Antonio Rudiger described the prospect of playing under Carlo Ancelotti as an "honour" after leaving Chelsea to join Real Madrid on a free transfer, as he targeted winning another Champions League title.

Rudiger signed a four-year contract with Madrid earlier this month, with his and Aurelien Tchouameni's arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu already making for a significant transfer window.

He joins a side which has just won La Liga and the Champions League – the latter for a record-extending 14th time, while boss Ancelotti became the first coach to be crowned European champion on four occasions with last month's final win over Liverpool. 

Rudiger, who was instrumental as Chelsea won European football's premier competition in 2021, believes working under the Italian can help him reach those heights once more.

"It's an honour to play for Carlo Ancelotti," he told the club's website. "I'm convinced I can still learn a lot from him, and I hope he can help me win another Champions League here.

"The manager has played a big part in this [transfer]. After I spoke to him, I was convinced I wanted to join Real Madrid. But in general, everything this club represents is evident.

"I've always said that the Champions League is Real Madrid's competition, because that's where you see the club's real side.

"I'm very grateful to be here. It's like I'm dreaming, but this is real, and I feel immense pleasure to be here. I've never seen anything like this before."

Rudiger, who has won 53 caps for Germany, also revealed it was not international team-mate Toni Kroos that advised him to move to the Santiago Bernabeu, but Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who made 109 appearances during a four-year spell with the Spanish giants. 

"I haven't spoken to Kroos too much about Real Madrid, I've spoken to Mateo Kovacic and he's told me a lot of things," Rudiger added. "He talked a lot about [Madrid and Croatia's Luka] Modric.

"He told me: 'You go there and enjoy it, it's a great move for you'. I've never heard a bad word about Real Madrid."

Rudiger has also been in touch with another former Blancos star since making the move to Spain, namely Brazil's legendary 2002 World Cup hero Ronaldo Nazario.

"Ronaldo played in the 2002 final against Germany sporting a very distinctive haircut," the defender recalled. "When we were kids playing football in the street, Ronaldo was our idol.

"When I signed, I spoke to him on a video call. I was excited and very nervous at the same time!"

Real Madrid enjoyed a brilliant season, winning LaLiga comfortably before also being crown champions of Europe by beating Liverpool in Paris.

That 1-0 win at the Stade de France capped a remarkable run in the Champions League, with Los Blancos having instigated great escapes against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City.

It's difficult to recall any team enduring a tougher run to Champions League success, and yet Carlo Ancelotti – who was seen as a steady if slightly underwhelming appointment – managed to mastermind arguably his greatest triumph as a coach.

There's no sign of Madrid standing still, either. While the Spanish giants may have missed out on Kylian Mbappe, the fact they were in the hunt for him is evidence enough they are in a strong financial situation, perhaps unsurprising given their generally modest – by Santiago Bernabeu standards – outlay in the transfer market over the past couple of years.

Antonio Rudiger was signed up for next season nice and early, Aurelien Tchouameni's reported €100million signing was confirmed on Saturday, and the departures of Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco will give Madrid plenty of room for manoeuvre when it comes to wages.

Either way, there's nothing to suggest the LaLiga champions aren't going to be stronger in the 2022-23 campaign, meaning the chasing pack – namely Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla – have work to do, given how far behind they finished this term. 

Out with the old, in with the Nou

After a rocky start to 2021-22 that ultimately led to Ronald Koeman's dismissal, Xavi got Barca back on track and eventually secured second place, which was impressive given the top four looked beyond them for a while.

Nevertheless, their form did tail off a little in the final five or six weeks of the season, losing four of the final nine matches across all competitions.

Barca's season in general vindicated the decision to ditch Koeman for the inexperienced but well-regarded Xavi. It also proved the potential in the Blaugrana squad, as well as a degree of mental weakness at the business end.

 

Of course, it would be much easier for the club to build on the positives of this season were they not in a financial quagmire equivalent to over €1billion in debt.

As such, reports suggest Barca will largely be relying on free transfers, two of which are said to have been concluded already. Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen have apparently agreed to join, while Cesar Azpilicueta may follow the latter from Chelsea.

But the big question mark hangs over Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich talisman has made no secret of his desire to leave the Bundesliga, and Camp Nou is where he sees himself next – but Die Roten are playing hardball, and who can blame them?

A whole raft of players are expected to depart Barca, however, with Ousmane Dembele seemingly destined for Chelsea and the likes of Clement Lenglet, Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti, Oscar Mingueza, Riqui Puig, Martin Braithwaite and Sergi Roberto all expected to leave permanently. On top of that, Adama Traore and Luuk de Jong are highly unlikely to have their loans renewed, while Frenkie de Jong appears the most likely to deposit some serious money in the coffers, given Manchester United's interest.

But such upheaval will be difficult to contend with. Even if Lewandowski signs, it'll take something spectacular for Barca to be champions this time next year.

Finally Joao Felix's time to shine?

Diego Simeone's side were dethroned with little more than a whimper. Their title defence looked over before it ever really got started.

It was a disappointing season given many felt Atletico's squad was strengthened significantly last year. Griezmann, Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul provided extra spark, creativity and goal threat, though arguably none of them quite reached expectations, even if the Brazi forward did prove a dependable option off the bench.

The departure of Luis Suarez means a new striker is likely to arrive, and early indications are Alvaro Morata may be returning – granted, that may not be enough to get Atletico fans excited.

Either way, fans and neutrals alike will once again be hoping Simeone can finally find a way to get the best out of his more creative players.

 

Joao Felix is still yet to shine on a consistent basis, with 2021-22 a tricky campaign in which injuries, illness and suspension contributed to him making only 24 league appearances; just 13 of those were as a starter.

His 12 goal involvements came at roughly one every 100 minutes, which is a decent return, but there is clearly an element of Simeone not completely trusting him yet, otherwise he'd surely have started more frequently.

The exit of Suarez might allow for Joao Felix to take on a little more responsibility in attack, and who's to say that won't be the making of him?

