UCL Final: Reaction
It was supposed to be Liverpool’s big night and given the way they’d stormed through to this year’s final, brushing aside everybody in their path there won’t have been many neutrals betting against the Merseyside club lifting their 6th European Cup. Unfortunately for those who had made the long, difficult and costly trip to Kiev that wasn’t to be the case.
Despite an encouraging start Liverpool were rocked by the loss of Mohamed Salah after just half an hour. The Egyptian was forced to leave the field of play with a suspected dislocated shoulder having been involved in a grapple with Sergio Ramos. Whilst many felt the Real Madrid captain’s actions were pre-meditated I’m not convinced his intention was to eliminate Salah from the game altogether.
Sergio Ramos is in many ways the perfect villain for numerous reasons and in my view that’s what fuels the narrative that he did in fact injure his opponent purposely. His desire to win often see’s him operating on the peripheries of fair play but it’s that very edge that’s seen him win 4 UEFA Champions leagues, a World Cup, 2 European Championships and 4 La Liga titles during his illustrious career.
Losing a player of Salah’s ability would de-stabilize even the most complete of teams but the injury he sustained that evening highlighted some of the cracks his outstanding individual performances have papered over throughout the season.
RELIANCE ON MO…
Mo Salah has scored an impressive 44 goals in his first season at Liverpool and has fully deserved all the plaudits and accolades that have subsequently come his way. On the face of it, having a player as consistent and effective as the Egyptian can only be a good thing right?
However, there is a danger of becoming over reliant on one man and based on the fact the entire Liverpool team looked lost for ideas post his withdrawal it’s safe to say that’s the case at Anfield. This isn’t down to mis-management and let me clarify that I’m not criticizing Jurgen Klopp for the way his team rely on Salah, this is an issue that arises naturally, over a period of time when you have a standout player heads and shoulders above his team mates.
This isn’t a problem exclusive to Liverpool, we’ve seen similar situations at clubs with far greater resources such as Real Madrid and Barcelona. It’s totally natural for a team to adjust its patterns of play in order to utilize their star player as effectively as possible even if subconsciously.
The effect Mo Salah’s withdrawal had on the team was amplified by the fact Adam Lallana, his replacement, looked rusty, out of sorts and a shadow of the creative force we all know he can be. Filling Salah’s boots is a tall order by anybody’s standards and you wonder whether Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being available from the bench would have made any difference to Liverpools chances?
KARIUS’ NIGHT TO FORGET…
Loris Karius won’t be returning to Kiev in a hurry and if that was to be his last game in the famous Liverpool jersey I don’t think there would be too many complaints.
Liverpools goalkeeping troubles have been well documented in recent seasons and you’d do well to find a supporter confident in Loris Karius or Simon Mignolet. Both are capable of pulling off brilliant, show stopping saves but equally make costly errors with far greater frequency than a top level goalkeeper should.
Klopp’s loyalty to Karius has ultimately cost him and his team. There’s no doubt the German goalkeeper has improved as the seasons gone on but his erratic style leaves him prone to such errors. The second mistake was almost certainly a consequence of the first but that’s not the one I take most issue with.
With the ball firmly in his hands, gazing out towards the left wing I was truly mystified as to why a top level goalkeeper would even consider switching the play blindly. Had he glanced to his right prior to releasing the ball he’d have seen Karim Benzema in close proximity and avoided the entire situation. The reason I take greater issue with this error as opposed to the second is because this is a case of poor decision making at a time zero pressure was being applied.
We’ve all seen shots slip through a goalkeepers hands and we’re well aware that the modern day football frequently moves whilst travelling, not that I’m excusing the error. The point being that misjudgment is a bigger crime than the slip of a hand and Klopp is guilty of failing to address a problem area that’s haunted Liverpool since Pepe Reina left the club back in 2014.
For all the brilliant things the managers brought to the table in terms of attacking flair he has struggled to acquire a suitable goalkeeper and that’s something we shouldn’t still be discussing going into his 4th season in charge.
BALE STEALS THE SHOW…
It’s not often Cristiano Ronaldo gets upstaged, particularly in the UEFA Champions League but this was certainly one of those rare occasions. Gareth Bale has struggled to hold down a place in Zinedine Zidane’s team this season but if the Frenchman had forgotten just how good he is Saturday evening was quite the reminder.
The Welshman entered the field of play just after the hour and wasted no time in stealing the show with an exquisite overhead kick leaving the global audience stunned and Zizou rubbing his head in disbelief – the greatest goal in the history of the competition?
As Bale wheeled away in celebration his team mates rushed over to congratulate him, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo of course. The Portuguese casually jogged over with half a grin on his face as though he was pleased they were back in front but also envious of the fact Gareth’s name would be the one on everybody’s lips as opposed to his own.
When speaking to the press almost immediately after the game Gareth Bale had this to say “Obviously I need to be playing week-in, week-out and that hasn’t been happening this season, for one reason or another.
I had a five week injury at the start of the season and I’ve been fit ever since. I’ll have to sit down in the summer and discuss it with my agent and take it from there”.
From his post match comments its clear the Wales international is open to leaving Madrid in search of first team football and at the age of 28 who can blame him? He may have only featured for the final half an hour but his instantaneous impact and frank comments will have put Europe’s elite cubs on high alert.
In theory, plenty of clubs would be interested in acquiring Gareth Bale’s services but in reality the transfer fee and the player’s personal demands could prove to be a stumbling point. There aren’t many clubs out there with the resources required to land a player of his status and it remains to be seen what Real Madrid would deem a suitable transfer fee, assuming they were willing to offload him.
With the post match talk being centered on Gareth Bale’s contribution it was time for Cristiano to steal some of the limelight he so clearly craves. In an interview shortly after the final Ronaldo hinted at a summer transfer of his own, an action that reportedly angered his team mates and he’s since apologized for, well sort of.
Ronaldo is believed to be unhappy with his current contract terms and I suspect his comments were nothing more than an attempt to lure Real Madrid president Florentino Perez to the negotiation table.
The 3-1 victory in Kiev secured Real Madrid’s 3rd Champions league title under Zinedine Zidane and in turn, he becomes the first man to win European football’s top prize three times in a row. Luka Modric described their run of success in the competition as a ‘dynasty’ and you’ll struggle to find a more appropriate description.