The Champions League final pits Liverpool against Real Madrid once more.
Whilst Riyad Mahrez put the Premier League leaders 5-3 ahead on aggregate against La Liga’s champions in the other last-four tie, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, who had clawed their way past Villarreal in their semi-final, looked destined to meet Manchester City in Paris.
Yet, under Carlo Ancelotti’s leadership, Madrid created another amazing evening at the Santiago Bernabeu in the competition they consider their own.
Rodrygo scored twice after the 90th minute, and Karim Benzema’s extra-time penalty completed a 6-5 aggregate victory that even the most ardent Madrid supporters couldn’t have predicted.
As a result, the 2022 final will be a rematch of 2018 final, in which Real Madrid won 3-1 to achieve an unprecedented Champions League three-peat under Zinedine Zidane. What can we expect from it? It promises to be quite a spectacle, so what can we expect?
Ramos is gone, but Salah wants revenge
Mohamed Salah thought the 2018 final finished way too soon. Salah tussled with Sergio Ramos for the ball in the 25th minute, and the two fell to the Kyiv turf, Salah’s arm pinned beneath Ramos’ grip.
The tears conveyed the story before the medical tests could: Liverpool’s star had dislocated his shoulder and was unable to continue playing.
To some, it was an unfortunate but unavoidable injury that resulted from a strenuous challenge. For some, Ramos’ judo-style grappling was a premeditated maneuver by Madrid’s Machiavelli to shatter Salah’s shoulder and Liverpool’s morale.
Liverpool never truly recovered, whether it was on purpose or not. After an egregious error by Red’s goalkeeper Loris Karius, Benzema put Madrid ahead early in the second half.
Sadio Mane equalized, but the tie lasted only eight minutes until Gareth Bale’s incredible bicycle kick restored Madrid’s lead. The game was gone when Karius flapped another Bale long-range attempt into his own net.
Liverpool, on the other hand, never forgot and never forgave. Salah was asked by BT Sport which team he would prefer to face in this year’s final between Manchester City and Real Madrid, just moments after helping Liverpool reach 2022 final, and his response was devoid of clichés: “If you ask me, I prefer Madrid because we have previously lost in the final to them. As a result, I’d like to play against them and, hopefully, win.”
Klopp or Ancelotti can make football history
Liverpool has six games left in the 2021-22 season that might define not only their season but their position in history.
Klopp’s side is just a point behind Man City in the Premier League championship battle and with FA Cup and Champions League finals on the horizon, having already won the EFL Cup (Carabao Cup).
They might become the first English team to win the quadruple and the first team in Europe to do so since Celtic won the European Cup and the Scottish domestic treble in 1966-67 (we’re just counting the occasions a team has won four trophies).
Klopp is as near as any manager is going to come to achieving the feat, but Carlo Ancelotti will be looking to cap his first season back in Madrid with a second consecutive winning season.
The Italian might now become the only manager to win the Champions League or European Cup four times, after being the first coach to win all of Europe’s ‘big five leagues. He’s also the clear favorite for finals as a coach in this competition, which he’ll be coaching for the sixth time.
Can Mane stop Benzema from winning the Ballon d’Or?
Benzema’s extra-time penalty kick versus City gave him ten goals in the knockout round this season, equaling Cristiano Ronaldo’s knockout round record from 2016-17.
With 42 goals in all competitions and another La Liga title under his belt, won the Champions League for the sixth time in his career would put the 34-year-old in pole position to win the Ballon d’Or in 2022.
Liverpool may have the most candidates who can stop him. Salah is dominating the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, and further decisive contributions in his team’s next games might catapult him back into contention, especially if he buries the ghosts of four years ago by helping Liverpool to victory in Paris.
Sadio Mane, however, may have the best chance of any Liverpool player. After leading Senegal to Africa Cup of Nations glory, the 30-year-old broke Didier Drogba’s record for most Champions League knockout goals scored by an African, with his semifinal strike against Villarreal bringing his total to 15.
It will be nearly hard to overlook Mane’s credentials for the game’s best individual accolade if he can lead Liverpool to the FA Cup, Premier League, and Champions League.
Opening odds for 2022 Champions League final
Who will win the final of the 2022 Champions League?
Jurgen Klopp’s team is in the best shape of their lives, as they have been all season. They’ve played a lot of games and have been in charge of practically all of them this season, making them the clear favorites to win the UCL, with Mo Salah out for vengeance.