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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 20 July, 2019

Liverpool's flaws exposed and more Champions League final talking points

Plus, Gareth Bale emphatically silences the critics.

Loris Karius shows his disappointment during tonight's match.
Loris Karius shows his disappointment during tonight's match.
Image: Imago/PA Images

Updated at 01.53

1. Liverpool’s flaws exposed

AS HARSH AS it may sound, Liverpool probably overachieved slightly by simply getting to the Champions League final tonight.

This is a team whose financial resources pale in comparison to the elite likes of Man City, PSG and indeed Real Madrid, who ended the Reds’ dream amid a 3-1 victory for the Spaniards, who this evening lifted the trophy for the 13th time (Milan are second in terms of titles accrued with seven European Cup/Champions League triumphs).

While Liverpool have a very strong starting XI, their lack of squad depth is often apparent.

Madrid, by comparison, could afford to bring the match-winner — Gareth Bale — off the bench tonight.

When Liverpool lost Mo Salah through injury, the best they could offer as a replacement was Adam Lallana — a good player, but not the world-class star you need in games of this magnitude. Elsewhere on the bench, they had Dominic Solanke — a promising striker but an individual entirely untried at this level, and who pipped the ultra-professional-but-limited Danny Ings for a place among the substitutes.

The Reds have been defensively flawed all season and despite the expensive acquisition of Virgil van Dijk last January, this remains an issue, as two of the goals they conceded were eminently avoidable.

Goalkeeper Loris Karius has been questioned frequently during his Liverpool career and portrayed by some critics as error-prone — tonight, he strengthened claims that he is not the right man to represent the club at the highest level, following two costly gaffes.

It was reminiscent to a degree of the Europa League final two seasons ago, when a defensive nightmare from Alberto Moreno hurt Liverpool badly.

The Spanish full-back struggled to recover thereafter and was eventually replaced in the starting XI by Andy Robertson. Karius now faces a fight to avoid a similar fate.

2. Zidane now must be considered a great coach

Ukraine Soccer Champions League Final Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, centre, celebrates with his team. Source: Sergei Grits

It is amazing to think that many people were expecting Zinedine Zidane to be sacked if he lost this game.

Since taking over as Real Madrid manager — a role often described as a poisoned chalice — he has done a remarkable job.

The France legend in January 2016 took over a team in disarray following the brief, ill-fated reign of Rafa Benitez.

Quite incredibly, the World Cup winner has yet to finish a season in senior management without the Champions League trophy, guiding his side to the accolade on a record-breaking three consecutive seasons, with Madrid becoming the first club to do the three-in-a-row in Europe’s premier club competition since the Bayern Munich team of the ’70s.

Zidane and Madrid are by no means perfect — one La Liga win in three seasons must be a source of frustration. Yet their performances in Europe has elevated them onto a level that very few teams reach.

It’s often said that great players don’t make great managers, but Zidane is clearly an exception. He made a match-changing substitution, his astute tactics largely combated Liverpool’s formidable attack, and when big questions were asked of them throughout this year’s Champions League campaign, Madrid and their gifted manager continually came up with the right answers.

3. Bale emphatically silences critics

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League - Final - NSK Olimpiyskiy Stadium Real Madrid's Gareth Bale celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game. Source: Nick Potts

Gareth Bale was the obvious hero tonight, as Madrid secured a fourth Champions League in five years.

And if his second goal had an element of good fortune thanks to Karius’ ineptitude, his first demonstrated the kind of brilliance which convinced Madrid to make him the world’s most expensive player in the first place when they signed him.

It has been a difficult season or two for the Wales international. This time last year, he had to play a peripheral role, coming off the bench with the game well won as the Spaniards comprehensively overcame Juventus 4-1 in the Champions League final.

And Bale started as a substitute again this time around, despite many critics tipping him to play from the outset owing to his much-improved recent form.

But with the game finely balanced at 1-1, Bale entered the action. Two minutes and 10 seconds later, the ex-Spurs man produced the kind of goal that will be remembered for many years to come.

Before tonight, some critics had expected Bale to leave Real in the summer and return to the Premier League. If he does depart, then this evening is some goodbye present, but it would be no surprise if his individual brilliance makes Los Blancos now reconsider selling him.

Whatever happens, at this point, his time at the club will surely be remembered as a considerable success by and large. He has reached double figures in terms of league goals alone in four of his five seasons (last year’s injury-ridden campaign was the one exception).

In addition to his influential performance tonight, he assisted Madrid’s only goal in the 2016 Champions League final triumph over Atletico as well as scoring in the penalty shootout, while he registered the all-important second in the 2014 4-1 triumph in extra-time against the same opposition.

It’s amazing to think that earlier this season, he looked unhappy with life in Spain and was even being booed by his own fans.

At 28, he looks as strong as ever, and Real Madrid or any other team would be lucky to have him on current form.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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