On the 28th of May, Real Madrid face off against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the final of the Champions League. While the memories of Kyiv ring fresh in Liverpudlian hearts, Madrid will draw strength from that particular final. With scores to settle and battle lines drawn, we look back on Madrid’s almost miraculous journey to the final.
Real Madrid’s passage through a group comprising Inter Milan, Sheriff Tiraspol, and Shakhtar Donetsk was a rather serene affair bar the embarrassing hiccup against Sheriff at home. It began at the San Siro with a tight 1-0 win, settled at the death by Rodrygo. A tie that could’ve gone either way ultimately swung in favour of the Los Blancos, revealing a pattern that would assume greater significance as the tournament wore on. Next on their list was a regulation home tie against Moldovan champions and rank outsiders, Sheriff Tiraspol.
What transpired over 90 minutes can only be described as magic, mayhem, and disbelief. Yakhshiboev’s early header was cancelled out by Benzema’s penalty. This was of course cue for little-known Luxembourgian Sebastian Thill to rasp home a left-footed half volley past Courtois’ outstretched arms. 1-2 and Madrid had been shot by the Sheriff! Madrid banished the ghosts of Sheriff with a commanding 0-5 win away to Shakhtar, followed by a nervy 2-1 victory against the same opposition. Rounding off the group stage with 0-3 and 2-1 wins against Sheriff and Inter respectively; Madrid would progress to the meat and bones of Champions League football.
Round of 16: Paris St. Germain
As the CL caravan rolled into Paris, the air was heavy with excitement. With multiple narratives embedded into the clash, the match itself was a crackling affair. Illuminated by Mbappe’s thrusting brilliance, PSG rode forward at every opportunity. The forward would eventually settle the match in Paris’ favour deep into injury time. Receiving the ball on the edge of the Madrid box, Mbappe slalomed past two defenders before easing a finish past Courtois. If not for Messi’s miss from 12 yards out, the tie would have firmly been in PSG’s command.
In the second leg, PSG seemed to be in complete control. Ahead 1-0 via Mbappe again, and 2-0 on aggregate with less than 30 minutes to play, the visitors could be forgiven for planning ahead. But enter King Karim! Within 18 chaotic minutes, the tie would loosen from PSG’s grasp. It began with a quite ludicrous bit of goalkeeping by Donnarumma. Drawing the press from Benzema, the Italian keeper only managed to meekly pass the ball across the face of his goal, only for Vinicius to pounce and lay on the assist for Benzema. It breathed life into the tie, and Benzema soon levelled with a fine close-range finish. From the ensuing restart, Madrid seized back possession and set up Benzema for a toe-poke past Donnaruma. Madrid would live to suffer again!
Madrid rocked up to the Bridge in the mood for revenge. Comfortably knocked out last season in the semis by the same opposition, the tie threatened to be swinging the same way before Kroos and Modric assumed control of midfield. The first goal was clinically simple. Kroos moved the ball to Vinicius who played a smart one-two with Benzema before returning a smart cross his way. The latter would arc his header past Mendy, giving Madrid the lead. He would score two more to complete back-to-back hattricks in the CL, setting up a commanding 1-3 away win.
Madrid’s legacy as comeback kings would be further burnished in the second leg. For 80-plus minutes, Chelsea was dominant and had the goals to show for it. Leading by three goals, and ahead on aggregate, The Blues seemed on course for the semis. Modric however had other designs. With a deft waft of his boot, he floated a cross above the Chelsea backline, for an onrushing Rodrygo to volley home. Level on aggregate and with momentum on their side Benzema would once again have the final word, heading in a Vinicius cross with lethal accuracy.
Semi-final: Manchester City
Having come from the brink twice over, Ancelloti’s men would summon another gust of the impossible against Guardiola’s imperious City. Down by two goals within two minutes at the Etihad, Madrid would punish City’s wastefulness by keeping the score to 4-3, capped off by Benzema’s sublime Panenka past Ederson.
The second leg was more controlled than chaotic for long periods. City dominated possession, kept their wits about, and ultimately had Mahrez score what seemed to be the clincher. There was time for Grealish to be denied twice, first by Mendy on the line and then by Courtois’ studs. At 89 minutes, the score read 5-3 to Manchester City on aggregate. Within two minutes, Rodrygo had levelled the tie, effectively burning to a crisp all composure within City ranks. With De Bruyne substituted, City was without their talisman, while Madrid’s was on-hand to seal a memorable victory. Sneaking in ahead of Ruben Dias, the Frenchman was tripped under the watchful gaze of the referee, Daniele Orsato. Dusting himself off, King Karim sent Ederson the wrong side twice within the space of a week. Penalty won. Penalty converted. While City’s rails came off, the Galacticos could plan for a Paris evening under the lights.