Lionel Messi double leads Barcelona past Milan in UEFA Champions League

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Four games scoreless led to jokes that Lionel Messi had forgotten how to score, and while those observations were tongue-in-cheek, Messi still quieted on Wednesday. A first half score from the spot and an insurance tally late gave the Argentine star his first two goals of the competition, helping Barcelona to a 3-1 win over Milan at the Nou Camp.

Sergio Busquets doubled Barcelona’s lead in the 39th minute before a Gerard Piqué own goal pulled Milan within one at halftime. The home side’s stifling possession game, however, limited the Rossoneri to one shot on goal, with a 92 percent pass completion rate ensuring Milan would rarely see the ball.

The victory moves Barcelona to 10 points in Group H, five ahead of second place Milan. They can clinch first place with a win next match day at Ajax (Nov. 26). That result combined with a Milan win at Celtic would also put the Italians into the knockout round.

As characteristic of the teams’ three other meetings this year, Barcelona dictated the game, but whereas Milan often starts applying pressure at the edge of their defensive third, today they quickly regressed much deeper. With a defense setting up just inside the penalty box behind midfielders holding their ground at the arc, the visitors were providing little resistance for Barcelona’s midfield.

When they did create turnovers, Milan would quickly move down their left, through the place vacated by Dani Alves. The tactic would come good near halftime, but over the first 45 minutes, its main virtues were wasting time, giving their defense some rest, and allowing their lines to reset.

In the 30th minute, though, that deep block cost them, if controversially so. Barcelona’s midfield saw no pressure before lofting a ball behind the defense for Neymar. Cutting in from the left, the Brazilian attacker tried to get inside right back Ignazio Abate for his chance but was eventually ridden to ground. The 50-50 call went against Milan when referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot, setting up Messi to end his scoreless run.

Six minutes later, Barcelona fans were treated to a rare set piece goal, with a Xavi Hernandez inswinger from the right finding an unmarked Sergio Busquets eight yards out. The midfielder’s glancing header beat Christian Abbiati for what would become the game-winning goal.

Milan pulled one back before half time, again attacking down the left flank. Just before the byline, Kaká tried to send a ball into the six-yard box, but an attempted block from Gerard Piqué deflected the pass into his own net, Victór Valdés jumping away from goal trying to play the cross that never came. Milan went into halftime down one.

In an often dull second half, Barcelona chose patience over pursuit, keeping the ball high while daring Milan to chose their one-goal deficit.

Eventually, Milan’s defense broke down. In the 83rd minute, Messi was allowed to play a one-two with Cesc Fábregas at the edge of the Milan area. Chipping over Abbiati as the Milan keeper came to challenge, Messi converted for his day’s second goal, giving Barcelona a 3-1 win.

It was a typical Barcelona performance, one that ended in a predictable win, but the news was not all bad for Milan. Thanks to Ajax’s win in Amsterdam over Celtic, the Rossoneri maintained second place in Group H, staying one-point clear of the Dutch champions. Win their next two, and Milan’s still going into the knockout round.

Scoring

Barcelona: 30′ (p.k.), 83′, Lionel Messi, 36′ Sergio Busquets

Milan: 45′ Piqué (o.g.)

Lineups

Barcelona: Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano; Sergio Buquest, Xavi Hernández (88′ Alex Song), Andrés Iniesta (78′ Cesc Fábregas); Alexei Sánchez, Lionel Messi, Neymar (85′ Pedro)

Unused subs: Marc Martra, Pinto, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya

Milan: Christian Abbiati; Ignzaio Abte, Cristian Zapata, Philippe Mexes, Urby Emanuelson; Andrea Poli (74′ Valter Birsa), Nigel de Jong, Ricardo Montovilo, Sulley Muntari; Kaká (84′ Alessandro Matri); Robinho (45′ Mario Balotelli)

Unused subs: 

Three things learned: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev on Saturday, with Zinedine Zidane’s side winning a third-straight European cup.

A game packed full of drama saw Mohamed Salah leave the pitch in tears early on after picking up a shoulder injury, while Real took the lead via Karim Benzema’s quick thinking after a horror moment for Loris Karius.

Liverpool reacted well to those blows as Sadio Mane equalized but then Gareth Bale jumped off the bench to score a stunning overhead kick goal, then Karius made another howler to allow Bale to score another and seal a record 13th European title for Real.

Below is a look at what we learned from an encapsulating game as the curtain came down on the European season in style.


BALE’S BRILLIANCE WORTHY OF WINNING ANY FINAL

This is the stuff of dreams for Gareth Bale.

