Reappraising Loris Karius’ 2018 Champions League final catastrof*ck: was it really *that* bad?

Dave Tickner
Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius reacts after a mistake in the 2018 Champions League final

Loris Karius will make his big return to English football in the Carabao Cup final for Newcastle this weekend.

It is his first game for an English club side since another final, in the 2018 Champions League. It was quite famously a disaster. A performance so bad that he literally never played for Liverpool ever again.

But was it that bad, really? Really? Five years on, and with mounting subsequent evidence that Liverpool v Real Madrid in the Champions League is just some bad goalkeeping juju, we look back on the game with more sober, perhaps more forgiving, eyes and attempt to reassess one of the most legendary goalkeeping disaster-classes.

You can watch the whole thing for yoursleves here, if you like.


2 mins: A confident start for Karius. This bodes well. He’s off his line smartly to punch clear as an offside Isco lurks. Classic “he wasn’t to know he was offside” stuff. “Positive goalkeeping,” notes Glenn Hoddle on commentary. “Good start for him.”

3 mins: Not Karius, but a lovely bit of foreshadowing from the commentary team. “An omen for Liverpool: the five times they’ve won this tournament, the opponent has been wearing white.” Not tonight, but 12 months later…

6 mins: Karius is out of his penalty area quickly to spare Trent Alexander-Arnold’s blushes after the young right-back dawdles on the ball and is robbed by Isco. So far, so good.

8 mins: First involvement for the other keeper, Nottingham Forest’s Keylor Navas, who is bravely down at the feet of about three onrushing Liverpool players to gather. We mainly note this because we like saying Nottingham Forest’s Keylor Navas.

10 mins: Another TAA error allows Marcelo a shooting chance from distance, but he drags it wide and Karius has it thoroughly covered. Our man looks fine thus far, but it’s been a nervy old start for Liverpool’s precocious young right-back. Liverpool have generally started well, but if you were told at this point that someone is going to have a career-defining catastrof**k of a game you would currently be looking nervously in the direction of their number 66.

13 mins: Better from TAA to be fair. Teasing cross from the right punched acrobatically clear by NFKN. Both keepers have made confident starts here, not fazed by the big occasion.

15 mins: Firmino gives the ball away horribly to set Cristiano Ronaldo away and clear down the right before firing the ball over the bar from a tight angle. Probably should have squared it, but maybe he sensed something mere mortals could not. Karius again is positioned perfectly and appears to have it well covered even if it had been a foot or two lower.

18 mins: First nasty moment for a goalkeeper here, and it’s NFKN who gets in a horrible tangle coming out to try and punch a corner clear under significant Liverpool pressure. He gets nowhere near it. Advantage Liverpool. Advantage Karius.

23 mins: First major save for a goalkeeper here, and it’s NFKN who saves and holds smartly down to his right after TAA’s drilled low effort goes through a defender’s legs. The 19-year-old has settled into his work now and the commentary team are unanimous this is now a “bright start” and it’s easy to see why Gareth Southgate likes him so much and has put him in the World Cup squad.

25 mins: Sergio Ramos wrestles Mo Salah down hard on his left shoulder. Ah. “He looks okay, thankfully,” proffers a relieved Dr McManaman on BT Sport. That’s a relief, because Liverpool wouldn’t want to lose their main man here.

28 mins: Salah is down again. “A shoulder is a shoulder,” observes Glenn Hoddle as Adam Lallana replaces a heartbroken, tearful Salah who at this point doesn’t even know he’s soon going to be asked to pose for history’s most awkward photo with steak-bothering irritant Salt Bae.

37 mins: “Karim Benzema, who maybe doesn’t score the goals he used to.” Time makes fools of us all, Darren Fletcher. Time makes fools of us all. Tell you who isn’t looking a fool, though. Loris Karius. He’s had little to do in this first half thus far, with Liverpool on top and his defence in front of him keeping Ronaldo and co firmly at arm’s length. He’s had little to do, but what he has had to do he’s done with confidence and minimal fuss. He’s absolutely fine here.

41 mins: Karius gathers a long ball over the top. Hoof merchants, this Madrid. Flag’s up anyway.

43 mins: BRILLIANT SAVE FROM OUR HERO! Ronaldo, in an offside position but not given, heads at goal from six yards out but Karius is across to his left to parry. Benzema slams home the rebound, but he’s definitely offside and the flag goes up.

45 mins: Madrid ending the half the stronger, but can’t find a (legal) way past Karius. Great crossfield ball from Benzema – Madrid’s best attacking player of the half by a distance despite his lack of goals this season – finds Nacho at the back post but he fires into the side-netting. Karius? Got it covered, mate. No worries.

