Effectiveness, little ball and a lot of epic: this is how Real Madrid reaches its fifth final in a decade

Minute 89.

26 May 2022 Thursday 22:21
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Effectiveness, little ball and a lot of epic: this is how Real Madrid reaches its fifth final in a decade

Minute 89. With the tie 3-5 in favor of a much superior Manchester City, Real Madrid approached Ederson's goal. Since the citizen team scored the goal that seemed to end the tie in minute 72, the Bernabéu recovered in seconds and encouraged his team on the way to victory. They knew that what is impossible for many is not for Real Madrid. The Whites made it through to the final with goals in the 90th, 91st and 95th minutes.

Madridista tightrope walking does not walk a tightrope, but walks a wide path that always leads to the same place. This Saturday's is the fifth Champions League final that Real Madrid has reached in the last decade, the eighth since the European Cup evolved into the current format in the 1992/93 season. They have all won. In this edition, however, Madrid have reached the final stop of the journey leaving the ball behind, generating fewer scoring chances and conceding more than in any other season. Less possession, more effectiveness and large doses of epic.

As the UEFA statistics show, Carlo Ancelotti's team has given prominence to the rival. From the round of 16 and with a style of play that was far from their best version, the Whites accepted the secondary role against the great rivals who fell in front of them. PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City, the great 'coconuts' of the tournament, ended up giving in against Real Madrid, despite the fact that in the three qualifiers the meringues had to row against the current at some point.

From the round of 16 to the semi-finals, the Spanish team had an average of 44% possession of the ball. In the continentally successful seasons of the last decade (13/14, 15/16, 16/17 and 17/18), this figure had settled between 50 and 55%, disputing all rivals face to face. With less ball there have also been fewer total shots -11 from the white team on average in six games and 19 from the rivals- and shots on goal -just over 4 per game on average for Madrid and 6.5 for the rivals —. These are the worst records for Real Madrid compared to those achieved in the successful editions of the last decade.

As a result of these data, the Spanish team has had to get used to the epic European comebacks this season. Six games and three defeats before the final. Madrid had never yielded so much before. Not even in the 2017/18 season —the last of Cristiano Ronaldo as a 7-man madridista—, when they beat PSG —although not as strongly as this season—, Juventus and Bayern. A hard road with only one defeat and a draw that ended with the thirteenth in the Whites' record in a final, precisely, against Liverpool and with Bale's Chilean in the memory.

And despite the figures, his monster is gigantic. He has not only defeated three of the greats in Europe —PSG and City as eternal contenders and Chelsea as current champion—, but he has done so with the epic flag. With the luck of having played all three rounds at the Bernabéu — luck that has happened in 70% of the quarterfinal and semifinal games in the five seasons analyzed — Madrid managed to overcome Mbappé's PSG at home and get off Chelsea ( in the 96th minute) and Manchester City (90, 91 and 5 minutes into extra time). Never before had he saved so many ties with time already up, saving the controversial penalty in the 93rd minute of the quarter-final second leg against Juventus in the 2017/18 season.

In addition, with fewer total shots and shots on goal, Madrid is more effective than ever: it transforms one of every five shots it makes, more than half (54%) of those it sends between the three suits. He scores just over two goals per game, although he concedes almost the same figure. A statistical equality that has led him to walk, at least in the objectivity of the numbers, on the edge of a knife.

Of the five occasions in which they have reached the Champions League final in the last decade, Real Madrid have never conceded more than one defeat in the knockout stage. After the departure of Cristiano and after three seasons failing —the first two a.d. in the round of 16 and last time, in the semis against Chelsea—, Benzema grew to become not only a leader on the pitch, but also a monster capable of intimidating rivals.

His numbers are devastating: with 15 goals, five in the group stage and 10 since the round of 16, the French 9 has tripled his records from previous editions and is close to Cristiano Ronaldo's 17 goals as the top scorer in the history of the Champions League in a single edition. The epic passes through him: the future favorite for the 2021 Ballon d'Or already said it after his immense game in the 4-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in the first leg of the semifinals: "at the Bernabéu we are going to do something magical, which is win".

Facing the monster, Liverpool. The Reds arrive with the roles reversed: more control of the ball —more than 60% on average since the round of 16— and more than twice as many shots as their rivals —16 on average for the British team and six for their rivals—. In this edition, Jürgen Klopp's team has reversed the dynamics established in the last two seasons in which they reached the final, in 17/18, when they lost to Real Madrid; and on 18/19, when he lifted the cup after beating Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham. On both occasions, from the round of 16 to the final, Liverpool had less than 45% possession and shot less than their rivals.

If the same dynamic is followed in this edition, the scenario for the final seems already written: Real Madrid giving up the ball and opportunities and Liverpool taking what the rival gives away. A Goliath disguised as David before a rival wanting to break the flag of the epic and collect his particular revenge against that of his last executioner.



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