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Player ratings, UCL final: Bale the hero, Karius the zero

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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 4-1 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

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Real Madrid 2-2 Bayern Munich: GKs the difference as Los Blancos reach CL final

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A wild game. On one end, spectacular play between the sticks to preserve a lead. On the other end, one of the worst goalkeeping mistakes you will ever see.

Bayern Munich was the better side, but Sven Ulrich inexplicably coughed up what proved to be the decisive goal just 28 seconds after halftime as a Karim Benzema brace secured a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu and sent Real Madrid to the Champions League final.

Neutrals would have been hoping for an early Bayern goal to make things interesting, and they got just that. The visitors scored a messy goal just three minutes into the game as Thomas Muller’s cross from the right cannoned off a pair of defenders and fell right to Josh Kimmich on the doorstep who poked it home.

However, the goal seemed to wake Real Madrid up, and the hosts began to build themselves and produced a response in the 11th minute. Marcelo delivered a delicious cross to the far post where Karim Benzema had lost David Alaba, and the Frenchman scored just his third Champions League goal of the campaign to bring Real Madrid back level. The goal featured 28 passes in the build-up, second to only a Barcelona group stage score for most in the Champions League this season according to Opta.

Both teams had plenty of attacking intent, but it was Bayern that had more chances up through the half-hour mark. Robert Lewandowski shanked one half-chance just wide on 20 minutes, and Franck Ribery was dangerous down the left, tearing up Lucas Vazquez who was filling in at right-back for the injured Dani Carvajal. The best chance came just past the half-hour mark as Alaba found Robert Lewandowski at a tight angle from the left. Lewandowski’s shot was saved by Keylor Navas, and the ball popped high into the air across the face of goal, and came down on the head of Muller, but that effort was blocked. The ball again fell to a Bayern player as James Rodriguez came streaking in at point blank range, but he agonizingly blazed the shot over the bar, a strikingly bad miss.

With the German side feeling confident after the break, their hearts were broken just 28 seconds into the second half. A back-pass from Corentin Tolisso came to Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulrich, and as he went down to pick the ball up under pressure from Benzema, he realized too late that he could not use his hands on a back-pass. The momentary brain fart saw Ulrich crumple into a heap as he tried to recover, allowing Benzema to tap the ball into the open net and leaving Ulrich to contemplate one of the worst goalkeeping mistakes in Champions League history.

Following the mistake, Bayern pushed forward knowing they needed two goals to advance. Keylor Navas made a spectacular save on David Alaba from a tight angle just moments after Madrid’s goal. Then down the other end Cristiano Ronaldo missed the target badly with his first chance of the game on a platter from Marcelo.

James Rodriguez grabbed a goal back for Bayern in the 63rd minute to even the score on the day. Niklas Sule sent in a cross from a deep right position, and it came to Rodriguez in acres of space at the penalty spot. His first shot was saved from front and center, but the rebound came back to him at a tighter angle, and he buried the chance, choosing not to celebrate against his parent club.

Keylor Navas again came up huge as Bayern continued to push. In the 73rd minute, Rodriguez hammered a volley from straightaway center but the Madrid shotstopper was there to acrobatically push it away. He again stopped an effort from Muller seven minutes later. Gareth Bale, on as a 72nd minute substitute, had an opportunity to seal the deal in the 86th minute, but he was beaten by Ulrich while one-on-one with the Bayern keeper. Navas was required one more time to stop Bayern from getting a shot off in stoppage time that would have been a sure equalizer, but the Costa Rican came off his line to scoop up the cross.

Eventually, the final whistle blew, and fans of the German side will know they let a fantastic performance on the big stage go to waste. On the other end, Real Madrid reaches its third consecutive Champions League final, all under manager Zinedine Zidane.

Ronaldo brace leads Real comeback vs. PSG

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored in each half to lead Real Madrid to a 3-1 first leg win over visiting Paris Saint-Germain in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Marco Asensio had two assists in five minutes, on Ronaldo’s second and a Marcelo marker.

Adrien Rabiot scored for PSG to give Les Parisiens an early lead and an away goal, but Toni Kroos was dropped in the box to give Ronaldo his chance to level the score.

The second leg is March 6 at the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Zidane had Real Madrid pressing the ball from the opening kickoff, leading to a series of chances and high-volume challenges in the first five minutes.

Cristiano Ronaldo whistled a shot wide of goal, Marquinhos made a timely intervention on Marcelo, and Toni Kroos had a penalty shout denied before PSG made its first attempt on goal through Yuri Berchiche.

Rabiot finished when fine work from Kylian Mbappe from the right bounded off a defender and into his path. His curled shot from 12 yards missed Nacho’s head and Keylor Navas’ left glove to make it 1-0.

Neymar then cued up Edinson Cavani in traffic, but his shot was deflected out for a corner.

Alphonse Areola made a tremendous save on Karim Benzema, but Kroos won a penalty in driving past Giovani Lo Celso. Ronaldo hammered his effort past Areola to make it 1-1 just before halftime.

Navas stopped Mbappe within minutes of the restart, with PSG aiming for a win with multiple away goals.

Both teams carried play at times in the second half, with goal mouth scrambles standing out in each box. Sergio Ramos made a pivotal block with his arm in the 74th minute. Could’ve been a penalty, not given.

Both Mbappe and Dani Alves couldn’t slide onto a Berchiche cross through the box in the 77th.

The breakthrough came courtesy of Marco Asensio’s cross, which was spilled by Areola onto the path of Ronaldo. The Portuguese megastar reacted to prod the ball in with his knee.

Navas stopped Mbappe to concede a corner in the 89th minute as PSG pushed for a second away goal, but it was Real who’d score again through a near identical Asensio cross from the left for Marcelo.

Zidane anxiously awaiting goals from Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) For Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid derby on Saturday is just what Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema need to break their scoring slump.

The Real Madrid forwards have been struggling in the Spanish league, with just two goals between them.

Ronaldo, while striking six times in the Champions League, has tallied only one in seven Liga appearances.

Benzema is having an even tougher time, with just two in 12 matches across all competitions.

“It’s true that this is not normal, but they just need to keep training and keep trying as they have been doing,” Zidane says.

“You don’t need to tell Karim and Cristiano that they should train more, it’s something they do. They will go out on the pitch and score, I am sure of it.”

Over his career, Ronaldo has thrived against Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico. He holds the record for the Spanish capital derby with 21 goals.

Benzema’s performances, however, have not been as impressive, with three goals in his last 14 league matches against Atletico.

Zidane says Ronaldo and Benzema focused on recovering their scoring form last week during the international break, when they stayed at the club instead of joining their national sides.

“We have been working on it,” he said. “What I want is that my players, my forwards, play well, and tomorrow is a good match for them to keep trying.”

Their scoring droughts have contributed to Real’s irregular season.

Real is in third place and level on points with Atletico, which is fourth after having trouble winning at its new Wanda Metropolitan Stadium.

Both sides need a victory to keep pace with leader Barcelona, which visits Leganes hours earlier.

If Barcelona wins, Madrid and Atletico will be staring at an 11-point gap by kickoff.