45+2 mins: Benzema isn’t closed down 25 yards out and decides to have a pop. Narrowly wide, but it’s going to take something special to beat Karius from there.

HALF TIME: Karius has been absolutely flawless in a first half where chances have been few and far between. What few dodgy moments there were for the keepers occurred at the other end. Now to take a big gulp of coffee and get into the second half.

47 mins: Karius decides not to come initially for a Benzema cross but is on hand to gather the ball when it runs loose from a bit of pinball.

48 mins: Good from Karius after a catalogue of errors presents Isco with a glorious chance, which he clips against the bar after Karius comes rushing off his line to hurry the Madrid player. Still should have scored, but Karius does all he can in a desperate situation to make life hard for him. More good work from the Liverpool keeper who is building up some decent credit in the bank here, it’s surely safe to say.

49 mins: Karius goes down under a challenge from Ramos, who has clearly been tasked with trying to force out Liverpool’s best and most crucial players in order. He may have taken out Salah, but Karius is fine to continue. Unlucky, Sergio!

50 mins: GOAL – BENZEMA. Oh. Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Karius gathers a Kroos long ball over the top and then tries to roll it out quickly. But Benzema sticks out a leg and diverts the ball into the goal. Karius wants a foul. But… no. Credit to Benzema who has read it even better than we remembered and was a yard or so further away from the keeper to make the appeals for a foul even more ludicrous then we remembered. In summary: this one is even worse for Karius than we remembered and there is absolutely nothing to be said in mitigation or defence, other than it was very clever and cute from Benzema. But it’s dozy as hell from Karius. Given what we know is to come, this ‘reappraisal’ is off to a bad start given the first of the famous mistakes is if anything worse than we thought at the time.

55 mins: GOAL – MANE. Relief for Liverpool! Relief for Karius! This does not slip, lads. Go again. The director cuts to Karius pointing to the heavens during the celebrations. Convention requires he now of course be referred to as The Most Relieved Man In The Stadium. Four minutes and 16 seconds between the goals.

60 mins: Gareth Bale is being readied for Real Madrid. Nothing to worry about, I’m sure.

61 mins: SAVE! The streets won’t forget. Karius has to his credit put that horrible error behind him and makes a fine save here to deny Isco, who takes a touch from a Nacho cross and shoots low from six yards. It was going wide, but tits to that.

62 mins: It’s Isco’s last involvement, unsurprisingly. It was never going to be Ronaldo making way and Benzema has been Madrid’s best player on the night. Time for Bale.

63 mins: GOAL – BALE. Shitting crikey. Madrid, who have been on top since Liverpool’s equaliser, work the ball out to Marcelo on the left. His cross is behind Bale who somehow twists and contorts his body as he flies into the air to send an overhead kick past a bewildered Karius and into the top corner. It’s one of the all-time great Champions League goals from a man who’s been on the pitch for barely two minutes. Most importantly, though, there is as Glenn Hoddle notes “no goalkeeper in the world saving that”. Our man is blameless. Karius certainly wasn’t expecting the shot and wasn’t set and ready, but I’m watching it five years later having seen it at least a dozen times and thus knowing precisely what happened and I still wasn’t ready for it.

67 mins: It’s strange watching this back, you know. Liverpool probably just shaded the first half, which was kind of how I remembered it, but I hadn’t remembered quite how good their response to the first Karius Klanger was. The equaliser obviously came soon after the goal, but had looked on the cards for at least three of the four minutes between those goals. The time between the first two goals was Liverpool’s best spell of the game. But then Madrid just took total control again before Bale did his madness. So, in a way, Karius’ mistake brought the best out of Liverpool. It was equalising that f***ed things. A stretch, isn’t it?

70 mins: Because Liverpool have once again responded brilliantly to falling behind, Mane drilling a 20-yarder against the base of Navas’ post. As long as they keep the back door bolted Liverpool are still right in this…

73 mins: Liverpool want a penalty as Firmino twats the ball against Casemiro’s elbow from close range. You’re not getting a penalty in a Champions League final for something that ridiculous, lads. Not for another 12 months, anyway.

75 mins: Ronaldo is in, but Robertson makes an incredible and unlikely last-ditch tackle that tragically denies Karius the chance to make a redemptive save which he definitely would have done but for the showy intervention of Liverpool’s attention-seeking left-back.

77 mins: Luka Modric loses possession in midfield. Nothing much to do with Karius but feels noteworthy because I’m not sure I’ve seen that happen before or since.

