Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 8/13
The time has come for the season to end completely as far as European clubs are concerned, and as always, it ends in the biggest contest of them all, the final of the Champions League. It’s bee a great season in UEFA’s elite competition, full of twists, turns and upsets against the odds, and all club affinities aside, it’s been quite enjoyable to watch. So in the end, on Saturday May 28th, at the Stade de France in Paris, Liverpool will be facing Real Madrid in a game that has been played a couple of times before.
In 1981, Liverpool triumphed over Real, in Paris no less, courtesy of a solitary strike by Alan Kennedy in the 82nd minute. In 2018, in Kyiv, Real Madrid won 3-1 after Sergio Ramos controversially escaped two possible red cards and injured Mohamed Salah after half an hour, and Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale took advantage of a possible Ramos-induced concussion to Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius to score a pair of extremely strange goals. The goal Bale scored in between those two was, nonetheless, a real work of art, and the only goal for Liverpool was the work of Sadio Mane.
Even though some of his teammates tried to play his words down since, it’s obvious Salah has unfinished business against Real Madrid and it has been bugging him for four years. He could hardly have hoped for a better opportunity to get it over it himself after what happened in Kyiv.
We have a score to settle. pic.twitter.com/MWxfhIIW78
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) May 4, 2022
Having won the La Liga title, Real Madrid did great things on the way, knocking out the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City to get where they are in this competition, all in most remarkable ways.
On the other hand, after taking out Inter Milan in the round of 16, Liverpool may have thought they would be facing Ajax, Juventus or Bayern Munich in the following rounds, but it was Benfica who took out Ajax and stood against the Merseyiders in the quarterfinals, and then Villarreal in the semis, after the Spanish side beat both Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Unlike Real, Liverpool failed to win the domestic league title this season. For the second time in four years, they lost the race by a single point to Manchester City. The last time that happened, they were spurred on and triumphed emphatically a year later, but City have won it twice again since. On the other hand, City are still chasing that elusive Champions League trophy, which they’ve never ever won, while the 2019 victory was Liverpool’s sixth European crown.
Jurgen Klopp’s team won four of their last six matches, drawing the other two. They beat Villarreal away in the second leg of the semifinal by 2-3, drew 1-1 at home against Tottenham Hotspur, beat Aston Villa at Villa Park by 1-2, played a goalless draw in the FA Cup final at Wembley against Chelsea and won the trophy on penalties, beat Southampton away by 1-2, and eventually came back from a goal down to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers at home by 3-1 on the final day of the Premier League campaign.
It appeared that despite the recent injury worries for several players in all departments, Klopp was likely to have the full squad at his disposal for this huge clash. However, Divock Origi has now been ruled out, having failed to recover from a muscle issue he suffered last week.
It’s obviously a huge blow for the Belgian striker, who is reportedly set to join AC Milan as a free agent this summer. This was a chance for him to put on the Red shirt he loves so much and contribute perhaps in another unbelievable manner, like so many times before.
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) May 27, 2022
On the other hand, though there were problems for Salah, midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho, as well as centre-back Virgil van Dijk, three of them are definitely ready to play. Only Thiago Alcantara isn’t quite certain yet, though Klopp has revealed the Spaniard is now back in full training. Let’s wait and see.
Alisson Becker will be in goal, that much is clear. What isn’t clear is who will be partnering Van Dijk in the heart of defence, but perhaps the experience of Joel Matip ahead of the youth and power of Ibrahima Konate might be a wiser move against someone like Benzema. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will be on the defensive flanks, and if Fabinho’s indeed fit, nobody can take his place ahead of the back line. Captain Jordan Henderson will probably start too in the middle of the park, but the third name will be decided likely between Thiago and Naby Keita. James Milner, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be hoping for a start too, but their chances of getting the nod in a game like this aren’t good.
There is absolutely no reason for Klopp not to start Salah and Mane, but it will be interesting to see who the third man upfront is. It’ll be either Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, or Roberto Firmino. It feels quite safe to say it won’t be Takumi Minamino, even though the Japan international has been on good form lately.
As much as Liverpool may feel the desire to get revenge for 2018, Real Madrid will feel the Merseysiders might’ve developed a psychological problem about facing them. Not only did Real beat them in Kyiv, but they also triumphed over them in the 2020-21 quarterfinals over two legs, and beat them twice in 2014-15 in the group stage. It should, though, be said that only Henderson remains in the Liverpool team since those days.
It should also be said that Real are not exactly the same team themselves, even compared to the match in Kyiv. There’s no more Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, or Sergio Ramos, or Raphael Varane, and even Bale doesn’t get any game-time these days. It remains to be seen what the likes of Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao, Nacho Fernadez, and either Rodrygo Goes or Marco Asensio can do in such an important match as this. Judging by what they’ve shown so far this season, they can do a lot.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team has one big advantage over their Premier League opponents – they secured the La Liga title some time ago and have had plenty of time for their players to rest and recover. Match rhythm aside, they should be in a better physical shape than the Merseysiders. They also have a psychological advantage, with their morale surely boosted by the title, whereas that of Liverpool must’ve been shaken by coming just short of the league triumph.
Real’s last-six run begins with a 4-0 home win over Espanyol, followed by that remarkable comeback against Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu when they scored twice in the final minutes to win within the 90 by 2-1, and they added a third to wrap the victory up in extra-time and secure a place in this final. Then they lost the Madrid derby away to Atletico by 1-0, smashed Levante 6-0 at home, drew 1-1 away to Cadiz in the game that secured them the league title, and eventually played a goalless draw at home against Real Betis. Interestingly enough, Ancelotti did not rest anyone but started the trivial match with his arguably strongest lineup with the exception of David Alaba.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) May 27, 2022
Thibaut Courtois is the undisputed man between the posts for this match for Real Madrid.
As has been said, Alaba missed the Betis encounter, and the reason was an adductor problem which seems to have been put away. The Austrian defender is ready to play, which means he’ll likely displace Nacho and play alongside Militao.
Ferland Mendy and Dani Carvajal would be the logical choice to cover the defensive flanks, but Marcelo’s involvement in the pre-match press conference might mean Ancelotti giving the experienced Brazilian a start ahead of Mendy on the left. The trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are the obvious candidates for holding the fort in the middle of the park. Benzema will be leading the line upfront with Vinicius next to him, and the only question is whether Ancelotti will go with Rodrygo or Asensio on the other attacking flank.
There’s very little chance for Bale, whose contract is up after this game, to feature at all, though both him and Eden Hazard will probably make the bench, but Fede Valverde might be hoping to dislodge someone, either in attack or in midfield.
It’s the Champions League final and all attempts at guessing the outcome are extremely risky.
For what its worth, Liverpool do appear to have the greater quality overall and will likely hold the ball more, pushing the line of battle as close to Courtois as possible. Mane and Salah will be on the hunt for glory, and on their day, no defender is safe against either.
But on the other hand, the pace of the Real wingers, particularly Vinicius, and the passing quality of Kroos and Modric, are perfectly suited to exploit Liverpool’s usually high line. Further more, Benzema needs two goals to equal the record for the most goals in a single Champions League campaign, set at 17 by his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013-14.
But then again, Klopp will surely be aware of all this and will have taken some precautions against his team getting hit on the counter too frequently.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 8/13
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