No one doubts the talent's there; he just needs to show he can be Atletico's talisman on a regular basis. If he can, Atletico may again be the most likely to stop Los Blancos.

A Sevilla summer of upheaval

Sevilla fans are accustomed to seeing most of their squad replaced over the course of a transfer window – it's just what Monchi does.

While their rebuild may not be quite as extensive this year as in past windows, expect to see plenty of ins and outs; in fact, there's already been one key departure.

Diego Carlos has joined Aston Villa in a move that begins the dismantling of Julen Lopetegui's bedrock of a defence. In 2021-22, no team in LaLiga conceded fewer than Sevilla (30 goals), while only Manchester City (57) and Madrid (52) kept more clean sheets than Julen Lopetegui's side (51) across the top five leagues during the Brazilian's time at the club.

His centre-back partner Jules Kounde is widely expected to leave as well, with long-term admirers Chelsea once again able to flex their financial muscle now they're no longer sanctioned.

But while Sevilla boasted the best defence in LaLiga, it's easy to forget that for a while they looked to be the only team capable of challenging Madrid for the title.

 

In the end, they scraped fourth place, with their form between February 1 and the season's conclusion seeing them rank seventh with 24 points; Barca led the way with 38 in that period, while Madrid took 36.

Sevilla's biggest issue was scoring goals. Only Rafa Mir (10) reached double figures in LaLiga, with Lucas Ocampos (six) the one other to net more than five.

That – and centre-back – would appear to be where Monchi's focus will lie over the coming months, particularly now it seems Lopetegui will be staying.

But Monchi's got his work cut out keeping the team as competitive given the likely upheaval and small gap between themselves and bitter rivals Real Betis in fifth. 

A title challenge like that of 2020-21 would be an impressive feat, but if Sevilla can limit the break-up of their defence and sign a reliable striker, it would become more realistic.

Casemiro says the Real Madrid team is like something from a "movie" as Los Blancos continue to make history.

Madrid eased to their 35th LaLiga title this season, securing the Spanish top-flight triumph with four games to play.

Carlo Ancelotti's side also celebrated Champions League glory, winning the European Cup for the 14th time – more than double any other club has achieved – with victory over Liverpool in Paris.

The 1-0 win over Jurgen Klopp's men at the Stade de France last month was far less dramatic than most expected it to be, given Madrid's route to the final.

Los Blancos turned around a two-goal deficit in the second half of the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, before staving off a Chelsea fightback to win in extra-time.

Manchester City then seemed to have one foot in the final, but a stoppage-time Rodrygo Goes double followed by Karim Benzema's extra-time penalty secured another sensational victory.

Casemiro has lifted the Champions League trophy five times as a Madrid player and the Brazil international likened their success to something that belongs in Hollywood.

"This team is from a movie. Winning five Champions Leagues in the last eight years only has one definition: making history," he told Spanish daily AS.

"The Champions League won in Paris will be remembered for life. It is the most wonderful European Cup story ever told."

Having led Milan to Champions League glory in 2003 and 2007 and done so with Madrid in 2014 and this year, Ancelotti is the most successful manager in the history of the competition.

Ancelotti is an example in everything. Everything good that happens to him deserves it. He has an infinite illusion for Madrid." Casemiro said of the legendary Italian.

Casemiro has won his Champions League titles alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who signed a one-year extension on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old revealed Madrid president Florentino Perez affectionately named the midfielders after a trio of famous Spanish opera singers.

"Florentino calls us 'The Three Tenors'. Kroos, Modric and I have earned the right to be remembered for many years," Casemiro continued.

The end of the club season means individual awards are dominating the discourse right now in European football. Well, if you can't beat them, join them.

Rather than just run through the usual categories highlighting the best player and best coach – although we will do that, too – why not focus on some alternative prizes?

The NBA Awards provide a fine blueprint, rewarding superstars alongside breakout performers, recovering veterans and valuable bench players.

Relying heavily on Opta data, we'll steer clear of team honours – a blow to Wout Weghorst, whose eight blocks (leading all forwards in Europe's top five leagues) might have carved out a spot leading the All-Defensive First Team – but there remains plenty to go at...

Most Valuable Player

Only one player had more goal involvements than Karim Benzema (39) in the top five leagues this season, and Real Madrid would really rather not talk about the man top of the charts. That other leading France forward had a hand in 45 goals, yet the value of Benzema's contributions to a LaLiga title triumph separates him from the rest.

Benzema's goal involvements were worth 29 points across the season, the most of any player, with Kylian Mbappe, of course, second on 28. Just considering Benzema's 27 goals, he accounted for 20 points – trailing Dusan Vlahovic (22 points) alone.

 

Required to perform repeated rescue acts in the Champions League, too, Madrid's number nine played only 2,596 minutes in LaLiga – or 75.9 per cent of the full season. He was therefore involved in a goal every 67 minutes, narrowly second in this regard behind Erling Haaland (66 minutes) among those to play 1,000 minutes or more across Europe.

Coach of the Year

Were this the NBA, Carlo Ancelotti would surely also qualify for the Lifetime Achievement Award. In guiding Benzema and Madrid to the LaLiga title, the Italian became the first coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues, following successes in Serie A with Milan, the Premier League with Chelsea, Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain and the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.

Ancelotti, also the oldest LaLiga-winning coach at 62, earned only two more points than Zinedine Zidane had in finishing second in the prior season, but Madrid maintained this high standard despite losing both of their senior centre-backs heading into the campaign as they seemingly saved for the now failed pursuit of Mbappe.

Meanwhile, Everton, the team Ancelotti left for his second Madrid stint, finished 20 points short of their 2020-21 total, spending the season battling relegation rather than chasing Europe and perhaps putting his work at Goodison Park in context.

Rookie of the Year

Given the differences between the NBA and Europe's top five leagues, it is difficult to quantify exactly how many players might be considered 'rookies', let alone identify the best of them. Someone like Luis Diaz, for example, played his first minutes in the top five leagues this season, yet he had already scored goals in the Champions League and Copa America so surely doesn't fit the bill.

On the other hand, Hugo Ekitike definitely does.

