The 2018 Champions League Final: How the Drama Unfolded
Backdrop: Real Madrid
Managed by Zinedine Zidane and led by the titanic figures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos on the pitch, Real Madrid were still very much footballing royalty in 2018. Having finally completed La Decima in 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti, Real finally seemed free of the expectation and pressure such a triumph commands and were the ultimate big-game side in Europe.
Though they might have posted one of the weakest title defences La Liga had ever seen across the 2017/18 season, Real's form in the Champions League remained totally unquestionable. Overcoming a group containing the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham, Los Blancos dismantled a much-fancied PSG side 5-2 over two legs.
Individual brilliance from their star-studded lineup soon took over, chiefly from the likes of Ronaldo, Ramos and future Ballon D'or winner Luka Modric, as Madrid saw off competition from Juventus and Bayern Munich. Ronaldo's legendary bicycle kick against Juventus was easily the moment of the tournament up to the final, with the Portuguese frontman top scoring across the competition with 15 goals, 5 ahead of his nearest rivals.
Ronaldo Magic Against Juventus
A Worthy Opponent
Whilst their eventual Champions League win was still a year away in 2018, Liverpool were very much a team on their way up throughout 2017/18. The sale of Philippe Coutinho and acquisition of Virgil Van Dijk in January 2018 marked an important shift in Jurgen Klopp's approach to his side, moving from a high-flying pressing style to a far more solid and composed setup that has continued forward and made them so unstoppable ever since.
Their front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah (who went on to net over 40 goals that season) were absolutely red-hot as the Reds demolished a group consisting of Sevilla, Maribor and Spartak Moscow.
Besting the likes of Porto and Roma en route to the final in Kiev, Liverpool's standout moment in the tournament came up against the imperious side of Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. A first half blitz in the opening leg at Anfield lay down the Reds' ambitions as a European powerhouse and more than a few people had them quietly fancied as a possible upset in Kiev...
The Talking Points
The troubled relationship between manager Zidane and Welsh star Gareth Bale continued to disintegrate on the pitch as the French manager left Bale on the bench for the final, starting Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco in a narrow front three. The reliable figures of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric offered Zidane a steady lynchpin in the middle, with Dani Carvajal and Marcelo providing an experienced level of width in full back.
Liverpool's fantastic front three all started the game, with Milner, Henderson and Wijnaldum making up the midfield ahead of the likes of Lallana and Can. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool's record signing at the time, partnered Lovren in central defence as two exciting full backs in Robertson and Alexander-Arnold kept out the likes of Moreno and Clyne.
Two Big Blows
The early exchanges between the two sides seemed to indicate a traditional high press from Liverpool against the slower passing build up of Madrid, with Mane and Salah in particular providing plenty of energy down the flanks. However, that game plan would come crashing down around Klopp once Salah fell to the floor on the 25th minute.
Colliding with Sergio Ramos through a messy locked elbow, Salah's dislocated shoulder injury was huge blow at the time and completely shifted the mood of the game. On the back of a 44-goal season, Salah's presence in this kind of game was always going to be a real threat to the likes of Ramos, and the collision between the two of them can be regarded as controversial, at best.
For Real, they were dealt a serious blow when Carvajal pulled his hamstring a few minutes later in an attempted backheel. His replacement, Nacho Fernandez, was solid enough, however he certainly didn't bring the level of energy and width that the experienced head of Carvajal did.
1-0 Real Madrid
Karim Benzema - 51 Minutes
The tense deadlock was finally broken in dramatic style on minute 51, thanks to some quick thinking from Karim Benzema and some equally dodgy goalkeeping from Loris Karius.
A loose ball was easily swept up by Karius in the Liverpool box, with the German goalkeeper clearly looking to keep the energy flowing in his side with a quick pass out from the back. Clearly a case of his reactions moving a bit quicker than his brain, Karius' throw was intercepted pretty tamely by the French striker as the whole world watched on in awe as the ball rolled harmlessly into the net.
1-0 Real Madrid and, sadly for Karius, the controversy was done yet.
Karius Mistakes In The 2018 Champions League Final
1-1 - Honours Even
Sadio Mane - 55 Minutes
Though they had effectively thrown away the deadlock, Liverpool didn't have too long to wait before finding an equaliser.
Pressing hard after the initial reset, Liverpool's exploits down the flanks soon won them a corner kick on the right. With plenty of height provided by Lovren and Van Dijk, it was no surprise to see Milner's corner aimed straight for the former, with the Croatian towering above Ramos and knocking the ball down towards Navas in the Madrid goal.
Sadio Mane's quick thinking lead to him pouncing on the loose ball, sending Navas the wrong way as he nonchalantly dinked the ball into the vacant net.
1-1 and the two sides were level again.
Sadio Mane's Equaliser
2-1 and 3-1 Real Madrid - Gareth Bale
61 Minutes - The Gareth Bale Show
With the scores once again locked, Zidane finally turned to Gareth Bale on the bench with just under half an hour left to play. Undoubtedly a world-class player on his day, the stage was set for someone to seize the glory and Bale certainly had the fire to prove someone like Zidane wrong.
Within five minutes of being introduced, Marcelo whipped a pretty rank ball towards the Welshman who turned to produce something truly unbelievable. With the ball barely higher than his chest, Bale stepped up to produce an unbelievable overhead kick and leaving Karius with no chance.
Bale wasn't done yet however, thundering a 40-yard strike towards the German goalkeeper and producing the Liverpool keeper's second big mistake of the night just seven minutes from time. 2-1 Bale, 3-1 Madrid.
Bale's First Goal vs. Liverpool
Bale's Second Goal
What Happened Next?
Changes All Around
Within a few weeks of the 2018 Champions League Final, both sides had transformed immensely.
Cristiano Ronaldo would move to Juventus, Zidane would leave Madrid before returning less than a year later, Bale would enter into a new chapter of disagreements and confrontation with Madrid, and Los Blancos' standing within the football world would take a substantial hit thanks to the appointments of Lopateguei and Solari.
Liverpool would post one of the most formidable title challenges the Premier League would ever witness, racking up 97 points and coming just one shy of champions Manchester City. They would however gain redemption from Kiev just a year later, taking home the 2019 Champions League following a 2-0 win against Tottenham.