Liverpool anguish and Ancelotti joy give Chelsea fans their unexpected season highlight
A report from the Stade de France
They didn't make it this year, but for Chelsea fans, the Champions League final arguably still laid claim to being their greatest night of the season.
They will have enjoyed the sight of crestfallen Liverpool players after Saturday night's 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid at the Stade de France - such is enmity between the two clubs these days.
The Reds snatched silverware from them at Wembley twice this year - on penalties both in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup after 0-0 draws - and the last thing they wanted to see was Jurgen Klopp's men sweep to glory to take the famous Champions League trophy off their hands.
The Blues suffered defeat to Real themselves in an epic quarter-final, where they came within a whisker of overturning a 3-1 first leg defeat after producing a sublime performance at the Bernabeu in the return.
But now, they were very much behind two of the men they once called their own, and who turned out to be the key figures in securing Los Blancos’ 14th Champions League or European Cup.
There will never be any great love for Thibaut Courtois, of course.
The way he engineered his exit from Stamford Bridge made him a target of some choice taunts from the Matthew Harding when the teams met.
Fans were quick to remind him that he left west London to try and claim Europe’s top club prize when his former club managed to achieve it without him last year in Porto.
On this night, however, they welcomed his man of the match heroics in thwarting their bitter north west rivals. His superb saves to deny Sadio Mane in the first half and Mo Salah late on underlined that Real’s name was very much on the cup.
Chelsea fans may have mixed feelings about Courtois, to say the least, but there is no such ambivalence when it comes to the man who masterminded another trophy for Real.
It was always baffling the way the hierarchy elected to dispense with Carlo Ancelotti’s services just over a decade ago. A Man of class who would surely have led the Blues to many more trophies, had he stayed.
He had been in charge of one of the most thrilling Blues teams ever and when they pulled off the double in 2010 for the first time in the club's history, they were a byword for swashbuckling excitement – a far cry from the more risk-averse points-accumulating machine constructed by Jose Mourinho a few years earlier.
This is a man whose modest charm and track record make him instantly respected and whose ability to mould winning sides – often with big egos to control - is now unrivalled.
Saturday was the fourth time he has coached a Champions League team to glory – taking him to the very summit of the game above Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane.
He earned the right to dad dance with his players after the match in front of ecstatic Madrid fans at the 80,000 stadium. Ancelotti, the history maker.
Liverpool thwarted his ambitions in 2005 in the Miracle of Istanbul, when his AC Milan team threw away a 3-0 half-time lead. But he gained revenge in Athens two years later with a 2-1 win over the Reds.
Now, he has punished them again for having the temerity to inflict the only defeat in a final he has suffered as a coach, having now contested five showpieces. The other win came against Atletico in one of the two all-Madrid finals of recent years during his first stint at the Bernabeu.
“I am a record man,” said Ancelotti, whose services were somehow secured by Everton for a season before his return to Real.
“I had luck to come here last year and have a fantastic season. A fantastic club, a really good squad with a lot of quality and mental character.
“The season was top. I think we passed through really difficult games.”
That they did in overcoming PSG, Chelsea and Man City en route to Paris – having to come back from the brink very late on in each of the ties.
They also had the competition’s player of the season in 15-goal Karim Benzema, playing at the peak of his powers, even if it was Vinicius Junior who claimed the second half winner.
We should not have been surprised. Real do not lose these finals. They have now won 14 of 17 and each of the past eight. You have to go all the way back to 1981 to find their last reverse in this most famous of all club fixtures – when they lost to Liverpool down the road at the Parc des Princes stadium.
For Liverpool, this was a bitter pill to swallow as they failed to gain revenge for the Loris Karius goalkeeping calamity night in Kiev four years ago when they gifted Real a 3-1 win and coming as it did just a few days after missing out on the Premier League title to Man City, despite amassing 92 points.
Not that Chelsea fans will have been sparing the slightest sympathy for Klopp and their red-shirted foes. Sometimes, the pain suffered by a big rival is as good as it gets.