Among the nine players who were teenagers at the start of the season and finished with 10 or more goal involvements, only Ekitike had never previously started a game in Europe's top five leagues. His 13 involvements in 2021-22 (10 goals, three assists) arrived every 98 minutes on average, the best rate of this group and the 18th-best overall – just behind Neymar (also 98 mins) and ahead of Son Heung-min (101 mins).

The 19-year-old Reims forward, who turned down a transfer to Newcastle United in January before sustaining a thigh injury, scored with an astonishing 32.3 per cent of his shots – second behind Wissam Ben Yedder (34.7 per cent) among players with 20 or more attempts – and has been linked with moves to PSG and Borussia Dortmund, as well as St James' Park.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

As elsewhere, many of these awards focus on offensive talents, so there is a dedicated category for the best defender – and there could really only be one winner this year.

Injury restricted Virgil van Dijk to 371 minutes in 2019-20, and he was badly missed by Liverpool in their title defence, as they conceded 42 Premier League goals – their most since shipping the same number in the season before the centre-back's 2018 arrival.

With Van Dijk fit again this term and missing only four matches, the Reds conceded the joint-fewest number of goals across the top five leagues (26, tied with Manchester City). No defender played a part in more clean sheets (21).

Those figures show the impact Van Dijk had on the team as a whole, but his performances in individual battles were equally impressive. The Liverpool man won 73.5 per cent of his duels and 77.5 per cent of his aerial duels – both the best marks of defenders to make 30 or more appearances in the top five leagues.

Comeback Player of the Year

Okay, so the NBA no longer highlights a Comeback Player of the Year, but the NFL continues to identify an individual who has overcome the adversity of the previous campaign, allowing us to recognise one of the stories of the season.

Of course, for the reasons outlined above, Van Dijk might have had a claim to this prize in any other year, yet he is beaten this time by a player who actually won Serie A in 2020-21.

Within weeks of that title triumph, Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020, prompting fears for his life and then, even after his recovery, his career.

But Eriksen was fitted with an ICD, left Inter, joined Brentford in January and promptly won each of the first five Premier League games he started for the relegation-threatened Bees. Finishing with seven victories from 10 starts, only nine players in the top five leagues created more chances over this period than Eriksen (29, including four assists).

Most Improved Player

There were no shortage of players showing signs of significant improvement in 2021-22. Five-goal Euro 2020 forward Patrik Schick starred on the club stage at last, Newcastle striker-turned-midfielder Joelinton enjoyed a resurgence and Vinicius Junior was outstanding as Benzema's foil, but Christopher Nkunku stood head and shoulders above the rest as he swiftly established himself among Europe's elite.

Nkunku had scored a mere six goals and assisted the same number for RB Leipzig in the 2020-21 Bundesliga, but those goal involvements increased dramatically from 12 to 33 this season, ranking fifth across Europe's top five leagues and joint-third when excluding penalties (32). With 20 total goals and 13 assists, the newly capped France international was one of just 12 players to reach double figures in both categories.

Of players to feature in at least 20 games in each of the past two campaigns, only Moussa Dembele (20) and Schick (15) improved their season-on-season goal tallies by a greater margin than Nkunku (14); Dembele alone (24) showed greater improvement in terms of goal involvements (21).

 

In a season in which Leipzig recovered from a slow start to make the top four by a single point, Nkunku's contributions were vital. He had a hand in 45.8 per cent of their Bundesliga goals and 50.8 per cent of those he was on the field for.

Twelfth Man of the Year

The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year is recognised as the season's most impactful bench player, which feels like a nice addition here.

Were this a long-standing European football award, it might have by now been renamed in honour of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who scored 17 goals in 84 Premier League substitute appearances – one every 88 minutes on average. Given Rodrygo Goes and Eduardo Camavinga largely reserved their heroics for the Champions League, the 2021-22 equivalent in the top five leagues could be Matheus Cunha.

Ben Yedder scored the most goals from the bench this season, but those seven counted towards 25 in total as he also started 29 matches. Cunha was restricted to only eight starts for Atletico Madrid, yet he scored three and assisted four in 21 outings as a substitute, matching Ben Yedder and Ignacio Pussetto with a Europe-high seven such goal involvements.

Atletico's man in times of need, Cunha contributed to vital goals, too. He was one of only two players to both score and assist in the same game as a substitute on more than one occasion (also Arnaud Nordin), with the second of those two performances seeing the Brazil forward introduced against Valencia with his side 2-0 down; Cunha scored seven minutes after his introduction and later teed up the winner in a 3-2 victory, justifying his season-long role as a super-sub.

Pele has congratulated fellow Brazilians Vinicius Junior and Marcelo for their contributions to Real Madrid's triumphant Champions League campaign, which he hailed as a "beautiful adventure". 

Vinicius converted Federico Valverde's cross in the 59th minute to fire Madrid to a 1-0 final win over Liverpool at the Stade de France, as Los Blancos were crowned European champions for a 14th time - seven more occasions than any other team.

With his decisive strike, Vinicius became the first Brazilian player to score the winning goal in a Champions League final since Juliano Belletti did so for Barcelona against Arsenal in 2006, also in Paris.

The winger's sixth goal in the Champions League this season, combined with his previous four assists, made him the first South American aged 21 or younger to record 10 goal contributions in a single edition of the competition since Lionel Messi's 14 in 2008-09 (nine goals, five assists).

Meanwhile, Marcelo lifted the trophy as club captain before announcing his departure from Madrid, having made more appearances for Los Blancos than any other non-Spanish player during his 15-year stay at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Writing on Instagram after the final, Brazil great Pele hailed his compatriots for their roles in Madrid's success, also praising man-of-the-match Thibaut Courtois and Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, who is the first coach to win the Champions League/European Cup four times.

"That's why football is the most beautiful sport in the world. I got to see a dear friend, Vinicius, who overcame so many challenges to decide an epic game," Pele wrote.

"I'm delighted to see Marcelo be the first Brazilian to lift a Champions League trophy as captain. 

