Champions League Final thoughts

1. Look: Sergio Ramos is one of the dirtiest players of our time, and deserves about fifty more red cards than he has received in his career. But I think that all he did today was something that defenders in general do half-a-dozen times a match: pull a guy down rather than let him get around you. Definitely a foul, but nothing more than that.* But I get why people are so upset: They know that if the Devil appeared to Ramos and said, “Hey Sergio, old friend, you can tackle Salah in a way that will knock him out of the game and out of the World Cup, without getting yourself sent off,” Ramos would instantly reply, “Where do I sign and in whose blood?”

2. Going into this match I was really worried about Liverpool’s defending, but they were fine throughout, and the centerbacks were great. (Lovren made several excellent tackles, including a brilliant late one on Bale, and assisted Mane’s goal.) Real got three goals that no defender could do anything about — goals in which the defense could play absolutely no role. Klopp’s defensive game-plan was superb and really constrained Real’s chances.

3. On the other side, Zidane’s defensive game-plan was clearly oriented towards stopping Salah, and yeah, probably by fair means or foul. So I think there is little chance that Mo would have scored in this match — but his presence would definitely have opened up possibilities for others.

4. Even with Mo out, some terrible luck for Liverpool, and some catastrophic goalkeeping, the Reds were clearly in this game almost to the end. They never gave an inch and, until that second Bale goal, were taking the game relentlessly to Real. That was tremendously impressive. If they can solve their goalkeeping problem and make just a couple of additional signings, they stand a very good chance of contending for the Premier League title next year.

5. I am worried for Karius. I have never seen a player more emotionally devastated than he was at the end of that match, and if he is able to recover his confidence — and no players need confidence the way keepers do — that will be a sign of exceptional emotional resilience. I pray that he has that resilience.

*Am I being too generous? Daniel Taylor

Salah looked inconsolable as he was led from the pitch and Sergio Ramos had some nerve offering a sympathetic hug on the way off. Ramos had locked Salah’s right arm and turned him, judo-style, as they lost balance going for the same ball. Television replays hardened the suspicion it was a calculated move on Ramos’s part and when Salah landed, with a hell of a thud, the damage was considerable.  

My doubt is this: It was clearly impossible for Ramos to calculate that if he pulled Salah’s right arm down it would lead to his landing on his left shoulder in such a way as to put him out of the game. So there had to be some more generalized malice: “I’ll pull him down and hope he gets hurt somehow and I don’t get sent off for it.” But I expect that’s a fairly common semi-conscious thought among defenders. Consider this rugby/NFL tackle by Jedinak on Mitrovic, earlier today: 

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Far more likely to cause damage than Ramos’s tackle of Salah. One could argue that Mitrovic and Jedinak are about the same size; but you can’t really expect defenders to play differently against attackers according to size — can you? 

12 Replies to “Champions League Final thoughts”

  1. You’re probably right that it was just an example of the sort of general, all-around scumbaggery that Ramos has perfected as an understudy to Pepe, the only defender I think I’ve ever hated more. And maybe it is just the way the game is played on a professional level (though, to hear EPL color commentators on most weekends, the game has become terribly soft since the good old days). But to me, anyone who rides someone to ground in an MMA-style armbar like that has to be at least dimly aware that it’s a good way to break an arm or collarbone.

    The Daily Mail had a good article sympathizing with Karius, which articulated many of the same things my stepson and I said afterward: how do you possibly come back from a game like that? I imagine only winning a future CL final with goalkeeping heroics could ever cancel this career-defining game out. I don’t envy Klopp’s job in having to sound out Karius’s psychological strength over the summer, especially since, being the football romantic he is, you know he’d love nothing more than to allow Karius to redeem himself. I’m doubtful he can take that chance, though.

    I’m used to disappointment as a Liverpool fan, but damn it, I *really* wanted Klopp to be able to win this one. I started out watching the Bundesliga as a Schalke fan, but converted to Dortmund purely because of him. The romantic in me so desperately wants to see the Klopps instead of the Ramoses being rewarded for a change.

    1. Yeah, I was rooting for Klopp big time in this one — and for Liverpool, too, who have gone so long without a big win, but especially for Klopp, who is such an admirable guy. And they didn’t get beaten, they were the equal of Real even with Salah out. I don’t know whether that makes it better or worse.

      1. Well, I guess I’d rather lose with pride and dignity than win and have the story immediately be about how two of your star players are threatening to leave. (Bale, I guess I can understand, but what in the world is Ronaldo petulantly whining about? Is he mad because Bale stole the spotlight and he didn’t get to show off his abs? And then the arrogant “They should rename the tournament the CR7 Champions League”…Lord. Thanks for reminding us that success isn’t everything, Cristiano.)

        But yes, from losing 6-1 at Stoke on the final game of ’14-’15 to being in the CL final three years later is nothing to complain about. Like Klopp the modern-day Stoic philosopher keeps saying, that’s what it is; it’s not nice, but we have to use it. I’m not an optimist by nature, but his example has me already eagerly anticipating the summer business and upcoming season.

        1. In his heart of hearts Ronaldo thinks that pitch invader in the 93rd minute prevented him from scoring and earning Man of the Match honors.

  2. For context (not that it invalidates your point) the game at Wembley today was exceptionally rough. The refs were letting things go that I’ve never seen waved off before, and still there were eight bookings and one ejection.

    I started the game not really knowing anything about Jack Grealish, immediately came to hate him, and ultimately had to give him grudging respect for the sheer physical beating he took.

    So I don’t know that the tackle on Mitro you’ve referenced would’ve been treated as routinely in any other game.

    1. Well, Jedinak did get a yellow for that — though you’re right about how the game in general was officiated. Several players on both sides could have been sent off.

  3. My main takeaway from this match (to go away from the point of your OP) is a sharp regret, as an Englishman anticipating the world cup, that Bale isn’t English. Combined with a more general sense that’s it’s a shame we won’t get to see him perform there. The Georgie Best problem.

    1. As we know, Maradona good, Pelé better, George Best. But here’s my theory: if Bale were English the English press would destroy him. In one odd sense he’s like Özil: he’s the kind of player who can seem utterly peripheral for almost the whole match, whose whole contribution lies in two or three brilliant moments. I remember when he was with Spurs and would do nothing for 88 minutes and then in the 89th send a rocket into the top corner to win the game or rescue a point. If he played for England the press would ignore those moments of brilliance and kvetch constantly about how inconsistent he was and how he needed to raise his work rate.

      1. That’s a good point. And, actually, if opposing teams thought of Bale as the sort of player who presented a continual, pressing threat, like (say) Mo Salah, then he’d be much more aggressively marked and tackled. Like, uh, Salah. Talking of which: I’m not hopeful my team will do much in the world cup, but I can only imagine how furious Egyptians must be that their best ever player has been snatched away from their world cup squad in the very last club match of the season. If I were Sergio Ramos I wouldn’t be planning any Egyptian holidays in the near future.

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