Liverpool And Real Madrid's 2022 Champions League Final Feels Like A Lifetime Ago

Last year's finalists meet in very different circumstances this time
14:00, 14 Feb 2023

28th May 2022. Liverpool and Real Madrid met in a Champions League final that looked beautifully poised. There were, of course, some horrific scenes outside the ground brought on by negligent and cruel policing on the part of French authorities. But on the pitch at least, this had all the hallmarks of Europe’s football showpiece. 

In the white corner stood Real Madrid. Recently crowned La Liga champions going after their 14th European Cup. In the red corner, six-time winners Liverpool. The Premier League team came to France with a point to prove, having clinched both domestic cups but fallen a whisker short of Manchester City in the title race. Two elite teams, one prize. This is what top-level football is made of.


Almost nine months on from Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory at the Stade de France and the picture looks very different for both teams. Los Blancos are losing ground in the title race to ascendant rivals Barcelona. Real currently sit 11 points behind their El Clasico opponents, albeit with a game in hand over the Blaugrana. Questions are now being put to manager Carlo Ancelotti about his future, as the notoriously trigger-happy Bernabeu club considers its options. 

Liverpool, meanwhile, are undergoing an even more drastic decline. From perennial title challengers to mid-table also-rans. Jurgen Klopp’s side has also tumbled out of the two domestic cups they won last season. English football discourse is prone to breathless panic and reactionary doom-mongering. But the likely culprit for Liverpool’s plummet is simply that the great Premier League and European champions of the past few years have reached the end of their cycle. It remains a crying shame that they depart centre stage having never got to lift a Premier League title in front of a full stadium. The cost of football’s Covid seasons will forever be counted at Anfield.


So we are left with a Round of 16 tie that reminds us of how quickly things can change in football. Two old powers of this great competition provided a final that felt incredibly appropriate last year. This season, their meeting feels less A-list and more like an appropriate last-16 exercise in separating the wheat from the chaff. 

Real Madrid vs Liverpool will always sell, of course. 2019’s gangster caper The Irishman was never going to compete with previous Al Pacino-Robert De Niro team-ups like Heat and The Godfather Part II, but we watched and enjoyed it anyway. Now these two old footballing paisans must remind us they’re still relevant without the benefit of Martin Scorsese’s sympathetic direction or layers of rejuvenating CGI.

Both teams remain capable of showing signs of life. A 2-0 Merseyside derby win for Klopp's men will have restored some much-needed good feeling around Anfield. Mohamed Salah breaking a six-game fallow streak and new boy Cody Gakpo scoring his first Liverpool goal are positive signs. Real have had reasons to be cheerful too. A 5-3 win over Al-Hilal saw them do what they do best; remorselessly rack up trophies even if they're not at their best. In short, both Liverpool and Madrid can turn it on when needed. 

This tie is likely to be the first step on the path to redemption for one of these teams. Both clubs have a history of using the Champions League as balm for their wounds. Liverpool’s classic 2005 victory arrived in a season in which they finished fifth in the league. Madrid have won more Champions Leagues than La Liga titles in the last decade. Ol’ Big Ears has often been used to smooth over disappointing domestic seasons. As they look set to be left in Barcelona’s dust this time, it would be very on-brand for them to somehow still lift a Champions League trophy they have won more than any other club.

Even if neither of these teams ends up winning the Champions League, we have learned never to count them out. Liverpool went three decades without a league title before returning to the summit. Real Madrid survived the dominance of Barcelona once and they can do it again. This is less a battle of fallen gods than it is a clash of sleeping giants. Liverpool and Real Madrid will be back, even if it's not necessarily this season.

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