"I witnessed an impeccable goalkeeper, Courtois, make inexplicable saves, and a strategist coach, Ancelotti, who knew how to interpret the moment and use the best characteristics of his team. 

"Congratulations Real Madrid. What a beautiful adventure!"

Vinicius Junior and Thibaut Courtois were the heroes as Real Madrid downed Liverpool 1-0 in the Champions League final in Paris, securing a record-extending 14th European crown for Los Blancos.

Vinicius' second-half winner proved decisive as Liverpool failed to find a way past the outstanding Courtois despite piling on the pressure, as Madrid repeated their 2018 final win over the Reds.

While Jurgen Klopp's team have now missed out on both the Premier League and Champions League trophies after leading an incredible four-front fight for silverware this season, Carlo Ancelotti has led Madrid to a terrific LaLiga and Champions League double, reaching a personal landmark along the way.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the best Opta facts from the fiercely contested final.

After kick-off was twice delayed at the Stade de France, Liverpool made a fast start to the contest but found Courtois in imperious form as they eventually fell to their third Champions League final defeat – only Juventus (five) have lost more, while Jurgen Klopp has lost more finals in the competition than any other manager (three).

It was not for want of trying, however: Liverpool had as many shots on target in the first half (five) as they did in their previous two Champions League final appearances combined (two in 2018 and three in 2019).

The Reds ended the match having racked up 24 shots, the most on record (since 2003-04) from a team who failed to score in a Champions League final. 

Meanwhile, Courtois' nine saves in the match made up the highest tally in a single Champions League final (since 2003-04), surpassing Liverpool's Allison (in 2019) and Manchester United's Edwin Van der Sar (in 2011), both with eight.

Courtois also made 59 saves throughout Madrid's run in the competition this term, setting a new single-season record after Petr Cech made 58 for Chelsea in their triumphant 2011-12 campaign (since 2003-04).

But it was Vinicius who proved the match-winner, escaping Trent Alexander-Arnold's attentions to tap home from Federico Valverde's cross in the 59th minute.

Vinicius' goal made him the first South American to register 10 goal involvements in a single Champions League campaign (four goals, six assists) while aged 21 or under since Lionel Messi recorded 14 for Barcelona in 2008-09 (nine goals, five assists).

Furthermore, at 21 years and 320 days old, the Brazilian became the second-youngest player to net for Los Blancos in a European Cup or Champions League final, after Marco Asensio against Juventus in 2017 (21 years, 133 days), and the first Brazilian to score the winner in the competition's final since Juliano Belletti for Barcelona in 2006, also in Paris (against Arsenal).

Madrid's victory means they have won the European Cup or Champions League twice as many times (14) as the next-most successful club in the competition's history (Milan with seven), and Los Blancos have also won in each of their last eight final appearances, defeating Liverpool in their past two.

Finally, Ancelotti became the most successful coach in the competition's history with his fourth title (also 2002-03 and 2006-07 with Milan and 2013-14 with Madrid), as he moved clear of Madrid predecessor Zinedine Zidane and Liverpool great Bob Paisley (both three).

Carlo Ancelotti declared himself the "record man" after becoming the first coach to win the European Cup or Champions League four times after Vinicius Junior fired Real Madrid to a 1-0 final win over Liverpool.

Vinicius' second-half goal proved decisive as Madrid won their 14th European crown – twice as many as any other side has managed in the competition's history – as Los Blancos added European football's biggest prize to their LaLiga title triumph.

Madrid had to stand firm in the face of sustained Liverpool pressure, with Jurgen Klopp's men registering 24 shots during the course of the contest, but Los Blancos produced a resilient performance to replicate their 2018 final win over the Reds.

Having led Milan to Champions League titles in 2002-03 and 2006-07 and done likewise with Madrid in 2013-14 and 2021-22, Ancelotti is now the most successful manager in the history of the competition.

Speaking to BT Sport in the aftermath of the win, the Italian said he felt fortunate to have returned to the Santiago Bernabeu prior to the start of the season, also hailing his team's character after they followed up a series of dramatic European comebacks with another final victory.

"I am the record man!" he laughed. "I had the luck to come here last year, and to have a fantastic season. 

"I found, as usual, a fantastic club and a really good squad, with a lot of quality and a strong mental character. I think this season was top. 

"I cannot believe it. I think that we had a fantastic season, and we did really well. It was a difficult game. 

"We suffered a lot, more at the start, [we were] better second half. I think in the end, with all the games that we played, we deserved to win this competition.

"I think that we passed through a really difficult game every game, the supporters helped us a lot, in the last game [a 6-5 aggregate semi-final win over Manchester City] and tonight.

"We are really happy, honestly, what can I say? I cannot say more."

Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois played a crucial role in ensuring the victory, making nine saves during the game, the most on record by a goalkeeper in a single Champions League final (since 2003-04).

Asked to describe the Belgian's performance, Ancelotti was lost for words, saying: "Unbelievable. I tell you, I cannot believe it!"

Madrid had already become the first team to reach the Champions League final after losing a game in each of the last 16, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, making their triumph one of the most dramatic in recent history.

Asked about Madrid's incredible record on the biggest stage by M+, Ancelotti shrugged: "This is Real Madrid."

Carlo Ancelotti must have been considering it. He must have been thinking that this would not be Vinicius Junior's night.

The hour mark was approaching, the Brazilian boy wonder had barely made an impact on this Champions League final, and on the bench there was semi-final hero Rodrygo, straining for a chance.

Heck, there was Eden Hazard too, and even Isco and Gareth Bale. For old time's sake, did they ever cross Ancelotti's mind.

There had been a first-half flicker from the 21-year-old Vinicius, when he got the better of Liverpool's Ibrahima Konate with a stealthy piece of skill in the penalty area, but Jordan Henderson read the danger and gladly conceded a corner.

But that had really been the first and last time in the first 58 minutes of play that Vinicius caused Liverpool any real consternation. He had a team-low 29 touches of the ball at that point, but then Federico Valverde's low cross from the right presented him with a 30th, a tap-in at the far post. The phantom menace became the match-winner.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, needing to initially cover Karim Benzema, appeared to almost forget about Vinicius, but there he was, lurking, and he could not miss.

