Super-sub Gareth Bale earns Real Madrid third straight Champions League crown
KIEV, Ukraine -- Three quick thoughts on Real Madrid's 3-1 victory over Liverpool to win their third straight Champions League and fourth in five years.
1. Super-sub Bale makes it three in a row for Real
Liverpool fans have a banner that reads, "Form is temporary, class is permanent," but that could apply to Gareth Bale in Kiev after the Real Madrid forward climbed off the substitutes' bench to score twice to secure his club's third successive Champions League title.
Bale, dropped to the bench by coach Zinedine Zidane, is facing an uncertain future at the Santiago Bernabeu after a difficult season with the Spanish giants.
A move back to the Premier League to Manchester United remains a possibility for a player who will be 29 in July, but for those who doubt Bale's ability to have an impact for Real, he showed in emphatic style that he remains a world-class player with his super-sub display against Liverpool.
With the game at 1-1 after Sadio Mane had cancelled out Karim Benzema's opener, Bale entered the fray and made an almost immediate impact with an incredible, overhead-kick goal to restore Real's lead.
The Welshman than made it 3-1 in the closing stages with a long-range effort that embarrassed Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius to hammer home his ongoing importance to Zidane's team.
For once, Bale overshadowed teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a quiet game in the Ukrainian capital.
But it was an even quieter night for Mohamed Salah, with the Liverpool forward lasting only 30 minutes before being forced off with a shoulder injury that now threatens his participation at the World Cup with Egypt.
This was Bale's night, though, as Real won the European Cup for a record 13th time.
2. Karius mistake reveals Liverpool's Achilles' heel again
Karius made good saves in this Champions League final, but he won't be remembered for the two that denied Ronaldo or the one that prevented Isco from scoring for Real Madrid.
When the 2018 Champions League final is replayed in years to come, it will be the howler committed by the Liverpool goalkeeper for Real's opener, from Benzema, and then the even bigger one that allowed Bale to make it 3-1 late in the game that will be remembered -- and they could haunt Karius for the rest of his career.
The German is a good shot-stopper, but he is not a world-class goalkeeper, and that was emphasised by his calamitous mistake when gifting the ball to Benzema. The Bale error was another lack of concentration when it mattered most.
At the very highest level, the best players perform. In contrast to Karius, the underrated Keylor Navas made a series of important saves and catches to keep Liverpool out before Real scored.
Navas is a world-class goalkeeper, and he has now won three Champions Leagues, but it is debatable whether Liverpool will win one with Karius in goal. His deputy, Simon Mignolet, is also not good enough, so Jurgen Klopp must bite the bullet this summer and invest heavily on a top keeper.
Jan Oblak at Atletico Madrid would fit the bill and give Liverpool one of the top five keepers in the world, while the Roma keeper Alisson Becker is another who would be an upgrade.
But if Liverpool are to have ambitions about challenging for major honours and winning them, they cannot expect to do so with an average goalkeeper, and that is what they have right now.
3. Salah injury hurt Liverpool, but they can win without him
The loss to injury of Salah after just 30 minutes of this game was every Liverpool supporter's worst nightmare. Salah has become the team's talisman with 44 goals this season, and the Egyptian went into the game as their No. 1 hope of a winning outcome.
It was billed as Salah versus Ronaldo, but the shoulder injury caused by Sergio Ramos' cynical first-half challenge put an end to that sideshow and gave Liverpool the challenge of proving they could prosper without their star man.
Salah's exit gave Real an immediate lift, because they had been nervous and edgy up until that point in the game. Real lost their fear of Liverpool just when Klopp's team had a 10-minute period of doubt.
But although the loss of Salah was undoubtedly huge, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino caused Real problems in the second half, with Mane scoring a 55th-minute equaliser four minutes after Benzema's opener.
Mane's pace gives Liverpool the ability to trouble any team, but the real blow caused by Salah's injury was that to Liverpool's self-belief. They simply lost their confidence, and Real pounced as great champions always do.
Had Salah been fit to stay on the pitch, it could have been a different story.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_