The Welshman was left out of the starting lineup in Zidane’s only big decision of the game as Isco and Karim Benzema were favored to partner Cristiano Ronaldo in attack ahead of him.

Bale made Zidane question his call after jumping off the bench to change the game.

He not only scored that stunning goal but he also sent in a fabulous cross with the outside of his foot to pick out Benzema who nearly scored another late on. Then scored another from distance as his dipping shot caught out Karius who had a nightmare to spoon it into his net. Bale than raced clear late on but a fine tackle from Dejan Lovren denied him a hat trick with Ronaldo wide open.

Bale has scored in one previous Champions League final (2013/14) and last season he came off the bench late on after recovering from injury to play a bit-part. On Saturday he stole the show.

All of the talk will be about Bale this summer and if he will remain at the Santiago Bernabeu or head to the Premier League.

If he does end his five-year stay in Madrid this summer, Bale went out in style as he’s collected four Champions League winners medals and this will be the sweetest of the bunch.


SALAH’S INJURY; KARIUS HOWLERS HIT LIVERPOOL HARD

Mohamed Salah left the field in Kiev in tears in the first half and most of the soccer world was crying with him.

Salah (Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season with 44 goals in all competitions) tangled with Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid’s captain locked his right arm in to the Egyptian forward who slammed into the pitch.

Take a look at the incident below.

Liverpool’s main man tried to carry on but as his adoring fans sung his chant which had dominated the Premier League this season, the magician couldn’t carry on.

Salah’s absence made a huge difference and helped swing the game in Real Madrid’s favor with, the Reds having just seven touches in Real’s half in the 14 first half minutes after Salah went off compared to 111 before that.

Obviously you cannot legislate for the kind of mistakes Karius made and Jurgen Klopp will have to answer questions about losing all six of the major finals he has now reached in his managerial career.

Karius may never get over the two huge mistakes he made but Liverpool did have chances as Mane hit the post as well as scoring, but losing Salah so early obviously had a huge impact on their chances.

Liverpool have had a stunning season in the Champions League and nobody thought they could get to the final. They’ve come up short but they can hold their head high and start to build for next season.


ZIDANE, REAL ARE TRUE LEGENDS

Zidane looked like he had just popped down the shops for a newspaper and a pint of milk at the final whistle.

The legendary player is now a legendary manager as he has led his star-studded team to a third-straight European title.

Zidane watched on with a smile on his face in the closing stages as his team turned on the style and in truth they could’ve won by five or six. Even though they struggled in La Liga this season, Real turned it on when it mattered time and time again in the Champions League.

Let’s take a look at the records Real have now extended as they are truly the Kings of Europe

  • Real Madrid have now won a record 13 European titles
  • Real made their 16th appearance in a European Cup final, more than any other team in history
  • They are the first team since Bayern Munich (1974-1976) to win three-straight European titles
  • Zinedine Zidane is just the third manager to win the European Cup/Champions League three times (after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti), but the first to win it in three consecutive seasons

Player ratings: Bale the hero, Karius the zero in Madrid’s UCL triumph

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Real Madrid were crowned champions of Europe (again, for the third straight season) on Saturday, spearheaded by an all-time great goal scored by Gareth Bale and an all-time shocking performance from Loris Karius.

[ MORE: Benzema’s opener | Mane’s equalizer | Bale’s winner ]

Liverpool

GK – Loris Karius – 0/10: A goalkeeper has never committed a worse, more egregious, more senseless error in the history of soccer. Just watch it (unless you’re a Liverpool fan). Then he did this, in the same game. He can’t go back to Liverpool.

RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold – 6/10

CB – Dejan Lovren – 6.5/10

CB – Virgil Van Dijk – 6.5/10

LB – Andrew Robertson – 6.5/10: Robertson’s heroic sliding block to snuff out Cristiano Ronaldo’s breakaway in the 75th minute kept Liverpool’s hopes and dreams alive.

CM – Jordan Henderson – 7/10

CM – James Milner (83′) – 6/10

CM – Georginio Wijnaldum – 6/10

RW – Mohamed Salah (31′) – 5/10: Injured by a highly questionable “challenge” from Sergio Ramos (WATCH HERE) inside the opening half-hour, the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner was unable to find his footing (through little fault of his own) during a cagey opening 25 minutes.

CF – Roberto Firmino – 5.5/10: A brilliant season for the Brazilian ends with one of his least impactful, quietest outings of the campaign. To Madrid’s credit, they put him on an island up top and denied any and all service to the frontman.

LW – Sadio Mane – 7/10: Scored Liverpool’s only goal (WATCH HERE), but was rendered largely ineffective following Salah’s departure, as Madrid were able to shift their defensive focus to the other side of the field.

