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  1. My 63rd match thread of this season then. It’s hard to believe what this team have done this season, but it’s also meant having to come up with some variations on a theme for the purpose of these threads. A lot of you guys love this stuff, but I can expect that some of you think they’re shite and/or are bored of them. I started doing these towards the back end of last season so it’s about 70-odd in a row now. I find myself wanting to get on with the next one quickly after disappointment, and this Sunday is a disappointment even if ultimately what happened is what was expected to happen. This is a trophy we’ve won on 6 previous occasions, making us European royalty. We are currently only one behind AC Milan’s haul, but Real Madrid have been the most successful team in the Champions League era, winning it seven times. They were also the most successful when it was still called the European Cup, even though they went more than 30 years without adding to the 6 they won in the competition’s first eleven years of existence. They’ve shown this season that they are a hard side to shake off, even if they play shit. It helps if you have one of the two most in-form strikers in Europe, and everyone around you is going through a transition phase. What will it take to get the better of them at the Stade de France? Skill. Energy. Verve. Effervescence. Nerve. I don’t ask for much. The two teams have met in the final twice, with one victory apiece. Kyiv in 2018 was gutting because everything that could go wrong for us went wrong. Mo was deliberately (some might say professionally) injured by a reckless Sergio Ramos in the first half, and suddenly we were without our biggest goal threat. A concussed Loris Karius (thanks again Sergio!) inexplicably rolled a ball out of his area, which cannoned off Benzema who’d blocked it, and the ball trickled into the unguarded net. Sadio found an equaliser when reacting first to Degsy’s nod down from a corner. But then Madrid hauled Gareth Bale off the golf course, and he proceeded to turn the game decisively. First with an acrobatic volley from the edge of the area, and then with a speculative long-ranger which was spilled into his own net by the hapless Karius. Our race was run. It was better in May 1981 though. That game was also in Paris, but at the Parc des Princes. It was billed as a real heavyweight contest between the perennial Spanish champions and England’s finest. Liverpool had had an inconsistent campaign domestically, as a raft of injuries put paid to the team’s attempts to win a third league title in a row. In addition to that, several first-team regulars were now in need of replacing, with Sir Bob looking at an overhaul in the summer. The league had been won by Villa, with Ipswich the nearest challenger. Liverpool had claimed a maiden League Cup trophy however, beating West Ham in a replay in the final. The match in Paris failed to live up to its billing as both sides were extremely cagey. That was the nature of European Cup finals in this era, as between our two victories in the final in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, one goal had been enough for victory. Twice for ourselves, twice for Forest, and once each for Villa and Hamburg. The caginess made the final a low quality affair where everybody looked below par. For us, a few low efforts straight at the keeper from Souey, Kenny and Sammy were about it. For Madrid, left back Camacho popped up twice in the inside right channel for their best chances. The first was when he chested the ball down outside the area, and Hansen’s momentary slip gave him a chance to hit a volley over the keeper. His crane kick drifted wide but certainly had Clem scrambling. The second was the best chance of the match. A Juanito through-ball for Cunningham was left by the winger who believed he may have been offside. Camacho had made a run from deep though and was suddenly through on goal. Rather than carry the ball forward into the area and try beating Clem 1-v-1, Camacho chose a fist-time chip. It beat Clem but sailed well over the bar. Both sides were tiring and extra time looked on the cards when Ray Kennedy picked the ball up on our left for a throw in. The players were stated except for namesake Alan. He made a dart into the penalty area, chested the ball down and past a flimsy challenge from the Madrid right back, and suddenly was in on goal himself. Unlike his opposite number, he found the composure to steady himself and fire the ball past Agustin high into the net. The most unlikely goal hero had emerged (it was merely a first for Barney as it was he who scored the winning penalty in Rome in 1984). We’d won our third European Cup in 5 seasons, joining the likes of Ajax and Bayern on 3, and it was Thommo as captain who would get to proudly lift Big Ears. What a moment that must have been for the local lad and boyhood Red. Late May 1981 saw Alan Alda’s directorial debut, The Four Seasons (which he also wrote and starred in), atop the box office. Alda was a massive TV star back then, playing Hawkeye Pierce in the TV sitcom version of Robert Altman’s 1970 smash Korean War comedy M*A*S*H, so his big screen work was always going to be a big draw stateside. The Four Seasons is a rom-com about a group of middle class New York couples who go on holiday together every season (Vivaldi’s classical composition of the same name obviously features, giving the plot) of the year, so of course they know each other extremely well. Until one year where the husband of one of the couples has left his wife and brings along his new and younger bit on the side instead. According to the plot summary, things quickly get awkward as they others take an initial dislike to the new girl before eventually warming to her. The ex-wife is more or less left to find herself some new social circles and direction in life. I’ve never heard of this film never mind seen it. Is it any good, for those of you who might have done so? It vaguely sounds like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (a late 60s film that starred Natalie Wood and Elliott Gould), minus the attempted wife swapping antics. Real Madrid still use the trio of Casemiro, Modric and Kroos as their go-to midfield for big games. There’s a wealth of ability and experience in that lot, and the often defy age to dictate games against younger or in-their-prime midfields. They also still have Benzema up front, whose goalscoring has gone up a level since he was able to climb out of Ronaldo’s shadow. He’s revelled in being their main man up front. Vinicius has been very effective attacking from the left and is blisteringly quick. On the other side Rodrygo has found a knack for scoring goals in recent months. Camavinga in midfield is a physically dominant presence and an extremely useful addition to their squad. I’m not going to name their entire squad but it’s safe to say they pose a threat. In the dugout, they also have a man who knows how to get the job done. He has won things everywhere he’s been since he rocked up in the Milan dugout 20-odd years ago, and while that doesn’t include Everton (obviously, why would it!?), he did give us a bloody nose last season. His goalkeeper crippled our best defender too, but that’s another story. Ancelotti has won 3 of these as a coach to go with the 2 he won as a player. We’ve had a few injury concerns to key players recently as fatigue creeps in, and are still awaiting news on whether Fab and Virg will be available for the final. Big Joe might not be, and Thiago limped off before half time against Wolves with a hamstring issue so it’s highly possible we might not be full strength. However, we have faced that situation many times this season and tackled it with an incredible mentality. This lot have fight no matter what. It almost goes without saying that if we have the right motivation (not an issue for a major final), concentration, attitude and application, we are well capable of bringing Big Ears home and adding another upgrade to the Champions Wall. Go out there, leave it all on the pitch and get the job done. Allez Allez Allez!
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