Real Madrid are the undisputed kings of Europe, securing their 13th title and their fourth in five years with a 3-1 victory over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium. It would be Gareth Bale who would emerge as the hero, coming off the bench to score a miraculous overhead kick before netting again via a mistake from Loris Karius. The Liverpool goalkeeper suffered a nightmare performance, gifting Madrid the lead by throwing the ball off Karim Benzema, before mishandling Bale’s strike.
Paris Saint-Germain’s pursuit of Champions League success became increasingly obsessive, and offered a further statement of intent by securing the most expensive transfer in history, unveiling Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million, as well as Kylian Mbappe on loan from Monaco, with the obligation to buy in the summer. Manchester City typically spent big, with Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, and Ederson just some of their recruits. Barcelona appointed Ernesto Valverde as their new head coach, with the Blaugrana spending a large portion of the Neymar money on Ousmane Dembele, and then Philippe Coutinho in January. Zinedine Zidane, seemingly happy with his squad, decided against making a marquee signing as Los Blancos looked to defend their Champions League title. Manchester United, back in the tournament with Jose Mourinho, brought in Romelu Lukaku and then Alexis Sanchez.
Defending champions Real Madrid started the group stage well and dispatched of Apoel Nicosia and Borussia Dortmund with ease. However, they would come unstuck in the double-header against Tottenham, with Spurs earning a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu before putting Madrid to the sword 3-1 at Wembley, with Dele Alli scoring twice. Zidane’s men would qualify but only in second place.
For the most part, the seeded teams progressed in the group stage. However, there was surprise exits for Atletico Madrid, who had reached the final in 2014 and 2016, Monaco, who were losing semi-finalists the season prior, and Napoli, who were so impressive domestically under Maurizio Sarri.
The last 16 threw up some mouth-watering ties. Tottenham were unlucky to draw Juventus, and eventually succumbed 4-3 on aggregate after 15 minutes at Wembley in which Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala turned the tie on its head.
The quarter-final stage featured one of the greatest ties in Champions League history. Roma, 4-1 down from the first leg against Barcelona, rallied at Stadio Olimpico to win 3-0, with Kostas Manolas bulleting a header home eight minutes from time to see the Giallorossi progress on away goals.
Elsewhere, another mind-bending tie took place between Real Madrid and Juventus. After the first leg in Turin Madrid held a comfortable 3-0 lead, thanks in no small part to an astonishing overhead kick from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tonight is certainly a historic moment. To win three times in a row. It’s something crazy to experience that. Even if we believe it, we think about it when we work hard.Zinedine Zidane
But with precedent against them, the Old Lady produced an inspiring fightback in the return, scoring three times and leaving extra-time seemingly inevitable. However, a controversial late penalty awarded to Madrid led to carnage, with incessant protests from Juve and veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon was dismissed for his aggression towards the referee. In the end, Ronaldo maintained his nerve to smash home the winning kick.
In the semi-final, Madrid again progressed by the skin of their teeth, this time defeating Bayern 4-3 on aggregate, with the Bavarian side passing up numerous golden chances in the second leg. Liverpool destroyed Roma 5-2 in the first leg of their tie, and although things got nervous for them in the second leg in Rome, the Reds narrowly went through, 7-6.
Two of the most successful sides in European history, Liverpool and Real Madrid, contested the final. Klopp’s men started the match brightly and looked the more likely team to open the scoring, but their hopes were dealt a huge blow when Mohamed Salah, such a key for them all season, was involved in an altercation with Sergio Ramos which led to the Egyptian falling awkwardly on his shoulder. Exiting with tears in his eyes, he would not return to proceedings.
In a tie in the balance, Madrid took the lead in bizarre fashion when Karius attempted to roll the ball out to a team-mate, but instead struck it straight at the lingering Benzema, who watched as the ball rolled over the line. The English side would equalise through Sadio Mane, but Bale would prove to be the hero of the final.
The Welshman came off the bench to score one of the greatest goals in the history of European football, a flying bicycle kick, before finishing the match off with a speculative strike which was spilled into the net by Karius.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Ronaldo enjoyed a quiet start to the campaign but he was clearly saving his best for the Champions League as he netted 15 times in the competition, including that overhead kick against Juventus.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 15 GOALS
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
BALE, only moments after coming on, rose impossibly high to catch a perfect overhead kick into the top corner.
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Gareth Bale giving Real Madrid the lead in the final with his overhead kick. A goal worthy of winning any football match.