

First leg: PSG 1, Real Madrid 0

The start of one of the hardest roads that anyone has seen a team go through to get to the Champions League final, Real Madrid began the knockout stages by traveling to France to face Paris Saint-Germain. PSG dominated the match from start to finish but were unable to take advantage of taking 21 shots to only three for Los Blancos. 

Real Madrid actually didn’t have a single shot on target compared to PSG’s eight and it’s only thanks to one of many impressive performances in net by Thibaut Courtois that this didn’t end up being a lopsided score. Kylian Mbappe delivered his first dagger to Real Madrid deep into stoppage time before recently deciding not to sign with them and opting to stay with PSG by scoring a winner after beating two defenders. It seemed like PSG would walk the tie but that’s why two legs are played.

Second leg: Real Madrid 3, PSG 1

It was Mbappe again who put PSG ahead in the 39th minute and ahead 2-0 on aggregate in the tie. A lead that seemed like it wouldn’t be touched as Real Madrid were still struggling to contain them, but after the half,Ancelotti made two key changes with Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga entering for Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio.

Then in the final 30 minutes, Karim Benzema took over. Vini Jr. assisted his first goal which felt more like a warning to PSG than them being in actual danger but it wouldn’t be long before he’d level the score in the 76th minute. It only took two more minutes for Benzema to collect his hat trick and complete PSG’s meltdown in a tie that began what feels like a run of destiny for Madrid to the Champions League final.

Quarterfinal results

First leg: Chelsea 1, Real Madrid 3

In another match where the stats don’t match the outcome, Chelsea were dominant at Stamford Bridge but Benzema’s second hat trick in a row ensured that Real Madrid would return to Spain with a two-goal advantage. Chelsea had a good chance only five minutes into things before Vini Jr. rattled the bar shortly after. While his finishing didn’t make the trip to Stamford Bridge, Vini Jr.’s passing sure did as his cross to Benzema opened the scoring shortly after.

In what has been another quality of Real Madrid in Champions League play, it only took three minutes for Benzema to get another goal from a Luka Modric assist. Chelsea would get a goal back via Kai Havertz but it wouldn’t be enough as Benzema took advantage of a mistake when playing out of the back. Edouard Mendy’s pass to Antonio Rudiger was intercepted by the Frenchman and rolled into an empty net. Chelsea had their chances but weren’t able to make them count falling to Real Madrid.

Second leg: Real Madrid 2, Chelsea 3

Thomas Tuchel’s side could’ve given up in the second leg in Spain but they wouldn’t go down without a fight. Mason Mount got the belief flowing when he scored 15 minutes in after Chelsea had already created a few dangerous chances. It wasn’t time to worry yet for Real Madrid since they were at their home stadium but it was also clear that the next goal would change things. Unfortunately for them, that also went to Chelsea as Antonio Rudiger scored the second.

Real Madrid were struggling to gain control and again Toni Kroos was removed from the match for Eduardo Camavinga. Timo Werner scored Chelsea’s third and it looked like the Blues would be marching to the next round with a remarkable comeback. But nobody out-comebacks the Champions League comeback kings. Ancelotti continued to make timely changes by introducing Marcelo and Rodrygo. Two minutes after his introduction Rodrygo hit the back of the net after a sublime pass from Modric. In extra time it was all Real Madrid and who else but Benzema came through to push Los Blancos through to the next round.

Semifinal results

First leg: Manchester City 4, Real Madrid 3

One of the games of the tournament, this was a match that broke people’s comprehension of how soccer works. Manchester City could’ve scored seven goals, but it had the feel of world class teams coming together for a pickup game. Except this pickup match had the prize of a place in the Champions League final on the line. City were already ahead by two goals before 12 minutes passed in the match as Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus found the back of the net.

Then the two giants started trading blows as Benzema scored before Phil Foden canceled out that goal. Vini Jr. wouldn’t be denied scoring only two minutes later before Bernardo Silva hit a stunner. After an Americ Laporte handball, Benzema hit one of the coldest penalties that you’ll ever see with a panenka right down that middle that left the entire stadium stunned. It set the stage for an epic second leg in Spain.

Second leg: Real Madrid 3, Manchester City 1

A match that could’ve had a different outcome if Kyle Walker didn’t leave with an injury, it was deadlocked for most of the game. Riyad Mahrez opened the scoring in the 73rd minute but it was another match where Courtois had to have a special performance to give Real Madrid a chance. City had a chance to go up 2-0 in the 87th minute but Jack Grealish’s first effort was cleared off the line before and his second shot moments later was saved by an outstretched Courtois boot.

Real Madrid would make City rue their mistakes as Rodrygo had a stoppage time double to level the tie on aggregate and force extra time. City conceded another penalty in a critical moment as Ruben Dias brought down Benzema who would go with a strong, drilled penalty past Ederson after already getting in his head with the panenka in the first leg. City ran out of gas in extra time as Real Madrid punched their ticket to the final.

Champions League final

And now Liverpool is up next for a 2018 rematch. While the Premier League side might be favored this time around, Real have had that special sauce so far this season and Jurgen Klopp’s men could suffer the same fate as Chelsea and Manchester City before them.

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