2022 Champions League final: Thibaut Courtois’ clutch saves Real Madrid’s UCL-winning pedigree

PARIS – Real Madrid may not leave the French capital with Kylian Mbappe in their luggage, but they are bring home a 14th UEFA Champions League trophy with them after a 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Vinicius Junior scored the only goal of the game at the hour of play, but the spectacle of Saint-Denis was unfortunately spoiled by the chaotic scenes fans unable to enter the venue in time for kick-off with questions already asked by the Reds.

As the finals went on it was far from pretty and the atmosphere deflated further once it became clear there were major issues in and around the stadium and that is an opportunistic Real who won thanks to a Thibaut Courtois masterclass between the sticks.

Karim Benzema was denied a first-half strike for offside after a VAR check, but Vinicius’ effort on an assist from Federico Valverde just before the hour mark was Los Blancos’ only shot on target during the 90 minutes as the Spanish giants somehow kept Liverpool at bay.

Jurgen Klopp’s men created plenty with almost double numbers in effort on target, but they found Courtois in inspired form and the Belgium international once again showed his worth for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in winning his UCL crown.

“Back in England, I’m not respected enough,” Courtois said after the final whistle. “So, well, I showed it today. I wanted to put some respect on my name there.”

Courtois’ nine saves on the night were the most since 2003-04 by a goalkeeper in a single Champions League final, according to Opta. Liverpool won the battle xG 2.14 to 0.88 but came away empty-handed due to Courtois’ heroics.

Whether Real is a valid long-term approach remains to be seen given their aging squad and inability to truly dominate their opponents, but their failure to land Mbappe means any planned summer rebuild will have to be reconsidered.

Based on that performance, the French superstar simply wouldn’t have turned the LaLiga champions into a superior team given Liverpool’s impressive mastery in just about everything but their finishing – they didn’t even need a contribution from top scorer Benzema at the end.

However, it fits with the inescapable feeling for some time now that Real were destined to win this one given their ability to get out of the holes either via their French sniper or Courtois’ incredible performances in goal. .

A run that has seen Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City fall is as impressive as it comes, and Ancelotti has led his side masterfully through this minefield with key star-name contributions and a healthy share of good fortune.

What comes next for Real is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to imagine there’s much more mileage in this current crop despite Benzema’s ability to redefine himself as an elite athlete in the last stage of his career and the enduring brilliance of Luka Modric.

Once that winning formula has finally dissipated for good, you can argue that now may be the time for Mbappe to finally move to the Santiago Bernabeu – assuming the Spaniards recover from his recent rejection.

Until then, however, Ancelotti has squeezed every drop of success out of this group and even if it’s not through collective brilliance, individual performances of the highest quality have allowed them to achieve these kinds of results.

What is beyond doubt, however, is Real’s Champions League pedigree, as they again underlined their complete mastery of European football’s greatest prize with an unprecedented 14th title and four of the last seven.

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