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Gareth Bale's Heroics Give Real Madrid Champions League Final Win vs. Liverpool

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2018

KIEV, UKRAINE - MAY 26:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his sides third goal, his second, during the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium on May 26, 2018 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Gareth Bale came off the bench to score twice as Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 to win the 2018 UEFA Champions League final at the NSC Olimpiyskiy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday.

Bale's goals added to Karim Benzema's second-half opener, which came on the first of two costly errors by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius. Sadio Mane equalised for the Reds, who lost star forward Mohamed Salah to injury in the first half after a clash with Real skipper Sergio Ramos.

A fourth triumph in the last five seasons made Real the first side since Bayern Munich in the 1970s to win the trophy three times in a row.

   

Miracle Goal Proves Bale Should Get More Chances

Play top players, and good things happen. Shocker. It's hardly rocket science, yet Real so often neglect to apply this simple rule of thumb to Bale.

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Injuries have played a part, but Bale again found himself on the bench for a big match on manager Zinedine Zidane's watch. Common sense prevailed, however, after Isco floundered playing in support of Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bale entered the fray in the 61st minute and needed just three minutes to show he doesn't belong in Ronaldo's shadow. He produced an almost inch-perfect recreation of the latter's overhead-kick goal in the first leg of the quarter-finals against Juventus:

ESPN FC @ESPNFC

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Juventus Gareth Bale vs. Liverpool Who did it best? #UCLFinal https://t.co/MqVSL69rpq

Yahoo Sport Uk's Andrew Gaffney noted how Bale has risen to the occasion since moving to the Spanish capital in 2013:

Andrew Gaffney @GaffneyVLC

People in Spain like to think Real Madrid would’ve won the same amount of CLs with or without Bale. I don’t agree. If this turns out to be no.4 for Bale, he’ll have played a key role in three of those triumphs. #uclfinal

There was a hefty element of fortune about Bale's second, with Karius offering another helping hand. Even so, Bale has done more than enough to cement himself as one of the catalysts for Real's recent stranglehold on this trophy.

   

Karius Errors a Reminder Liverpool Must Sign a Goalkeeper

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can't avoid spending big money on a goalkeeper during this summer's transfer window. Karius gifted Los Blancos the lead six minutes after break, all the evidence Klopp needed to make a change between the sticks.

The German had handed Real the lead when he tried to throw the ball out but instead threw it onto the outstretched foot of Benzema.

Not surprisingly, many were quick to express both astonishment and amusement at Karius' gaffe:

Taylor Twellman @TaylorTwellman

Karius with an absolute brain 💨. #UCLFinal https://t.co/Yzm68a8A67

Fabrizio Romano @FabrizioRomano

FIFA98 or Champions League final?! #Karius #UCLFinal #ChampionsLeagueFinal

Unfortunately for the Premier League side, it was far from the final calamity by Karius. He was rooted to the spot and slow to react to Bale's airborne heroics, while he also swatted the Welshman's straight shot into the net for Real's third.

Afterwards, the 24-year-old was understandably distraught, per Henry Winter of the Times:

Henry Winter @henrywinter

Karius in front of #lfc fans, holding his hands up as if beseeching forgiveness. In tears. #lfc players and staff trying to comfort keeper after his two mistakes. He's beyond consoling. #UCLfinal

While it's near impossible not to have some sympathy for Karius, his sorrow can't hide the fact Liverpool need a significant upgrade at such a key position.

Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl had a few suggestions about stoppers who would be improvements for the Reds:

Grant Wahl @GrantWahl

Liverpool sitting on a lot of money. Donnarumma (or even Buffon) would be an upgrade at goalkeeper.

Liverpool have been linked with AS Roma's Alisson but have been told the Brazil international will cost as much as £87 million, per Corriere dello Sport (h/t TalkSport.com).

Based on the shaky form of Karius and Simon Mignolet, it's a price they can't risk not paying.

   

Ramos Cast as Villain Again After Salah Injury Leaves WC Hopes in Doubt

Liverpool started brightly but simply weren't the same once Salah was substituted after just 31 minutes. The prolific Egypt international appeared to injure his shoulder after tangling with Ramos in the 25th minute.

Not everybody was impressed by Ramos' effort to stop Salah in full flow:

101 Great Goals @101greatgoals

Why does Ramos have hold of Salah's arm at this point????!!! 😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡 https://t.co/OVPcx102I7

While the initial challenge resembled something more akin to a coming together, Ramos was soon cast in the role of villain:

Match of the Day @BBCMOTD

A lot of you tweeting us saying Sergio Ramos used the dark arts in that Mohamed Salah challenge... 🤔 Live 👉 https://t.co/2zlHRyLNKa #UCLFinal #bbcfootball #LFC https://t.co/fvQY4ztq3D

Naturally, Liverpool supporters booed the defender's every touch thereafter, while Andrew Downie of Reuters questioned the 32-year-old's rough playing style:

Andrew Downie @adowniebrazil

Anyone saying that Sergio Ramos didn't mean to injure Salah are missing the point. Ramos is a dirty player and dirty players always run the risk of injuring their opponents. #uclfinal

This is hardly the first time Ramos has generated controversy. In December, he broke La Liga's record for red cards when he was dismissed against Athletic Bilbao.

Aside from Ramos' intent, the bigger question may be what the injury means for Salah's hopes of playing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia next month. Klopp confirmed afterwards there is a chance Salah, who needs an X-ray could miss this summer's tournament, per BBC Sport: "Yes. It's unbelievable. It's something with the shoulder obviously."

The injury was serious enough for him to leave the pitch in tears, likely a response to having to miss out on his chance to shine on such a big stage to cap a phenomenal first season at Liverpool.

   

What's Next?

Recruiting a goalkeeper and fortifying the defence remain priorities for Klopp, while Zidane and Real should focus on making Bale feel wanted.

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