Billed as a Ballon d'Or shootout between Benzema and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, this final largely ignored that script. If anybody put in a performance worth of such an honour here, it was Madrid's outstanding goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made nine saves, the most on record in a Champions League final since 2003-04.

Watched by Ronaldo, the great Brazilian whose health scare before the 1998 World Cup final at this very stadium was followed by France romping to glory, Vinicius stayed on the pitch until stoppage time, when Ancelotti opted for Rodrygo's fresh legs.

Ancelotti, that is, who is now a four-time Champions League winner, the first coach in the history of the competition, in this or its previous guise as the European Cup, to reach that tally.

He has trusted Vinicius all season long, backed a blossoming talent and been richly rewarded by the youngster, and his winner in such a game of high prestige marks another step forward in a career that could see him finish among the all-time greats.

There were plenty of greats inside the Stade de France, many in the stands. Needless to say, the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Clarence Seedorf, Zinedine Zidane and Fabio Cannavaro did not have to tolerate any of the nonsense outside the stadium that forced this game to be delayed by 36 minutes, that left reports of children in tears, of pepper-spraying police, media being mistreated, and of panic on the streets of Paris.

The Galacticos were joined in the VIP seats by Rafael Nadal, midway through his crusade for a 14th French Open title.

Madrid now have 14 Champions League and European Cup titles, and Ancelotti, who delivered La Decima in 2014, has delivered two of those after the two he landed with his beloved Milan.

A double of LaLiga and the Champions League is theirs, while Liverpool must settle for their own twin triumphs from the FA Cup and EFL Cup. The quadruple was beyond them, and Liverpool blew themselves out in the first half here.

After knocking out Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and now sinking Liverpool in the trophy match, Madrid reign once more.

Vinicius reigns – the first South American aged 21 or younger to have 10 or more goal involvements in a Champions League campaign since Lionel Messi for Barcelona in the 2008-09 season.

His four goals and six assists in Europe came from a personal all-competitions haul of 22 goals and 16 assists in 52 games for the season. At 21 years and 320 days, Vinícius is the fifth youngest player to score in a Champions League final.

Ancelotti reigns – "I am a record man," he told BT Sport at full-time.

Benzema reigns – it was not his night but could have been.

The Frenchman had a goal ruled out for offside just before half-time, after a three-and-a-half-minute wait for a VAR verdict. Deciphering that moment was as challenging as the task of unravelling the Agatha Christie footballers' wives court saga, and it caused almost as much soapbox frothing on social media.

Come the final whistle, and Madrid's celebrations of their 1-0 victory, that moment was an afterthought.

At full-time, former Liverpool and Madrid striker Michael Owen said of Jurgen Klopp's Reds: "I still think they're the team to beat... the most fearsome team in Europe".

Owen was in Paris, at pitchside even, but must have missed the news. Madrid reign again.

David Alaba has taken his place in Real Madrid's starting line-up for the first time in over a month for the Champions League final against Liverpool on Saturday.

Alaba had been out of action since being substituted at half-time during Madrid's 4-3 semi-final first-leg defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, with Nacho starting instead when Carlo Ancelotti's men sealed a 6-5 aggregate victory with a stunning comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier this month.

The Austria defender's selection in Paris was the only change to the Madrid side that started that second leg, with attacking duo Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema again leading the line.

Those two have assisted one another a combined 18 times in all competitions this season, the most of any pairing in Europe's top five leagues.

Vinicius' inclusion made him just the fifth player to start a Champions League final for Madrid aged 21 or younger, after Raul (1998), Iker Casillas (2000), Nicolas Anelka (2000) and Raphael Varane (2014).

However, Benzema is at the opposite end of his career. He and Alaba were joined by Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to make Madrid the first team to start a final with four players who had previously made 100 or more Champions League appearances.

Benzema had been one of three centurions (also Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos) in Madrid's 2018 final win over Liverpool, in which Gareth Bale's brace as a substitute proved the difference in a 3-1 triumph.

Bale was named on the bench again for this rematch ahead of his imminent departure as a free agent, while fellow winger Eden Hazard was also among the substitutes.

Semi-final hero Rodrygo Goes, who grabbed an improbable stoppage-time double to wipe out City's lead over Los Blancos, hoped to make a similar impact after being named next to the big-money duo on the bench.

Madrid headed into the game aiming to win their 14th European Cup or Champions League title, with their 13 prior wins already a record. Ancelotti was bidding to become the first man to win four Champions Leagues.

Saturday's Champions League final may have a sense of familiarity to it, but for Liverpool and Real Madrid the desire to continue winning trophies is as strong as ever.

These sides have been involved in five of the past seven finals between them, while Paris is hosting the showpiece event for a sixth time – only London (seven) has done so more.

The French city hosted the first European Cup final back in 1956, with Madrid winning their first of a record 13 trophies after seeing off Reims at the Parc des Princes.

Indeed, come kick-off, no two teams will have faced off more times in a European Cup or Champions League final than Liverpool and Madrid (three).

And yet while it may all feel similar – Liverpool making it to a third Champions League final since 2018, Carlo Ancelotti back on the brink of European glory – it is difficult to remember a similar type of hype surrounding a major club showpiece in recent years.

That has been clear in Paris in the build-up to the match, with the Eiffel Tower and surrounding fan parks a sea of white and red, colours synonymous with this great competition.

France certainly knows how to host a major event, explaining why UEFA switched this year's final to the Stade de France with just three months' notice.

The final had been scheduled for Saint Petersburg, but was shifted to Paris – or Saint-Dennis, more specifically – after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which of course hosted the most recent meeting between these sides; the 2018 final, settled in Madrid's favour by Gareth Bale's heroics and Loris Karius' errors.

Yet the organisers can only do so much. The onus is now on Liverpool and Madrid to put on a show for the 80,000 inside the ground and the millions watching around the world.

