Real Madrid shouldn’t have even been there

Real Madrid shouldn’t have even been there

Real Madrid hoists the European Cup.
Photo: Getty Images

We’ll likely never see a UEFA Champions League run like the one Real Madrid just completed. If only quality of play decided Los Blancos’ quarterfinal and semifinal two legged-ties, as well as Saturday’s one-game final against Liverpool, they would’ve lost each one. Real Madrid trailed late in each second leg against Chelsea and Manchester City, last season’s two finalists, but found ways to advance.

Now Real Madrid have lifted their 14th European crown, double that of any other team. It was a 12-year wait for “La Decima” and Madrid won its 10th continental title in 2014. That’s now the start of five Champions League wins in nine seasons. No other club has won multiple titles in the same span. And yet, none of the others had the rollercoaster of emotion attached to this year.

If it wasn’t apparent just from the team’s names, Real Madrid took down three straight Premier League teams to conquer Europe. That English trio finished as the top three in league play and will return to the competition next season alongside Tottenham. Against Chelsea, Madrid got hit with a haymaker in the second leg and was knocked out to the point where Los Blancos were on the canvas looking up at the lights and the referee called “9” and they survived.

That same official might as well have called “9” again in the semifinals with Man City. And Real Madrid wobbled even harder. Liverpool dominated the stat sheet in Paris. The Reds had 24 shots and nine on goal. Madrid only mustered four shots on Liverpool, two were on target. A 59th minute shot from Vinícius Jr., a name you’ll want to know for the 2022 FIFA World Cup as he’ll be an integral part of Brazil’s squad, was the only goal.

The first UEFA Champions League final with a full crowd since 2019 had a goalie win man of the match, as Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois was outstanding. It was the game of his life and one of the best performances by a goalkeeper in a European final ever. Keeping Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah off the score sheet twice is unbelievable. Los Blancos might be leaving the French capital without Kylian Mbappé, but are leaving as Europe’s champions and have loads of riches to do it again next year.

Here’s a stat so bizarre that after I researched it myself, I still couldn’t believe it was true: In the last 21 years, La Liga teams have played 17 Champions League and Europa League finals against non-Spanish teams. They’ve won all 17. That’s batshit crazy.

Liverpool’s season ends halfway to the quadruple, and the two trophies it cared about were not in its cabinet. The Reds actually didn’t win a final in regulation this season nor score a goal in any tournament finale. LFC won two trophies —the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, on penalty kicks, defeating Chelsea both times.

Real Madrid’s win also means a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup. That’s of particular interest to American fans because the Seattle Sounders will represent North America at the event. An MLS vs. Europe’s best-ever franchise is all kinds of intriguing, although if Los Blancos try, the American exports might get curb stomped.

Real Madrid’s dominance in Europe is now so standard that most soccer fans are numb to it. You just assume to see them in the later rounds of the UEFA Champions League every year. That’s not only because of the size of the club but the loyalty from players. The team’s captain, Marcelo, didn’t play against Liverpool. And still was respected enough to kick off the trophy celebration after 15 years with Los Blancos. In the Champions League era, 10 players have won five UCL titles. All of them have played for Real Madrid. The Spanish titans aren’t going anywhere. And even England’s best will have to continue to deal with them. 

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.