Preview: Real Madrid vs. Liverpool – team news, lineups
Preview: Real Madrid vs. Liverpool – team news, lineups
The eyes of the world will be on the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev this Saturday as two genuine European heavyweights compete for the Champions League trophy in club football’s biggest match.
Twelve-time champions Real Madrid are looking to lift the trophy for the third year in a row, but to do so they will need to stop a free-scoring Liverpool outfit who are bidding for their first European crown since 2005 and their sixth overall.
From the very first edition of this tournament in 1955-56, Real Madrid have been regarded as the kings of Europe.
A team led by Alfredo di Stefano and later joined by Ferenc Puskas were unstoppable in the early years, winning the first five European Cups before their dominance was finally ended in 1960-61.
A similar monopoly over the competition seems impossible in the modern age with so many world-class teams vying for one trophy, yet Madrid are nonetheless on the verge of their third title in a row – a feat which has not been achieved since the Bayern Munich team of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier from 1973 to 1976.
In the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos, Madrid boast giants of the modern game who, when all is said and done, may stack up against those legendary names of the past, particularly if they are able to back up the previously unprecedented achievement of winning successive titles in the Champions League era with yet another crown.
Zinedine Zidane is another name who is permanently etched into the history books as one of the greatest to have played the game, and he is on the verge of a remarkable achievement this weekend as he bids to become the first manager to ever win the competition three years in a row – and only the third to win it three times overall, after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti, both of whom have strong links to the two finalists.
One of Paisley’s triumphs came at the expense of Madrid in the 1981 final, so victory for Los Blancos on Saturday would be a slice of revenge 37 years in the making. Indeed, that 1981 showdown was the last time Madrid lost a final in this competition, winning all six since – a formidable record which backs up the assertion that this is their tournament.
Remarkably, Zidane has still never been eliminated from Europe as a manager, but he has tasted defeat in the competition twice this season alone – one of which came at the hands of English opposition when Tottenham Hotspur ran out 3-1 winners at Wembley.
Indeed, there is the sense that Madrid, for all of their recent glories in this competition, are not as formidable an opponent as they were in the past two finals; Los Blancos only scraped through the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth – a controversial 97th-minute penalty from Ronaldo avoiding extra time against Juventus after a rousing comeback from the Italian champions – and Bayern Munich had more than enough chances to progress at the holders’ expense in the semis.
The fact that Madrid safely negotiated such scares while not playing well may have increased their air of invincibility over two legs, but Liverpool will have seen enough in those two games to believe that their own potent attack can get at what looked like a shaky defence.
Things have not gone to plan domestically for Madrid either, with last weekend’s season-ending 2-2 draw with Villarreal confirming a third-placed finish – their joint-worst since 2003-04 and a full 17 points adrift of champions Barcelona.
Madrid have now kept just one clean sheet in their last 11 matches across all competitions, while they have managed only three in their 12 Champions League outings, but they have also scored in each of their last 29 European games.
Squandering a two-goal lead to Villarreal on Saturday also means that Zidane’s side come into this match with only one win in their last five outings, so it could be that the Spanish giants need to rely on their European aura – rather than their own form – to give them the edge this weekend.
Recent Champions League form: WWWLWD
Recent form (all competitions): WDDLWD
When Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015, tentative comparisons with Liverpool’s legendary manager Bill Shankly were made.
The rapport with the fans, the snippets of newspaper gold and the pure passion on the sidelines spawned those comparisons, and Klopp is now on the verge of writing his name permanently into the club’s history books.
Shankly laid the foundations for Liverpool’s huge success in the 1970s and 1980s, with the Reds winning four European Cups in eight years under Paisley and Joe Fagan – perhaps the most recent period of dominance by a team other than Madrid which is comparable to the Spanish outfit’s current run in the competition.
The most famous of Liverpool’s European triumphs came 13 years ago in Istanbul, though, when a team that finished fifth in the Premier League that season produced an unforgettable comeback against an AC Milan side littered with some of the best players of the generation.
The class of 2017-18 now have the chance to join Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso and others in Liverpool folklore, and ending Madrid’s iron grip over the competition would earn them immortal status amongst the club’s fans.
Mohamed Salah is perhaps close to that already following a remarkable season which has seen him scoop a clean sweep of the individual awards and break the all-time Premier League goalscoring record for a 38-game season, and there may just be part of the Egyptian winger with one eye on Ian Rush’s all-time club record of 47 goals in a season; he would require a hat-trick in the final to match that tally.
