The Belgian was in inspired form as Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in the final for the second time in five seasons after Vinicius Jr’s goal
Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in the Champions League final for the second time in five seasons after Vinicius Jr’s second-half strike secured the Spanish club’s 14th title in the competition.
It was a night that typified Real’s 2021-22 European campaign as they found themselves pinned back by their opponents for large periods only to take their big chance when it presented itself.
Amid all the talk of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric’s outstanding performances, Thibaut Courtois’ form during Real Madrid’s Champions League run has been somewhat overlooked, but he has been as integral to their success as anyone else and saved his best display for the biggest stage of all. The Belgian was the man of the match in Paris, by a considerable distance.
The evening was overshadowed by the heavy-handed behaviour of the French police before the game, with Liverpool supporters reporting that they were tear-gassed as they attempted to enter the Stade De France. The match was scheduled to kick-off at 8pm but delayed for half an hour as thousands of fans were unable to take their seats.
Liverpool started in authoritative fashion, evidenced by Ibrahima Konate’s expert marshalling of Vinicius Jr by the touchline in the opening stages, and as would become a theme of the night, had the first meaningful chances.
Courtois reacted quickly to prevent a deft Mo Salah touch from nestling in the bottom corner, before denying the Egyptian again with a more routine save less than a minute later. Better was to come as he made a magnificent finger-tip stop to divert Sadio Mane’s strike onto the inside of the post with the rebound squirting to safety.
Liverpool’s superiority was made apparent by the shot count after 34 minutes which read 8-0 in their favour and 5-0 for efforts on target, after Salah headed a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross straight at Courtois. It wasn’t until two minutes later that a Real Madrid player even had a touch of the ball in Liverpool’s box, after a rare foray forward.
But as they have demonstrated time and again this campaign, Real always carry a threat no matter how much pressure they find themselves under. Just before half-time Karim Benzema swept a finish into the net after a misjudgement between Alisson and Konate only for the VAR to intervene and rule him offside after a lengthy stoppage.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson 6, Alexander-Arnold 6, Konate 8, Van Dijk 7, Robertson 6, Fabinho 7, Henderson 6 (Keita 6), Thiago 7 (Firmino 6), Salah 7, Diaz 6 (Jota 6), Mane 7
Real Madrid (4-3-1-2): Courtois 10, Carvajal 7, Militao 7, Alaba 6, Mendy 6, Casemiro 7, Valverde 7 (Camavinga 6), Kroos 6, Modric 7 (Ceballos 6), Benzema 6, Vinicius Jr 7 (Rodrygo 6)
The length of time it took to reach a judgement showed it was anything but clear cut. The ball pinballed from Alisson onto Konate and then Fabinho before falling at the feet of Benzema to score. According to former Premier League referee Peter Walton, the goal was disallowed as Fabinho had unintentionally knocked the ball into Benzema’s path while the striker was in an offside position.
Liverpool continued to look the likelier to open the scoring, but after failing to make their dominance count they inevitably fell behind. Federico Valverde darted down the right wing before sliding a low cross to the back post where Vinicius was lurking to apply the finishing touch into an empty net. Questions will be asked of Alexander-Arnold’s reading of the situation as the winger sneaked in behind him to score.
Courtois continued his fine evening’s work by flying to his right to palm a goal-bound, curling Salah effort to safety and denied the Liverpool forward for the umpteenth time again when he flicked a Diogo Jota header instinctively towards goal. And just as in the first-half, Courtois made a miraculous stop to prevent a certain goal by deflecting a Salah shot wide with his forearm to ensure a clean sheet and yet another historic night for the Champions League’s most decorated club.