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Brilliant Bale sinks Liverpool

It was an epic night, filled with so many different storylines, and unfortunately for Liverpool’s accident-prone goalkeeper, Loris Karius, he will have to live with the fact that his part will be remembered for just as long as, or possibly longer than, Gareth Bale’s spectacular bicycle kick or the tears from Mohamed Salah.

For Bale it was a personal triumph with two of Real Madrid’s goals and a man-of-the-match award from a final he did not enter until the 61st minute. His flying, acrobatic volley, only two minutes after coming on, will go straight into the list of the greatest all-time goals in a Champions League final and put Madrid, with their 13th triumph, on their way to emulating the great Ajax and Bayern Munich teams of the 1970s with a third successive win.

That, however, tells only part of the story from a night when Karius was a danger to his own team, responsible for Madrid’s two other goals and last seen wandering aimlessly around the pitch – alone, distraught and clearly traumatised – to ask forgiveness, hands clasped, from the thousands of Liverpool supporters. Karius looked broken. He chose a bad night to be so vulnerable and Liverpool will always wonder what might have happened if the German had not turned the night into his own personal ordeal. Or, indeed, if they had not lost Salah, half an hour in, with the shoulder injury that turned the match in Madrid’s favour.

Salah looked inconsolable as he was led from the pitch and Sergio Ramos had some nerve offering a sympathetic hug on the way off. Ramos had locked Salah’s right arm and turned him, judo-style, as they lost balance going for the same ball. Television replays hardened the suspicion it was a calculated move on Ramos’s part and, when Salah landed with a hell of a thud, the damage was considerable. That blow could conceivably put the Egyptian out of the World Cup, too.

His absence was a grievous setback for Liverpool, who had looked the more dangerous team until that point, and it would not be sour grapes for the losers to think that was the moment the game started to swing away from them. They had started so thrillingly but all their early momentum was lost once Salah went off. It never properly came back and the players in red took a long time – too long, probably – to adjust to being without the man who had scored 44 times over a record-breaking season. Without Salah, they never looked so threatening again.

Ultimately, though, the difficult truth for Liverpool, and the tragic Karius, is that two of the goals they conceded were almost beyond comprehension, and how many times has Jürgen Klopp been warned this team risks being undermined by the lack of an elite goalkeeper? Karius has too much previous for this to be considered a one-off and, as goalkeeping mistakes go, his errors in the 51st and 83rd minutes were as bad as one another. In fact, they were not just bad. They were appalling, so wretched it was difficult to recall a worse goalkeeping performance in any major final through the years.

His meltdown – for that is exactly what it was – started with the opening goal when he came to the edge of his penalty area to collect a ball that Toni Kroos, trying to set Karim Benzema free, had overhit. All Karius had to do was pick up the ball and roll it to Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right of defence. He got the second part horribly wrong, as if unaware that Benzema was still lurking, and the striker was able to flick out a boot to intercept the underarm throw. That was all it needed and, almost in slow motion, the ball trickled into an exposed goal.

Liverpool’s equaliser came within four minutes. James Milner swung the ball over from a corner on the right and Sadio Mané, Liverpool’s most dangerous player, was alive in the six-yard area. Dejan Lovren won the header and, when Mané flashed his shot past Keylor Navas, it seemed as though Klopp’s team might have the momentum again.

Instead Zinedine Zidane turned to Bale, playing possibly his final game for Madrid, and it was an incredible way in which the Welshman announced his presence – a twisting, mid-air bicycle kick to redirect Marcelo’s left-wing cross and flash the ball into Liverpool’s net. Zidane against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002? Mario Mandzukic for Juventus in 2017? Bale’s effort belongs in the same category. There was even applause from Liverpool’s fans when it was replayed on the giant screens.

At 2-1 Liverpool came back again and Mané, in particular, kept threatening, fizzing a low shot against the post. Yet Bale was clearly emboldened by his first goal and, when he let fly again from 40 yards, the ball swerved in front of Karius and went through the goalkeeper’s hands. Perhaps Karius’s confidence had been damaged by the earlier mistake. Maybe the swerve was deceptive. At this level, however, there can be no excuses for such a mistake and, in that exact moment, everyone inside the Olimpiyskiy Stadium must have known there was no way back for Liverpool. If anything, they were fortunate not to suffer more damage in the second half. Madrid could also look back on Isco hitting the crossbar and there was an extraordinary moment when Cristiano Ronaldo was shaping to shoot only to be interrupted by a pitch invader from the end where the Madridistas were going through their victory songs.

