Bale and Karius ousted, Ronaldo and Wijnaldum departed… and Zinedine Zidane left, came back, and left again! Ahead of the Champions League final, what’s changed at Real Madrid and Liverpool since the 2018 showdown?
- Real Madrid take on Liverpool in this year’s Champions League final in Paris
- The two teams faced off at the same stage in 2018 in Kyiv – Madrid winning 3-1
- It was an action-packed game memorable for Gareth Bale’s stunning strike
- Loris Karius, who is actually still at Liverpool, made two seismic mistakes
- While Liverpool have retained a large amount of players, some leaders in the Madrid dressing room have moved on – so, how much has actually changed?
It seemed unlikely heading into the 90th minute at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, but Real Madrid pulled off another miraculous comeback to save themselves against Manchester City and by the end of extra-time, another Houdini act had been accomplished.
And so the 13-time European winners progress to Paris on May 28 to take on Liverpool, gunning for an unprecedented quadruple. Yet we’ve been here before with these two.
First, back in 1981, with the Reds winning 1-0. More recently in 2018, when Madrid emerged victorious via a 3-1 score-line in Kyiv.
But how much has changed, in both red and white, since then? Sportsmail takes a look at the squads from four years ago in comparison to the here and now ahead of the showpiece at the Stade de France.
Real Madrid emerged victorious against Manchester City to seal their place in the final
They will take on Liverpool, gunning on four fronts – but how much has changed since 2018?
2018: Keylor Navas
The Costa Rican was in-between the sticks for all three of Real Madrid’s Champions League triumphs from 2016-2018.
His reward? Florentino Perez went out and signed Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea later that summer, with Navas demoted to No 2. Tough to take.
Keylor Navas won three Champions Leagues in a row but was usurped by Thibaut Courtois
2022: Thibaut Courtois
The Belgian moved to the Bernabeu from Chelsea for £35m and has had a solid handle on the No 1 jersey ever since.
Ironically, his only previous appearance in a Champions League final – for Atletico Madrid in 2014 – saw him lose to Real, and concede a last-minute equaliser with the red-and-white on the verge of a famous win.
The Belgian moved to the Bernabeu from Chelsea and has had a solid handle on the No 1 jersey
Marcelo with the Champions League trophy after that triumph in Kyiv – he is still at the club but is now not a regular in the starting XI
2018: Carvajal/Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo
In Kyiv, Dani Carvajal suffered an injury which brought his final to an end, replaced by Nacho who started at centre back against City on Wednesday.
Elsewhere Sergio Ramos – the club captain, who infamously ended up injuring Mo Salah – and Raphael Varane left last summer for PSG and Manchester United respectively.
Marcelo is still at the Spanish giants, but has been usurped at left back…
2022: Carvajal, Nacho/Alaba, Militao, F Mendy
Spain international Carvajal remains the first-choice right back and set up Rodrygo’s equaliser on the night against City with a pinpoint cross.
In central defence, Eder Militao moved from Porto to Madrid in 2019, while David Alaba moved from Bayern on a free transfer last summer – he will be up against Nacho for the second centre back berth.
And at left back is Frenchman Ferland Mendy, who also moved in 2019 from Lyon. Solid and consistent, his goal-line clearance from Jack Grealish’s shot vs City meant Madrid’s two late goals actually meant something.
2018: Casemiro, Modric, Kroos
2022: Casemiro, Modric, Kroos
The only source of consistency across the four years, Real Madrid’s three kings are still quite astoundingly the first-choices in central midfield.
Casemiro remains one of the most effective defensive midfielders in the world, while Toni Kroos continues to pull strings, quarterback style.
Yet the last laugh goes to Luka Modric, who at 36 continues to shine. From Ballon d’Or winner in 2018 to chief puppeteer in 2022, the Croat’s influence on this team has not dropped an inch. He was also man-of-the-match four years ago.
Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are mainstays of the Real Madrid side in recent years
2018: Ronaldo, Benzema, Isco/Bale
We didn’t know it at the time, but this was to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s 438th and final appearance for Real Madrid, in a game where his impact went largely under the radar as a result of events around him.
He didn’t score, but his two main strike partners did. First Benzema opened the scoring as he anticipated a moment of madness from Karius and blocked the Reds keeper’s throw.
Then, with Isco – who is still at the club – having started and hit the post in the second-half, on came Gareth Bale in devastating fashion, with his phenomenal bicycle kick that is regarded as one of the best goals in European history.
The Welshman scored another too, as a result of a Karius fumble. And where is he now? Still at Madrid, under his first boss Ancelotti, but absent from all celebrations in recent weeks amid a complete alienation from the squad.
The 2018 final was to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s 438th and final appearance for Real Madrid
Gareth Bale scored one of the best goals in European history with his acrobatic strike
The Welsh substitute came on to score twice – he’s still at Madrid but is nowhere to be seen
2022: Vinicius Jr., Benzema, Valverde/Rodrygo
Benzema is the only constant presence in the front-line and has taken his game on to the next level since the Ronaldo-dominated era.
He has been joined in attack by Brazilian livewire Vinicus Jr, who joined from Flamengo in the summer of 2018 and provides a brilliant outlet from out wide.
The other customary attacking slot has seen midfielder Fede Valverde fill in at the start of games in the Champions League, but Wednesday’s hero Rodrygo has certainly put himself into contention.
Madrid captain Karim Benzema and Vinicus Jr. are now Real Madrid’s feared strike duo
2018: Zinedine Zidane
The Frenchman also saw this triumph as his last as Madrid manager, resigning after three-and-a-half years at the helm.