For Liverpool, there's a shot at a cup treble after winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup with penalty shoot-out victories over Chelsea (both times) at Wembley.

For Madrid, an opportunity to add their favourite trophy to a LaLiga title sealed with four games to go in a rather serene stroll in Spain's top flight.

Whereas Los Blancos have been given the opportunity to rotate in the weeks leading up to this match, since their incredible comeback against Manchester City, Liverpool have had to play to their maximum right to the final day.

This will be game 63 of a gruelling campaign for the Reds – not since Manchester United in 2016-17 has a side from Europe's top five leagues played more in a season (64).

As Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were eager to point out in Friday's pre-match news conference, though, fatigue will not play a part against Madrid.

Nor will the disappointment of missing out on a quadruple last weekend, with City pipping them to the Premier League title by a point.

"They've obviously had a bit more relaxed preparation and wrapped up their league two or three weeks ago," Robertson said.

"They've maybe not played as many games and at a high tempo. We knew how hard our run was going to be on our bodies, but we're in the best possible shape.

"We've come through a lot and yes we've had injuries and problems, but the lads are fully fit. It's important we take the competitive nature of a tough season into the last game."

Intentional or otherwise, however, the tempo of Liverpool's final training run-out at the Stade de France on the eve of the match was far lower than that of Madrid.

Jurgen Klopp was happy for his players to pass the ball around on the sun-soaked surface, which has been freshly laid for this game – a big topic ahead of the contest.

Madrid's players were equally as relaxed – understandable given the experience in their ranks – as they split into two full-size teams for a mini-match.

As they made their way down the tunnel area, there was still a chance for the likes of Marcelo and Toni Kroos to glance around at the vast venue. Maybe even two of the most decorated players in the modern game can still be awestruck every now and then, and it goes to show that, while we are now used to seeing these same players battle it out at the top, the experience is different each time.

The pain of losing hurts no less; the joy of winning all the sweeter as a player or a coach enhances their legacy.

Klopp, for example, is aiming for his second major European title in what is his fourth appearance in a final. Ancelotti, on the other hand, is hunting a record-breaking fourth Champions League crown.

As for the supporters who could be heard chanting late into the night on Friday, an "I was there" moment awaits as two behemoths go at it again.

Familiar it may be, but enjoy it while it lasts. 

Real Madrid duo Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois have hailed Carlo Ancelotti's impact on the side on the eve of their Champions League final clash with Liverpool, with the former saying he is "lucky" to have worked with the Italian.

Ancelotti has made a stunning impact since returning to the club he led to the 2014 Champions League title, winning LaLiga by a 13-point margin and leading Los Blancos to the showpiece event in Paris against all odds.

Madrid have become the first team to reach the competition's final after losing a game in each of the last 16, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, while Ancelotti could win the trophy for a fourth time as head coach.

That would make the Italian the most successful boss in the competition's history outright, and he has won three of his previous four Champions League finals – though his one such defeat came against Liverpool as Milan boss in 2005.

Speaking alongside Ancelotti at Madrid's pre-match press conference in Paris, both players hailed the Italian's abilities to communicate with Los Blancos' star-studded squad, with Marcelo saying he felt fortunate to have worked under the 62-year-old.

"I've known him for eight years, I've been lucky enough to train with him," the Brazilian said of his head coach.

"He understands football very well and knows how to manage the locker room. It's normal that we all want to play. 

"This season we haven't had almost any problems, the coach leaves us alone, tells us the truth. That gives confidence to work."

Madrid goalkeeper Courtois, who is yet to win European football's biggest prize and was a runner-up to Los Blancos when on loan at Atletico Madrid in 2014, echoed the left-back's praise of Ancelotti, crediting him and his staff with fostering an excellent team spirit at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"The good dynamics of the team is due to the coaching staff, we train very well and we know that they make decisions," he said.

"But they manage it very well, everyone has played. That's why we are where we are."

Including Marcelo, Madrid have four different players in their squad to have made 100 or more Champions League appearances (Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo, and David Alaba). 

They could become the first team to name a starting XI in the competition's final featuring four or more players with a century of Champions League appearances, having fielded three in their 2018 final win over Jurgen Klopp's team (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos).

Meanwhile, Marcelo, who is out of contract at the end of this season, says any decision on whether he will extend his 15-year stay with Madrid will be made after the final.

While the 34-year-old was unwilling to give any hints as to where his future may lie, he referred to the Spanish giants as "the club of his life", and says the team has given him "everything" in his career.

"Everyone knows my passion and my love for the club of my life, which is Madrid," Marcelo added. 

"[Former club] Fluminense was in its time, it gave me everything at the beginning. Madrid has given me everything too. 

"I won't say what I think now. I don't want a statue, my story is made in Madrid, and I will continue to do so. After the final, we'll see what we do."

Karim Benzema is continuing to grow as a leader on and off the pitch after inspiring Real Madrid to the Champions League final, according to head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

The France international leads the scoring charts in this season's competition with 15 goals, which is just two behind Cristiano Ronaldo's all-time record in a single campaign.

That includes back-to-back hat-tricks in the knockout-stage wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, and three goals across both legs against Manchester City in the semis.

Benzema is enjoying his best campaign yet in front of goal and will look to round off 2021-22 in style when Madrid face Liverpool in Saturday's final at Stade de France in Paris.

Asked what improvements he has seen in Benzema this season, Ancelotti said: "He has more personality and leadership now on and off the pitch.

"What has not changed is his quality, which is still top, and also his humility."

At 34 years and 160 days, Benzema is out to become the second-oldest player to score in the Champions League final after Paolo Maldini (36y 333d) for Milan – also against Liverpool in 2005.

The 34-year-old has happy memories of playing against the Reds, having opened the scoring in Madrid's 3-1 victory when the sides met in the 2018 final in Kyiv.

Marcelo, who was also on the pitch that day and is seeking an incredible 25th trophy with Los Blancos this weekend, has also been impressed by Benzema's leadership qualities.

"He has shown that [leadership], though it's not just been this season," Marcelo said at Friday's pre-match news conference. 

