Real Madrid show Man City and Liverpool FC their missing Champions League ingredient – Joe Bray
For all the talk of the Premier League boasting the best two sides in Europe, Real Madrid quietly and efficiently went about humbling both Manchester City and Liverpool this season.
If their comeback against City in the Champions League semi-finals was a late smash-and-grab, fuelled on momentum and a tired City defence, their victory over Liverpool in the final was far more controlled. Liverpool may have dominated the shot count, and Thibaut Courtois may have produced one of the all-time great Champions League final performances, but there was an assured confidence in the Real Madrid side and a belief that they would always remain in the game.
As soon as Vinicius Jr put them ahead, there was only one winner. They have now beaten the Premier League champions, their closest rivals, and the defending Champions League winners on their way to lifting the trophy, plus one of the richest sides in the world in Paris Saint-Germain. They may not have played worse on their way to any of their previous 13 European Cups, but the fact that they lifted a 14th in Paris can be a timely lesson for City and Liverpool.
You would find few people arguing that the top two sides in the Premier League aren’t currently the best two sides in Europe. City have won four from five league titles, with Liverpool finishing in the top three for four years in a row – lifting six trophies in the process and reaching three European finals in five seasons.
Not just that, but the levels of performance and mentality that City and Liverpool have shown have taken the Premier League to new levels. It’s no surprise that both are starting to dominate Europe as well as England.
But Real Madrid have sent both sides a useful reminder that there is still work to do for both sides to reach that final step to be considered a truly great side.
In Real’s recent Champions League wins, they were inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in their wins against Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Liverpool between 2014 and 2018 – plus a little help from Loris Karius in Kyiv. This year, with an ageing squad, they had to rely on more moments of individual brilliance and smaller bursts of dominance to come back from deficits in each knockout round. They used their experience and a sheer belief that they could get number 14.
Maybe City and Liverpool lacked that belief or that experience. Or maybe they believed in the aura surrounding Madrid as much as the opposition did. For both, the next step is to adopt some of that arrogance for themselves. They don’t need to be perfect for the entirety of seven knockout games, just enough to knock the opponent out.
Because, while Madrid fully deserved their title, they’re not really a better side than City or Liverpool. But they know how to win those big games. Just like City last year, Liverpool didn’t do themselves justice in the final on Saturday and will rue a huge missed opportunity.
After humbling defeats at the hands of Carlo Ancelotti’s European experts, both clubs know there is still room for improvement next season. Ancelotti said Liverpool were easier to beat than City, but that won’t give the Blues much consolation.
The task for next year is to better the other in the Premier League, and then take that belief into Europe. However much City have conquered England, there is still an extra mental step to go for the Champions League.