And then there were two… 2017/18’s UEFA Champions League final is once again a clash of heavyweight favourite versus unfancied hopeful, but, unlike the previous finals in recent years featuring the tactical depth of Juventus and the doggedness of Atletico, it is the bombastic, high-octane approach of Liverpool that will be set against the defending champions Real Madrid. This Champions League preview examines, analyses and predicts the final of the UEFA Champions League, outlining the critical characters from the showcase to take place in Kiev.
Real Madrid vs Liverpool Predictions and Preview
Real Madrid’s presence in the final in Kiev makes them the first since Juventus (1996-98) to reach 3 consecutive finals. Only three teams – Ajax (1971-73), Bayern (1974-76) and Real Madrid, of course (1956-60) have claimed at least 3 consecutive European crowns. Zidane’s side face an opportunity to achieve this for a second time, with the French manager himself facing a unique milestone in extending his personal consecutive run to 3 titles, which in itself would be a European Cup record, having become the first manager to do so in the Champions League twice consecutively. Real Madrid’s talismanic forward, Cristiano Ronaldo, also faces some weighty achievements; victory would see him lift the trophy for the 5th occasion, the first in the Champions League format, joining other Real Madrid legends Paco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano, Jose Maria Zarraga and Milan icon Paolo Maldini.
|Head to Head Record – Real Madrid 2 Wins, Liverpool 3 Wins
|UEFA Champions League Record 2017/18
2017/18’s final represents a repeat of the first meeting between these sides in the final of 1981 when a solitary goal from Alan Kennedy earned Liverpool their 3rd European title. This was the last time Los Merengues lost a final; Real Madrid have appeared in 6 finals since (1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017) and won every single one. That victory also stands as the sole victory for an English club against Spanish opposition in a European final. Neither Arsenal (2006) and Manchester United (2009, 2011) were able to beat Barcelona in their respective finals.
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- Liverpool’s last European final was also against Spanish opposition – Sevilla – in 2016’s Europa League final, where Klopp’s Reds were beaten 3-1 in Basel.
- Liverpool’s other final vs a Spanish club took place in Dortmund in 2001’s UEFA Cup, where Deportivo Alaves lost 5-4 to a golden goal scored in extra time by the English club.
- Liverpool have won 14 and lost 11 of their 37 matches against Spanish clubs. Real Madrid have won 15 and lost 11 of their 37 matches against English clubs.
- Liverpool’s 2009 victory at the Bernabeu remains their sole victory in their last 7 matches against Spanish opponents outside Anfield.
- Liverpool have contested one final via penalty shootout, beating Serie A giants AC Milan after a thrilling 3-3 comeback draw in Istanbul in 2004/05.
- Real Madrid have contested one final via penalty shootout, beating local rivals Atletico Madrid in 2015/16’s showpiece.
- Real Madrid have scored in 29 consecutive European fixtures, with their last failure to score occurring in 2015/16’s semi-final first leg against English champions Manchester City.
- Los Merengues have lost just 3 matches in their last 31 European fixtures, the most recent defeat being the controversial 3-1 reversal at home to Juventus.
- James Milner is the current European assist leader, having created 9 goals in this season’s competition.
- Mohamed Salah’s current haul of 44 clubs goals in all competitions is the highest for a Liverpool player since Ian Rush in 1983/84.
- Cristiano Ronaldo remains the tournament’s top scorer with 15 goals. Including his time with Manchester United, the Portuguese captain has scored only 3 times in 11 matches against the Reds.
Key Players and Tactical Considerations
While Real Madrid’s season has not gone according to plan in La Liga terms, their Champions League performance this season warrants considerable respect. Their group featured both Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund, making it a far more complicated prospect than most other groups. In the knockout rounds, regardless of the substance behind the results, Los Merengues have managed to best very strong opposition in Paris St. Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. This run, not to mention their experience, isn’t about to leave the defending champions timid by the relentless pace and pressing strategies of Liverpool.
Liverpool’s frontline is understandably Klopp’s most crucial point of leverage. The German manager’s trio of Salah, Firmino and Mane is a perfect blend of pace, pressing, movement, finishing and work rate, and Real Madrid’s relatively underperforming backline will be critical to preventing the Reds from enjoying their usual blitz periods. Marcelo in particular will be under the spotlight due to his proximity to Salah, but it may be the battle in the middle between the experienced Sergio Ramos and Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino that has a crucial bearing on how well Liverpool get to enjoy access to the ball in the Real Madrid box.
Defensively, for the last 29 matches of the Premier League, Liverpool conceded just 22 goals, the best of all their peers in the league. Much of this improvement has been refined by the defensive leadership of recent acquisition Virgil Van Dijk, the effective shot-stopping of keeper Lorius Karius, the consistency of fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold, and the reduction in critical errors from Dejan Lovren. Liverpool have also improved in set-pieces, conceding just 8 goals in dead ball situations in their league campaign, compared to 13 last season.
The Liverpool defence will have a massive card to play in the final; Zidane may well favour the power of Ronaldo, balanced alongside the speed of Bale and the creativity of Isco to box in the Liverpool. The latter will be critical for taking advantage of Liverpool’s most prominent weakness – captain Jordan Henderson, who faces a massive responsibility to avoid giving too much space for the advancing Isco, or the deep-lying passing vision of Luka Modric to exploit, especially in response to Liverpool’s aggressive advances up the pitch.
Los Merengues’ key strength to exploit will be their superior weapons in midfield. With Alex Oxlade Chamberlain out injured and Emre Can an uncertainty, Liverpool are short of options in the middle of the park. This leaves the Spanish giants with any configuration of Isco, Modric, Kroos and Casemiro able to control and dominate the ball in midfield, starving the supply to the Liverpool frontline. The first goal in this final could be crucial to the final result, especially if it’s scored by Real Madrid.
Real Madrid’s record in the Champions League, their deeper squad, and larger contingent of world class talent make them an obvious favourite to bring home another trophy. Zidane’s record in La Liga may have done him few favours this season, but European dominance remains their staple diet, and a third consecutive title will go a long way to availing concerns about the domestic campaign.
This doesn’t mean Liverpool can’t win. In many ways, Liverpool once again represent the potent contrast and antithesis to contest Real Madrid’s dominance in this competition. Unfancied as they may be, Liverpool’s ingredients of an improving defence and persistently lethal attack will reduce the margin of error for Los Merengues considerably. As they showed against Roma, the Reds are capable of punishing mistakes swiftly and decisively.
It thus becomes a question of how many mistakes Real Madrid may make. In the case of the midfield, there is such an advantage in player quality over Liverpool that it may well render the result academic, especially if the Spanish club scores first. Liverpool’s propensity to force mistakes is considerable, but many Real Madrid players – in the midfield especially – are very proficient in playing their way out of such pressure and trouble.
Then there’s the aspects to Liverpool that count against them; the shortness of depth and quality in midfield, especially relative to the options Real Madrid can use, the poor record of Jurgen Klopp in major finals (where he has won only 1 of 6, including 2 defeats in European finals), and the issue of Real Madrid’s greatest threat – Ronaldo – being directly looked after by the unreliable Dejan Lovren.
A goal feast is expected (and hoped for) and may well come, but all things being equal, it is very hard to see how the defending champions fail to come out on top, but as with many of Liverpool’s European victories, there is often a romance to their victories. A goal blitz is possible, goals for both sides is likely, but insofar as the result is concerned, it’s hard to see past yet another record for Real Madrid, especially if they score first.
|First team to score
|Odd / Even Goals
|Final Decided by Penalty Shootout
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Please note betting odds quoted are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.