"His character and presence has helped the team a lot. He doesn't even need to talk for that. He plays great football for us."

Carlo Ancelotti believes the weight of history behind Real Madrid has pushed Los Blancos to another Champions League final.

Liverpool stand in the way of a 14th triumph at the highest level in Europe for Madrid, who have not lost in the final of the competition since defeat to the Reds in Paris in 1981.

The Stade de France will play host to Saturday's clash between Jurgen Klopp's Reds and Ancelotti's Madrid, with the Italian looking to lift the Champions League for a record fourth time as a manager.

Madrid's run in Europe this season has been packed with late heroics, having overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Paris Saint-Germain and staved off a late Chelsea comeback to triumph in extra-time.

Los Blancos saved their best for the semi-final, though, Rodrygo scoring twice in the dying moments before Karim Benzema sealed a remarkable turnaround with an extra-time penalty against Manchester City.

While questions remain about whether Madrid will be able to pull off another result against Liverpool, Ancelotti insists his side are full value for their place in the showpiece game.

"We deserved to reach the final," he told a news conference on Friday. "Quality and talent is not enough. You have to combine it with commitment.

"The history of this club has pushed us to the final. To win the final you have to deserve it.

"We have to show our qualities, as we have done the whole season. The collective commitment has been great, with a lot of individual quality.

"Liverpool will be intense and direct, that's what they will propose. Whoever is able to show their quality will win."

Ancelotti has succeeded in three of his previous four Champions League finals as a coach, with the one exception when Liverpool completed a Madrid-like comeback to defeat a star-studded Milan on penalties in 2005.

However, the 62-year-old pinpointed that defeat, in which Milan were 3-0 up at half-time before losing, as his favourite European final he has overseen.

"Dreams can't be controlled. I have good memories of my finals. The final that was my favourite was in 2005 when we lost to Liverpool," he said.

"Anything can happen in a final and you have to be ready. We've prepared well and we're going to give the best we have. If it's enough, I don't know, because football has something that can't be controlled.

"The build-up is very nice, you have to enjoy it until the referee whistles the start. Then another story begins."

Ancelotti will perhaps be wished well by Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton, whom he managed last season before returning to Madrid for a second spell.

"The Everton fans will go with us. I have great memories. I'm sure they will support me tomorrow," he said.

As for his starting XI, Ancelotti suggested he has made up his mind but not informed his players who will make the cut.

"The line-up is decided, but I'm not going to say it. The players don't know it," he said.

European club football's main event is almost here, with two bona fide giants of the game set to face off at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Either Real Madrid or Liverpool will be crowned champions of Europe in Paris; whichever team manages it will be providing their fans with a glorious end to a tremendous season.

Of course, Madrid did what Liverpool could not on the domestic front, as Los Blancos head into this game as LaLiga champions – the Reds ultimately missed out to Manchester City on the last day of the Premier League campaign.

But this has still been a successful season for Jurgen Klopp's side, who could yet claim a treble having already lifted the EFL Cup and FA Cup in England.

It promises to be an immense spectacle, with Opta's pre-match facts highlighting the wealth of footballing greatness that is set to be on display.

The history

Much of the build-up to this match has centred around two separate narratives of "revenge" relating to the 2018 Champions League final meeting between these two.

The first obvious desire for retribution comes simply from the fact Madrid won 3-1 in Kyiv – the other surrounds Mohamed Salah, whose match was ended early on that occasion after a collision with Sergio Ramos.

Either way, if Liverpool – and Salah – are to have their vengeance, they'll need to contend with Madrid's astonishing record: they have won each of their previous seven Champions League/European Cup finals.

To put that stat into context, no other team have even won the competition more than seven times, let alone won in seven consecutive final appearances.

But if you're looking for omens, answer this: who last beat Madrid in a European Cup/Champions League final, and where was it played?

Liverpool, in Paris (1981)…

The managers

For about 24 hours, Klopp had joined an exclusive list of managers who had reached the European Cup/Champions League final four times.

But then Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid pulled off their third great escape in as many knockout ties, meaning the Italian would set a new record for the most final appearances as a manager in UEFA's flagship competition.

But the historic achievement he'll no doubt be craving is still up for grabs.

Victory on Saturday will ensure Ancelotti is the first manager to lift the trophy four times, having won the competition in 2003, 2007 and 2014.

But here's another omen. The only club to beat an Ancelotti team in a Champions League final? That's right, Liverpool in 2005.

Nevertheless, Klopp doesn't have a particularly encouraging record against Los Blancos. He's faced them nine times in the Champions League, with his 33 per cent success rate the worst among teams he's faced at least three times.

The danger men

It would be fair to bill this match as something of a Ballon d'Or shootout.

Certainly, ahead of Saturday, the favourite is Karim Benzema, and with good reason. The France striker has enjoyed an incredible season and been central to Madrid's route to the final – he has scored 15 goals, two behind the all-time record for a single Champions League/European Cup campaign.

What helps make that such a remarkable achievement is the fact he would become the second-oldest scorer in a Champions League final (34 years, 160 days) after Paolo Maldini (36 years, 333 days) if he does net in Paris.

Madrid will likely need to keep the vengeful Salah in check, however.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Egyptian has 44 Champions League goal involvements, a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (55) and Kylian Mbappe (47).

If Liverpool are successful, Salah will surely become the frontrunner for the Ballon d'Or – unless Sadio Mane, who has scored three in his past four Champions League games and won the Africa Cup of Nations, has a decisive impact.

The prize

Liverpool are bidding to join Milan with seven European Cup/Champions League crowns, the second-most in the competitions' collective history.

Of course, the only team with more than seven are Madrid. Victory for them will take them to 14 titles, remarkably twice as many as any other club, a fact that really highlights their obsession with the competition.

Either way, a behemoth of European football will enjoy another memorable occasion in Paris on Saturday.

But if it's Liverpool who succeed, it'll be difficult to look at this as anything other than the early stages of English domination in the Champions League, given Premier League teams have won two of the past three already.

