Real Madrid are poised to make it 13 UEFA Champions League/European Cup trophies on Saturday as they face an inexperienced Liverpool outfit in the final in Kiev. They are the clear front-runners. Here is why.
With 12 titles to their name, no team in Europe has won the Champions League/European Cup more than Madrid. No team has even come close. AC Milan are second with seven while FC Bayern Munchen are third with five – add them together and you get Madrid’s tally. It’s a quite remarkable track record in the world’s toughest club competition.
The bold and daring footballing ideologies of both teams will mean that this final should be quite a spectacle but ultimately it will be a spectacle Madrid should end up on the right side of. Here is why.
Madrid are just better
Jurgen Klopp has worked wonders with the group of players he has had at his disposal this season. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have been given the opportunity to run riot and have undoubtedly impressed. In the midfield, James Milner and Jordan Henderson have been solid without being spectacular while the less said about their back four the better. All things considered, Liverpool have done incredibly well to reach the final, a feat few thought possible at the start of the season.
On the contrary, Madrid were expected to reach the final this year. The team they are likely to field on Saturday will be spearheaded by the attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lucas Vazquez and Karim Benzema. No place for Gareth Bale. Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić will form the midfield contingent while a back four of Dani Carvajal, Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo will defend a goal kept by Keylor Navas.
Put quite simply, they are a superior group of football players. Aside from the Salah debate, it’s hard to disagree with the comments made by Vicente Del Bosque earlier this week who said that no Liverpool player would make the Madrid XI.
Madrid have Ronaldo
Even if the XI’s were slightly better matched, Madrid would still have arguably the best player of this generation in their side (lets save the CR7 vs Messi debate for the off-season).
Excluding qualifying, Ronaldo has hit 120 goals in the UEFA Champions League alone. Yes, 120. To provide context, that’s the same amount of Premier League goals Steven Gerrard scored in his entire career. Of those 120, 15 have come in this campaign – which makes him the top scorer above Firmino, Salah and Mane. Ronaldo is a match-winner in the purest form of the phenomenon.
He will also be hugely motivated to become the only current player to have won the Champions League five times. If Liverpool are able to keep him quiet, you can be sure that he will still have created space for the threats that surround him.
That shaky Liverpool defence
Liverpool’s defence has received plenty of criticism this season and it’s not been unwarranted. While 38 goals conceded in the Premier League and 13 in the Champions League are certainly not disgraceful numbers (Madrid let in 44 in La Liga and 15 in the Champions League), it’s rather been the amount of blunders made and the timing of those blunders that have attracted attention.
A perfect example was Dejan Lovren’s completely unforced error which allowed Roma back into their semi-final tie after Liverpool had all but played them out of the competition in 80 minutes of near perfect football. It was then again Loveren who smashed the ball into Milner for Roma’s first goal in the second leg.
Should Liverpool get themselves into a position where they need to close-up shop for 20 minutes to win the Champions League, it’s hard to envision that happening without a plethora of opportunities for Madrid.
Despite having been there and done it all, Madrid will still be motivated
It’s true that no Liverpool player has ever won a Champions League medal while the Madrid squad share 46 between themselves. On those grounds it would be a fair assumption to assume that Liverpool will be more determined on Saturday.
However, Madrid are playing for plenty more than just another Champions League trophy. There are two main sub-plots that will ensure that Liverpool’s youthful passion is matched.
1) Zinedane Zidane hasn’t won a trophy this season and rumours relating to the security of his job will make tonight one of the biggest in his decorated career. Under those conditions, he will have prepared meticulously for this final. The Madrid job is a dream one and he will be desperate to hold onto it.
2) No club has won the Champions League three consecutive times since Bayern in 1974, 1975 and 1976 and no matter how many trophies this group have accrued over the years, that will be a record that will mean plenty to everyone involved. It would likely make this particular team one of the greatest in the history of the competition and that is quite some tag.
Experience is a horrible basis on which to tip a certain team for success because it undermines the emotional sport that football is. However, experience simply cannot be ignored on Saturday.
In winning the Champions League three times in the last four years, the core of this Madrid team have skinned the cat in many ways and in knowing you can triumph through a number of different means is of great value.
In 2013/2014 they did it ugly as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Atleti when a 93rd minute Ramos goal forced extra-time in which Madrid scored three goals.
Against Atleti again in 2015/2016, a controlled performance and an early Ramos goal seemed to have clinched the title however Carrasco found the back of the net 10 minutes from time which meant extra-time and then penalties which Madrid came through.
And then last year they did it pretty against a watertight Juventus defence, winning 4-1 in Cardiff.
Liverpool are unpredictable and will pose a unique challenge due to the gung-ho brand of football they play. Maybe Madrid have not see a beast anything quite like Liverpool this season but after the winning this competition three times and in a very different way on each occasion, Madrid will be confident they can deal with whatever is thrown at them.
There is plenty at stake here for Madrid, but they’ve got the weapons and the knowledge to live up to their billing as the favourites.