And yet, he could not resist the pull when they came calling for his services again in March 2019, and he stayed for just over two years – winning a LaLiga title during the Covid pandemic.
His record of winning three Champions League crowns in a row during his first stint as manager is unparalleled.
Zinedine Zidane left Real Madrid after the 2018 win but returned less than a year later
2022: Carlo Ancelotti
Also in his second stint as boss – after a successful period from 2013-2015 where he won La Decima – Ancelotti has been at Bayern Munich, Napoli and Everton in the years since.
He returned to the Bernabeu last summer as a surprise choice by president Perez, yet with the Spanish title (something which escaped him previously) secured and a place in the Champions League final, it has again proved an apt appointment.
Carlo Ancelotti came to the call of Real Madrid for the second time when he joined last year
2018: Loris Karius
The poor German had a final, the biggest game of his life, that nightmares are made of.
He conceded the first goal of the match after an under-arm throw with Benzema lurking; the Frenchman simply blocking the ball into an empty net.
Then he mishandled a 30-yard strike from Bale. Remarkably, Karius is still at the club but has not played a competitive game since that night in Kyiv, with loan spells at Besiktas and Union Berlin taking up some of those years. His contract runs out this summer.
Loris Karius conceded the first goal after an under-arm throw with Benzema lurking
Then he mishandled a 30-yard strike from Bale, sealing Madrid’s 3-1 European triumph
Karius’ error triggered Klopp buying Alisson Becker from Roma, who the Reds had scored five past at Anfield in the semi-finals months earlier.
And what a revelation the Brazilian shot-stopper has been. A Champions League and Premier League later, he is regarded as one of the top goalkeepers on the planet.
Alisson was signed after Karius’ mistakes in 2018 and is one of Liverpool’s best players
2018: Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Lovren, Robertson
2022: Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Matip/Konate, Robertson
Much like Madrid’s midfield, the Reds backline is virtually the same as four years ago, with just one alteration.
Dejan Lovren, who played excellently in Kyiv, departed the club in 2020 for Zenit St Petersburg, with Joel Matip stepping in admirably alongside the colossus that is Virgil van Dijk.
In fact, it will be one of Klopp’s big selection dilemmas for the final: whether Matip is favoured ahead of Ibrahima Konate, who has been so impressive this season in Europe.
Either side of the centre backs, the Reds have arguably the most dynamic wing back duo in European football in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Virgil van Dijk has been a colossus at the back at Liverpool since joining in January 2018
The Reds have arguably the most dynamic wing back duo in European football in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson
2018: Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum
Up until last summer, all three players were still at the club – plus Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who starred heavily in the run to the final in 2018 before a cruel ACL injury in the semi-final thwarted his career.
While The Ox is still in the squad (though barely featuring), Wijnaldum opted not to renew his contract and ventured to PSG last summer.
Aside from that, captain Jordan Henderson and vice-captain James Milner remain vital cogs in Klopp’s dressing room, even if both are no longer shoo-ins, particularly 36-year-old Milner.
The team that lined up for the final of the 2018 Champions League included Gini Wijnaldum
2022: Fabinho, Henderson/Keita, Thiago
A big signing for Liverpool a matter of days after that loss in Kyiv was bringing in Brazilian defensive midfielder Fabinho from Monaco for £32m, who is now one of the team’s most important players.
Thiago Alcantara, a Champions League winner with Bayern Munich in 2020, was signed that summer and is in the best form of his Reds career.
The last midfield spot will be another source of contention: will Klopp start his reliable club captain, or the slightly more unpredictable Naby Keita?
Fabinho and Thiago have been massive additions in the Liverpool midfield since 2018
2018: Salah/Lallana, Firmino, Mane
Who knows what might have happened in Kyiv that night had Mohamed Salah not been cruelly forced to leave the field due to a shoulder injury sustained after a tussle with Sergio Ramos.
Adam Lallana – who left Liverpool for Brighton in 2020 – came on in his place but the Reds had lost their star attacking outlet.
Sadio Mane did score Liverpool’s equaliser, poking home from Lovren’s corner, and he also hit the post but it wasn’t enough. Roberto Firmino was largely anonymous.
Mo Salah famously picked up an injury in the 2018 final after a tussle with Sergio Ramos
The Egyptian was in tears as he was forced to leave the field after just 31 minutes in Kyiv
2022: Salah, Diaz/Jota, Mane
Four years on all three of the Fab Three are still there, with two an ever-present in the irrepressible Salah and Mane, who both go from strength-to-strength.
Yet this season in particular, Firmino has lost his place – first to ex-Wolves forward Diogo Jota, who has 21 goals to his name this season and second to Luis Diaz, who has been exceptional since signing from Porto in January.
Klopp likes to rotate the third forward option alongside Mane and Salah – don’t count out him using Firmino too. After his display against Villarreal, it’d be foolish to bet against Diaz.
The signings of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz have given Liverpool another dimension in attack
2018: Jurgen Klopp
2022: Jurgen Klopp
The German continues to break club records and set ambitions higher and higher at Anfield, such is the remarkable squad and culture he has created.
By the time of the final, Liverpool could have added the FA Cup and Premier League to their Carabao Cup victory, in which case an unprecedented quadruple would be on the line.
He signed a two-year extension last week, meaning his deal now runs until 2026. No wonder – why on earth would he want to leave?
Klopp walks past the Champions League trophy having lost to Madrid in Kyiv back in 2018
But the Reds boss got his hands on Europe’s greatest prize with redemption a year later
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