For the most part Liverpool had contained Ronaldo and Klopp’s team had often played well, particularly before Salah’s injury. The problem was that their goalkeeper had the worst night of his professional life. It was a sixth successive defeat for Klopp in a major final and at the final whistle, with Karius burying his face into the turf, there was not exactly a stampede of team-mates wanting to console him.

Sid Lowe
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Real Madrid
Keylor Navas 7/10 Lucky not to be punished by Van Dijk when he missed a corner but one his safer goalkeeping displays. Made a solid and important save from Alexander-Arnold.

Dani Carvajal 5/10 Left distraught after being forced out of a second successive final by injury. Had only just returned from a hamstring problem and made a careless start.

Raphaël Varane 7/10 Vulnerable to Liverpool’s press when in possession, and not the most physical, although made several well-timed interventions inside his penalty area to thwart Klopp’s side’s attacks.

Sergio Ramos 8/10 The villain as far as Liverpool are concerned. Knew what he was doing when he dragged down Mohamed Salah but, as a defender, the captain was completely dominant.

Marcelo 8/10 Made a convincing start to his duel with Salah before that headache departed. Was given more licence to attack and prospered but slow to react for Mané’s equaliser.

Luka Modric 7/10 Given little time and space to dictate play due to the industry of Milner and Henderson. Tidy as always but only got into harmful areas when the game opened up.

Casemiro 7/10 The unheralded but key part of this Real Madrid team performed effectively and diligently as usual, helping to curb Firmino’s influence on the Liverpool display.

Toni Kroos 6/10 Operated too deep throughout the final and that left Ronaldo and Benzema isolated too often as a consequence. His passing was below its usual standard, too.

Isco 6/10 Always searched for openings but could not get involved enough. Wasted a great chance to put that right when he hit the bar with only Karius to beat.

Karim Benzema 8/10 May have been fortunate for the opener but, like any good striker, was alert to the possibility when Karius erred. Fared well in his physical battle with Van Dijk.

Cristiano Ronaldo 7/10 A rarity in that this was a major final that the world player of the year did not bend to his will. May have done better with one header that Karius saved well.

Substitutes:
Nacho 7/10 (for Carvajal 37): A strong and positive replacement for the injured Carvajal
Gareth Bale 9/10 (for Isco 61): What an impact. Off the bench to win the final with a world-class goal
Marco Asensio 5/10 (for Benzema 89): Brought on in the dying seconds as Zidane sought fresh legs

Liverpool 

Loris Karius 3/10 Two absolute howlers on the biggest stage of all. An appalling performance from which it will be difficult to resurrect a Liverpool career.

Trent Alexander-Arnold 7/10 Again seen as a potential weak link and again responded manfully to keep Ronaldo relatively quiet. More of a problem when Marcelo advanced, though.

Dejan Lovren 7/10 Set the tone for another impressive European display when he snapped into Ronaldo at the first opportunity. Won the header for Mané’s goal.

Virgil van Dijk 7/10 May feel he should have done better with the header from Milner’s corner that Navas missed but fought well against Benzema and made timely interceptions.

Andy Robertson 8/10 Good in the air and, as usual, his positive runs down the left posed a frequent problem to the Real defence. Superb tackle on Ronaldo stopped a certain goal.
Gareth Bale soars but hints he may be on his way out of Real Madrid 

Georginio Wijnaldum 6/10 The most inventive of Liverpool’s midfield trio but could not get on the ball often enough truly to hurt his opponents. Drove the team forward to the end.

Jordan Henderson 6/10 Neat and careful on the ball and worked hard defensively to prevent Isco having an influence on the final but unable to stamp his authority on the game.

James Milner 7/10 His set-piece deliveries were Liverpool’s most potent weapon once Salah had gone. Also pressed ferociously from the start to help swarm the Real midfield.

Mohamed Salah 5/10 Not how his phenomenal season was supposed to end. Left the pitch in tears and in agony after Sergio Ramos caused a shoulder injury that damaged Liverpool. Cruel.

Roberto Firmino 6/10 So close to connecting with one header, threaded a brilliant ball into Mané and worked tirelessly but could not influence this European game as he has so many others.

Sadio Mané 8/10 Stepped up after Salah’s injury and was Liverpool’s liveliest forward. Showed quick reactions to draw Klopp’s team level and unlucky to strike a post, too.

Substitutes: 

Adam Lallana 5/10 (for Salah 30): Plunged into the game early due to Salah’s injury and not at his sharpest after injury

Emre Can 6/10 (for Milner 83): Brought on for a late rescue mission but to no avail in the end

Andy Hunter for the Guardian

Copyright - The Guardian

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