I still can’t fathom how Real Madrid find themselves in the Paris showdown. Not as well-drilled as their knockout opponents, Ancelloti has culled a team that thrives on chaos. Driven by an uncanny ability to rise from the brink, the Galacticos refuse to settle for defeat. Theirs is less a story of craft and guile. Instead, more rough-cut values define this bunch: remarkably resilience and an abundance of will.
But while these qualities are spread evenly across the squad, three names stand above all else. Inevitably involved in pulling the club out of the deep end, they are as follows:
1. Karim Benzema
The Frenchman is simply breathing in different air this season. With 48 goals of varying quality, King Karim has been Ancelloti’s ace in the wind. With 15 in eleven Champions League skirmishes, the numbers tell their own story. But where the numbers end, his aura begins. Pick out his moments of intervention, and only then do we get a true sense of his talismanic powers. Trailing 2-0 on aggregate and getting the rag against a seemingly superior PSG side, the forward reeled off a hattrick in 18 minutes to bring the tie home. He would follow it up with a hattrick and winner against Chelsea over two legs. In the semi-finals against City, Benzema was sublime as usual, capping off the double-legged affair with three goals and a panenka for the ages.
If Benzema fires like he has all season, Madrid will be on course for a 14th European Cup. There truly is nothing false about this no.9!
2. Luka Modric
Ah, The Balkan Cruyff! All scrawny faced and squinting eyes, flitting in and out of space, knitting together passes, tippy-tapping his way out of tight spaces, ‘Ol Luka is Madrid’s maestro. While a veteran of many battles, the Croatian is still the man for the occasion. Remember his impudent outside-of-the-boot poke against Scotland in Euro 2020? Well, it still doesn’t compare to his assist against Chelsea. Down 0-3 and at the exit’s door, Modric arced a gorgeous pass over their defence for young Rodrygo to latch onto. It would spark yet another riotous comeback in front of delirious Madridistas.
While fears of Liverpool overpowering Madrid’s midfield aren’t unfounded, Modric’s passing range could be a dangerous outlet for Madrid, especially with Vincius Jr. likely to exploit the space behind the Pool high-line.
3. Thibaut Courtois
Having your keeper as one of the key men is always an ominous sign. But the Belgian’s interventions have been crucial to Madrid’s run to the finals. Against Paris, in Paris, he denied Messi from 12 yards. At the Etihad, his lanky frame was crucial in keeping City within a goal’s reach. Against the same opposition a week later, he would redirect Grealish’s goalbound effort with an outstretched toe. Had it not been for his reflexes in goal Madrid would have been buried well in advance.
Given that Liverpool will lay siege on the Madrid goal, Courtois will be called upon on innumerable occasions in the final.