81 mins: SAVE! Decent if comfortable save from Karius to deny Benzema who is picked out by an outrageous outside-of-the-boot cross from Bale. Nobody ever talks about the decent if comfortable save to deny Benzema, do they? The life of a goalkeeper. Cruel. Harsh. Liverpool had a good five minutes after the Bale wondergoal, but look both stretched at the back and slightly bereft of ideas up front now. Hard to see a way back now, really.

83 mins: GOAL – BALE. So it probably doesn’t really matter that Karius chucks this in his net, does it? Probably going to lose anyway, weren’t they? Again, though, it is if anything a worse error than we remember. In our heads it was a dipping, swerving shot from Bale that should absolutely have been saved but had misbehaved on its way to the poor keeper. It didn’t really do anything, in truth. It’s an absolute honker. The only possible way to defend it is to note that Liverpool already looked out on their feet and out of ideas before it came. Salah’s injury meant there was no real attacking option to deploy from the bench, highlighted by James Milner being replaced by Emre Can moments before the goal. But it’s flimsy.

85 mins: Bale’s through again, but Lovren pokes out a last-ditch leg to deny him a hat-trick. Ronaldo absolutely fuming that Bale has not only selfishly stolen the headlines with two goals but now fails to square it for him which in all fairness Bale probably should have done. But if roles were reversed there is not one single tiny chance Ronaldo would have.

85 mins: “The discussion’s going to continue about Liverpool needing a goalkeeper. A lot’s been said about Alisson, the Brazilian at Roma, and various other people. And tonight the performance of Loris Karius is going to be dissected for a long, long time. It’s been extremely costly.” Fair play to Darren Fletcher for an entirely accurate appraisal of pretty much everything there.

87 mins: “It’s Gareth Bale’s final… but it’s also Loris Karius’ final.”

88 mins: “Liverpool need a comeback like they’ve never needed a comeback in this competition.” Not quite true.

90+2 mins: Ronaldo absolutely raging again as a cross doesn’t reach him. Cartoonishly desperate to have the last word. Funny.

90+3 mins: Ronaldo denied again by a pitch invader who gets vexingly close to the Real Madrid man and the ref has to halt play. Totally forgot about that. Can that fella play in nets?

FULL TIME: It’s the last quasi-action of the game. Real Madrid win 3-1 to take a 13th Champions League title.

Karius Liverpool


So, can we offer any significant reappraisal of Karius’ infamous performance? Honestly, not really. We’ve really, really tried, but it truly was as bad as you all remember. Possibly worse.

He made a couple of smart saves and was playing pretty well until the first goal, but that’s a bit like saying there was several days’ pleasant sailing aboard the Titanic. His personal performance really cannot be massaged to anywhere better than ‘shit’. The first goal is a moment of extreme dopeyness, apparently unaware of the presence of one of Europe’s premier strikers right there three yards in front of him. If the second error can at least be put down as one of those horrible things that sometimes just happens to a goalkeeper, the first one is just inexplicable. Benzema was just… right there.

What perhaps can be argued with a touch more conviction is the idea that ‘Karius cost Liverpool the final’. He cost them a chance of winning a game they probably weren’t going to win anyway. Watching it back dispassionately after so much time has passed it is quite striking. His first mistake draws an excellent response from the depleted Liverpool attack, who swiftly get deservedly back on level terms. The second goal, where pointing out Karius is not quite set to deal with an outrageous effort nobody saw coming is more observation than criticism, draws a similar response and almost another Mane leveller.

But by the time of the third goal, Liverpool are already starting to look beaten. Salah’s injury robbed them of not only a world-class player, but also stripped the bench of its one attacking option in Lallana. Liverpool look knackered by the 80-minute mark. Madrid have weathered the storm and a stretched Liverpool defence have been in last-ditch mode for a good few minutes by that point. There are no certainties, of course, but a third Madrid goal looks far more likely than a Liverpool equaliser in the moments immediately before disaster strikes.

And yet, the overall game was cagier and tighter than we remembered. It was a game of few chances, and in that game of few chances one keeper chucked one ball straight at the foot of Benzema and another ball straight into his own net. Pretty important, all told.

Given Newcastle’s best hope against Manchester United on Sunday comes in a cagey game of few chances, it’s not all that easy to offer much comfort to Toon fans. We can’t really tell them Karius’ game from hell wasn’t as bad as we all remember.

But at least if he makes a couple of catastrophic errors we might be able to make half a case that Newcastle would probably have lost anyway? Maybe? And if that does happen, who knows, maybe Newcastle will simply beat Tottenham in next year’s Carabao final instead.