Salah’s supporting cast have been every bit as important to Liverpool’s success in this season’s competition, though, and he, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have scored 29 Champions League goals between them in 2017-18 – the most prolific trio in the competition’s history, having overtaken Madrid’s cast of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Indeed, Liverpool as a team have scored an unprecedented 46 goals in the Champions League this season including qualifiers, and even disregarding their triumph over Hoffenheim to reach the group stages they are on course to break the record for a 13-game European season, which coincidentally is currently held by Madrid.
Unlike Madrid, Liverpool topped their Champions League group – helped by 7-0 wins over Maribor and Spartak Moscow along the way – but it wasn’t until a ruthless 5-0 victory over Porto at the Estadio Do Dragao in the last 16 that they really came on the radar as possible winners.
The competition got tougher still in the quarter-finals when they took on tournament favourites Manchester City, but victories home and away against a team that broke all sorts of records on their way to the Premier League title this season only enhanced their reputation as genuine contenders.
Another scintillating display saw them seemingly put Roma out of contention after one leg of the semi-finals – although the Italian outfit’s two late goals in their 5-2 defeat left the door slightly ajar. In the end Liverpool needed all of their three-goal advantage as they lost 4-2 at the Stadio Olimpico, which also ended their unbeaten run in this season’s competition.
It has been a hugely successful return to the Champions League for Liverpool, then, and domestically they have achieved their goal of another top-four finish too, meaning that whatever happens on Saturday night, Klopp and co will be back in this competition next season.
A final-day win over Brighton and Hove Albion was needed to secure fourth place following a three-match winless run prior to that, but Klopp was keen to highlight his side’s busy schedule during that spell – something which will not be a problem this weekend following a 13-day break between matches.
Klopp himself has experience of this stage – although not a good one as his Borussia Dortmund team lost late to Bayern Munich in 2013 – but none of his players have ever played in such a big match, whereas Madrid have seven players bidding for their fourth Champions League title and one – Ronaldo – who is going for a fifth.
Liverpool have shown throughout the season that they can beat anyone on their day, though, and they must now simply hope that Saturday is that day.
Recent Champions League form: WDWWWL
Recent form (all competitions): DWDLLW
The big question facing Zidane is whether or not to start Bale. The Welsh winger has only started three Champions League games throughout a campaign dogged by injury and lack of form, but he is seemingly back to his best now with five goals in his last four starts.
Ronaldo’s goalscoring has been as relentless as ever, meanwhile, with the former Manchester United man finding the back of the net 25 times in his last 17 Champions League games and 15 times in this season’s competition alone – five more than Salah and Firmino and a tally only he himself has beaten in Champions League history.
Another goal on Saturday would see him become the first player to score in four Champions League finals, having already become the first to score in three last year.
Indeed, there are goalscoring threats throughout for Madrid, with Marcelo having netted in each knockout round so far and big-game specialist Ramos bidding to join Ronaldo in being the only players to score in three Champions League finals.
Zidane has a fully fit squad to chose from this weekend, including a welcome return for Dani Carvajal, whose absence was exposed when Lucas Vazquez was deployed as a makeshift right-back in the semi-final second leg.
Liverpool have rather more injury concerns with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all ruled out, while Emre Can, James Milner and Adam Lallana all remain doubts for the game.
The latter trio are all back in training after recent knocks, but a lack of match practice for Lallana and Can – the latter of whom could play his final game of the club – is likely to mean that Milner is the only one of those to start.
Milner’s inclusion will be a boost for Liverpool considering he has produced nine assists en route to the final – overtaking the likes of Neymar and Wayne Rooney to clinch the single-season record.
Nineteen-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold will cap his breakthrough season off in his more familiar right-back role – having featured in midfield towards the end of the campaign – while in front of him the triumvirate of Salah, Firmino and Mane will look to do the damage which Bayern Munich could not.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Asensio; Bale, Ronaldo
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Head To Head
Saturday will be the ninth time that there has been a repeat European Cup/Champions League final, with the most famous previous meeting between these two sides coming in Paris 37 years ago when Alan Kennedy was the unlikely hero for Liverpool.
A 1-0 win in the 1980-81 European Cup final sealed a hat-trick for Paisley, and the two giants would not meet again until 2008-09, when once more it proved to be a memorable occasion for the English club.
Another 1-0 win at the Bernabeu put Liverpool in the driving seat of the first knockout round, and they emphatically drove home that advantage in the second leg with a Fernando Torres-inspired 4-0 win at Anfield – Madrid’s heaviest ever European defeat.
The most recent meetings went the way of the Spanish side, though, as a Liverpool team struggling after losing Luis Suarez were beaten 3-0 at home and 1-0 away in the 2014-15 group stages.