Sub – Adam Lallana (31′) – 5.5/10

Sub – Emre Can (83′) – N/A

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Real Madrid

GK – Keylor Navas – 7.5/10: Navas made a pair of truly world-class saves in the first half to keep the game scoreless, at a time when the Reds were beginning to find their way and build up a head of steam.

RB – Dani Carvajal (37′) – 5/10

CB – Raphael Varane – 8/10: Kept Firmino in his hip pocket all game long.

CB – Sergio Ramos – 6/10: Responsible for the injury to Salah (no matter your feelings his about intent), but Ramos managed to avoid getting sent off over 90 minutes, which is a big win for him.

LB – Marcelo – 6.5/10:

CDM – Casemiro – 6.5/10

CM – Luka Modric – 7/10: Bossed the midfield and marshaled (par for the course) with four tackles and completed 94 percent of his 72 passes attempted. Madrid’s metronome, oftentimes their most important players lying in the shadows.

CM – Toni Kroos – 6/10

CAM – Isco – 7.5/10 (61′): Far and away Madrid’s best player for the entirety of the first half, and was inches from putting Los Blancos ahead in the 48th minute, when he lifted the ball over Karius and was denied by the crossbar.

FW – Karim Benzema (89′) – 7/10: Scored the game’s opening goal, could have scored a second goal late in the second half if not for a great save by Karius, and continues to (somehow) remain underrated when he so consistently shows up in the big games.

FW – Cristiano Ronaldo – 6/10: Little to no impact from minute 1 to 90. All that was missing was an 89th-minute goal to make it 5-1 and a wild shirt-off celebration like he’d scored the winner.

Sub – Nacho (37′) – 6/10

Sub – Gareth Bale (61′) – 10/10: When you score a goal like this, you got a 10/10 every time, no matter anything else you did while on the field (he scored again in the 83rd minute).

Sub – Marco Asensio (89′) – N/A

Bale brace guides Real Madrid to another UCL title

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Los Blancos have been the gold standard in the UEFA Champions League over the last half decade, and Zinedine Zidane and his side are victorious once more.

Real Madrid came away with a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Saturday’s UCL final in Kiev, Ukraine, courtesy of a goal from Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale‘s brace.

Although the first half left a bitter taste due to two key injuries to Mohamed Salah and Dani Carvajal, the second stanza really opened up in a brilliant manner.

Bale was on the pitch less than three minutes when he got his opener, and managed to complete a brace to help guide Real to its fourth UCL crown in five seasons.

The Welshman’s sublime bicycle kick restored Madrid’s lead in the second half, before Bale gave Real a two-goal advantage in the dying minutes with a venomous strike that left Karius stunned again.

Meanwhile, the Reds had responded well to Real’s first gut punch, when Sadio Mane equalized in the 55th minute when a close-range finish off a corner kick.

Goalkeeper Loris Karius granted Real a gift opener four minutes prior, after Karim Benzema blocked his throw from inside his box, and knocked it into the Liverpool net.

Karius had several Reds players open to distribute the ball to, but Benzema’s clever play provided the first goal in a comedic fashion.

The second half presented Real with the best chance of the match, as Isco smacked a shot off the crossbar, but the Madridistas couldn’t put the rebound away.

Cristiano Ronaldo nearly snuck one in for Real on the struck of halftime with a powerful header, but Karius did brilliantly to deny the Portuguese attacker from close range. Karim Benzema’s follow-up attempt was slammed home, however, he was ruled offside.

Liverpool was dealt a massive blow just prior to the half-hour mark, when leading goalscorer Salah was substituted out due to an apparent left shoulder injury.

The Egypt international went down in significant pain before being taken out after a 50-50 challenge with Sergio Ramos.

Several reports have already suggested Salah will miss the World Cup in Russia.

Los Blancos were forced into an early change as well, after Carvajal went down with an injury 10 minutes before halftime. Nacho was introduced into the match.

In the 21st minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold nearly blasted home the opener, but Keylor Navas held strong to prevent the Liverpool right back from scoring.

The Reds came out the dominant side, leaving Madrid with little room to work with in the midfield due to the high press employed by Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool was the only previous English side to defeat a Spanish opponent in the UCL final, having beaten Real in the 1980/81 season behind a 1-0 victory in Paris.

VIDEO: Gareth Bale scores amazing overhead kick

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Take a bow, Gareth Bale.

The Real Madrid star scored an absolutely incredible goal in the UEFA Champions League final.

Moments after coming off the bench the Welsh wizard connected with a cross from the left as he scored an amazing overhead kick to put Real Madrid 2-1 up against Liverpool.

Check out the video below to see a moment of pure magic.