Regardless of what occurs on the pitch at the Stade de France on Saturday, the 2021-22 season will have been a good one for Real Madrid.

Even if they are ultimately left with only the Spanish top-flight title to show for their efforts, there's an argument to be made that Carlo Ancelotti has defied expectations in his first campaign back at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Given the important losses of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos coupled with the fact only two new players were incoming, it would've been understandable if fans were less demanding than usual in their pre-season predictions.

After all, Ancelotti was seen as a safe pair of hands rather than someone who was going to come in, shake things up and preside over a philosophical overhaul – and looking back over the course of the season, he's been the perfect appointment.

Of course, the turmoil at Barcelona helped Madrid's cause, while Atletico Madrid's title defence fell flat early on. For a while Sevilla looked to be the only challengers to Los Blancos, but given they ran out of steam in the previous campaign, it's unlikely Ancelotti and his team will have been unduly worried by them – they ended up scraping a top-four spot.

As composed and dominant as Madrid were at LaLiga's summit, fans, pundits and journalists alike did go searching for potential weaknesses, or reasons for the chasing pack not to give up hope.

One area that appeared to be brought up more than most was rotation and the risk of burnout.

Full steam ahead

Between the start of the season and the end of December, six Madrid players had featured for more than 1,400 minutes in LaLiga. There are no surprises in this list: they would be considered the majority of the team's core players.

In the same period, only Espanyol (seven) had more players feature for at least 1,400 minutes in LaLiga, but they didn't also have Champions League football to contend with. Sevilla had three players meet the criteria; Barcelona had two and Atletico Madrid just one, goalkeeper Jan Oblak. 

Similarly, Madrid named the same starting XI three times in LaLiga this season. While that doesn't sound a lot, only Celta Vigo, Getafe, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna have done so more often.

It's clear to see Madrid have relied on a bigger group of core players than their rivals, and as such concerns about fatigue appeared astute earlier in the season.

But here we are, right at the end of the campaign: Madrid won LaLiga with four games to spare and are preparing to play in the Champions League final – and their route to this stage has relied on the ability to laugh in the face of fatigue, with Los Blancos coming back from the brink three times.

In that sense, you have to praise Ancelotti's squad management. Whether their lack of injuries has been by design or a fluke is difficult to speculate about, but there's clearly an element of Ancelotti swiftly establishing his preferred XI and then only wavering from it when absolutely necessary.

And when he did have to look elsewhere, there's no doubting who his favourites were.

Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga have come off the bench 23 times each across all competitions this season, the joint-most in the Madrid squad.

Granted, it's not as if they're two hopefuls promoted from the academy – both were expensive additions to the squad. But the frequency Ancelotti has turned to them as substitutes shows his belief in them to either carry out his instructions or make a difference.

Nowhere was that clearer than in the latter stages of the Champions League. Five of Camavinga's nine appearances in this season's competition have been in the knockouts, while Rodrygo has come off the bench four times in Europe since the turn of the year.

The latter has, understandably, taken a lot of plaudits in the second half of this season. He scored the vital aggregate equaliser against Chelsea, the brace that flipped the City tie on its head, and was inspirational off the bench away to Sevilla in the 3-2 win that essentially wrapped up the title.

Before the turn of the year, Rodrygo appeared to be struggling for relevance at Madrid. There will have been some wondering if he had a long-term future at the club, but he knuckled down after Christmas and has become a genuine weapon, seemingly embracing the fact you can still be decisive even off the bench.

On a per-90-minute basis, he heads into Saturday's game ranked fourth at Madrid for open-play chances created (1.4) and goals (0.34), joint-second for assists (0.34, behind Benzema on 0.35) and third for shots (2.4). He's beginning to show his worth.

Ancelotti's choice

Some might have generally expected more from Camavinga since joining from Rennes last year. He's not been able to establish himself as a regular in midfield at the expense of his more senior colleagues, perhaps unsurprising given he lacks the metronomic abilities of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric and the grit of Casemiro. However, his impact shouldn't be overlooked.

In the second-leg clashes against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, every single one of Madrid's eight goals came after Camavinga's introduction. Those goals ensured Ancelotti's men produced great escapes in each tie.

In fact, over the 146 minutes both Camavinga and Rodrygo have been on the pitch in the Champions League in 2022, Madrid have scored eight times and conceded none. Over 502 minutes without at least one of them on the pitch, they've scored six and let in 11.

Of course, it's not as if Camavinga himself has been a central figure to all eight goals. His importance in these scenarios is more centred on the wide-ranging skillset he instantly brings to Madrid – he can pass, he's confident on the ball and is a hard-working competitor.

His contributions were notable in all three second legs, but it was against City when he really forced people to sit up and acknowledge him. In the three and a half minutes that followed his 75th-minute entrance, Camavinga showed his poise with a nice switch of play, swept up effectively in midfield as Phil Foden looked to pounce on a loose ball, and then tackled Rodri out wide.

He was happy to accept possession under pressure several times, with one occasion seeing him turn and lift a wonderful pass over the City defence in the 82nd minute as Karim Benzema tested Ederson in goal. A minute later he was darting back in pursuit of Bernardo Silva, ultimately producing an exceptional sliding tackle to win the ball back.

Camavinga then played a vital role in Madrid's first goal in the 90th minute. His inch-perfect lofted pass to the back post allowed Benzema to turn the ball into the danger zone where Rodrygo was on hand to flick home.

Rodrygo's second in quick succession forced extra time, and Camavinga helped bring about Madrid's crucial third. It was he who carried the ball over half the length of the pitch before finding the Brazilian to cross towards Benzema, who won the penalty from Ruben Dias.

But he showed his value off the ball as well. His four tackles from 45 minutes on the pitch was bettered by only Federico Valverde (five) among Madrid players, and he played the full 120.

His showing was another reminder of the supreme talent Madrid brought in last year and, for many it might've even been enough to earn a starting spot in the final.

Both Camavinga and Rodrygo certainly deserve at least the chance to impact proceedings in Paris, but don't expect Ancelotti to lose faith in his preferred XI at this stage.

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