Real Madrid win the Champions League with their normal blueprint and we all knew this was coming

LONDON — Perhaps Real Madrid simply knows no other way to win. When the Champions League anthem blares, they dust off a familiar blueprint: be second best and win anyway. European Cup number 15, a victory achieved despite themselves.

Borussia Dortmund do almost everything right for over an hour, encounter an opponent playing so far below the collective standards they have set for themselves, and are still crushed by the inevitability of their opponents. Forget it Jake, it's Real Madrid.

You'd be forgiven for thinking differently for much of this match. From the start, it looked like Carlo Ancelotti had seriously misphrased his game plan, especially in the final third where too much possession was diverted to the wrong sources. As had been the case in their semi-final win over Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund invited their technically superior opponents to have as much possession as they wanted in wide areas, especially when it was at the feet of full-back Dani Carvajal lay. and Ferland Mendy.

Edin Terzic's assertive pre-match press conference had given the impression of a man who knew exactly what Madrid's weaknesses were, even if he was unwilling to share them. It seemed clear that Dortmund had come to the conclusion that if they were going to let anyone beat them, it would be the two full-backs in white. It was the kind of bitter irony that Madrid were working on, namely that it was one of those duos who would indeed beat an excellent opponent. But not before it almost fell apart.

With the ball, Madrid seemed to have no idea how to get the ball to their most effective players. The excellent Karim Adeyemi and Jadon Sancho blocked the passing lanes infield for Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Jude Bellingham, who struggled early on to make a big impact on the match after ten decent minutes as an outlet for long balls over the Dortmund press.

Madrid's logical response might then have been to move Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo further wide, confident that at least one of those two could fire past the double team they would inevitably face. Instead, the attackers stayed in the central areas, especially Rodrygo, who seemed intent on attacking the space behind him, where Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck would not leave as they set up camp near their penalty area. The perennial champions cycled the ball quite slowly into the traps Dortmund had set for them, somehow managing to send just enough bodies forward to leave all the space in the world for Adeyemi to burst into .

More of that irony. In a heel move whose ferocity eclipsed even Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania X-Seven, the post that had once been Borussia Dortmund's great ally played its cruelest tricks. There were plenty in the ground who were convinced Niklas Fullkrug's sliding poke would roll over the line as he viciously struck back from the goal line. Not be. Adeyemi's arrow also did not end up behind the defense, causing the ball to go just too far wide of Thibaut Courtois.

Without that particular hex that Madrid seem to have over the European Cup, this match could have been dead at half-time. More chances came in the second half and Valverde became increasingly influential as he moved from the right side of the midfield diamond to a more central role in a penalty area. Chances came but Madrid had little to turn the tide at the other end. Whenever Marcel Sabitzer, Julian Ryerson or Fullkrug felt like it, there was a gap between Nacho and Mendy that they could drive into, with Camavinga unable to follow up on those dangerous runs. Again, Fullkrug might have exploited it more effectively. For a brief moment the faith of Madridistas was noticeably shaking.

Although Madrid had too much strength in too many matches, Madrid's only great strength seemed to be set pieces. Of course they made it pay. Carvajal had already caused horror for Dortmund with one tap at the first post. When the opportunity arose to try again, the results were even more impressive. Nacho played the blocker at the near post, Toni Kroos' throw was spot on and Carvajal stepped in front of Fullkrug to fire home.

In an instant it was as if Madrid realized who they were compared to Dortmund. They were the team that had plucked the brightest star from the Westfalenstadion twelve months ago. They started playing like this. Bellingham should have made it two. Vinicius did just that, paying tribute to Ronaldo with his celebration and Mesut Ozil bounced into the deck with a finish to soar above Gregor Kobel.

That Madrid could have blown away even a team as stubborn and organized as Dortmund had been in the first hour. Real Madrid didn't need Real Madrid on their way to glory. But ultimately it is what this team has done with extraordinary success over the past decade that has produced six Champions League trophies while raising questions about whether Los Blancos are actually the top. That Good.

In 2022, the power of Karim Benzema's excellence carried them to victory despite being largely outplayed in every knockout match on the way to Paris. The group that won four in five years between 2014 and 2018 won only two other major trophies and often fell out of the La Liga title race.

Who cares? When you win that much, you're a dynasty. Each of these needs a defining characteristic. Paco Gento's Madrid – whose record of six Champions Leagues is now equaled by Luka Modric, Nacho, Dani Carvajal and Toni Kroos – provided the great blueprint for the collection of stars that came to define this club. Ajax revolutionized the tactics of the game. These men will be defined by their ability to win, regardless of their collective and individual struggles. Ancelotti was right when he said on Friday that it was no coincidence, that there must be some “causality” in the sheer number of last-minute goals and the dramatic turnaround that has taken Madrid to the top of European football six times.

Wembley knew it was coming. Deep down, Dortmund knew that too. As for Madrid? Well, they probably saw it coming since the beginning of the season.

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