Monday, June 27, 2022

Champions League final 2022: Thibaut Courtois’ clutch saves cements Real Madrid’s UCL winning pedigree

PARIS — Real Madrid might not be leaving the French capital with Kylian Mbappe in their luggage but they are taking a 14th UEFA Champions League trophy home with them after a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Stade de France on Saturday. 

Vinicius Junior scored the only goal of the game on the hour mark, but the Saint-Denis spectacle was unfortunately marred by the chaotic scenes of supporters unable to enter the venue in time for kickoff with questions already being asked by the Reds.

As finals go, it was far from pretty and the atmosphere was deflated further once it became clear that there were major issues going on in and around the stadium and it was an opportunistic Real who came out on top thanks to a Thibaut Courtois masterclass between the sticks. 

Karim Benzema had a first-half strike disallowed for offside after a VAR check but Vinicius’ effort from a Federico Valverde assist just before the hour was Los Blancos’ only shot on target over the 90 minutes as the Spanish giants somehow kept Liverpool at bay. 

Jurgen Klopp’s men created plenty with nearly double figures in terms of efforts on target, but they found Courtois in inspired form and the Belgium international once again showed his value for Carlo Ancelotti’s side as he earned his UCL crown.

“Back in England, I do not get enough respect,” said Courtois after the final whistle. “So, well, I showed it today. I wanted to put some respect on my name there.”

Courtois’ nine saves on the night were the most on record since 2003-04 by any keeper in a single Champions League final, according to Opta. Liverpool won the xG battle 2.14 to 0.88 but came away empty-handed due to Courtois’ heroics.

Whether or not Real’s is a valid approach long-term given their ageing squad and inability to truly dominate opponents remains to be seen, but their failure to land Mbappe means that any planned summer rebuild will need to be reconsidered.

Based on this performance, the French superstar would not have simply turned LaLiga’s champions into the superior side given Liverpool’s impressive mastery in pretty much everything but their finishing — they did not even need a contribution from top scorer Benzema in the end.

However, this does fit with the inescapable feeling for some time now that Real were destined to win this one given their ability to dig themselves out of holes either via their French marksman or Courtois’ incredible performances in goal.

A run which has seen Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Manchester City all fall is as impressive as they come, and Ancelotti has steered his squad masterfully through that minefield with key contributions from star names and a fair slice of good fortune.

What comes next for Real is anybody’s guess, but it is difficult to imagine that there is much more mileage in this current crop despite Benzema’s ability to recast himself as an elite athlete in the latter stage of his career and Luka Modric’s enduring brilliance.

Once that winning formula does finally wear off for good, then you can argue that the time might be right for Mbappe to finally make the move to Santiago Bernabeu — that is assuming that the Spaniards get over his recent rejection.

Until then, though, Ancelotti is squeezing every drop of success out of this group and even if is not down to collective brilliance, individual performances of the highest quality have enabled them to pull off these sorts of results.

What is beyond all doubt, though, is Real’s Champions League pedigree as they further underlined their utter mastery of the greatest prize in European soccer with an unprecedented 14th title and four of the last seven.

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