The biggest football club match of the season is upon us, the eyes of the world will be on the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev this Saturday as twelve times European Champions Real Madrid takes on free-scoring Liverpool in the final of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League.
Real Madrid is looking to become the first team to win the UEFA Champions League trophy for the third year in a row, while Liverpool are bidding to win their first European trophy since 2005 and their sixth in history.
Real Madrid boast of an incredible record in this competition, right from the very first edition of the then European Cup in 1955/56 season, Real Madrid has dominated the European club scene and have been regarded as the kings of European club competition.
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In the mid 50’s to early 60’s a team led by Alfredo di Stefano and later joined by Hungarian football legend Ferenc Puskas were ruthless and unstoppable, winning the first five European Cups before their dominance was finally ended in 1960/61 season. Real Madrid was knocked out by perennial rivals Barcelona but the Cup was won by Portuguese club Benfica who defeated Barcelona 3-2 in the final.
Since the new UEFA Champions League format came into existence in the 1992/93 season, no club has won the trophy three times in a row and Los Blancos are on the verge of history if they can win against Liverpool in Kiev on Saturday.
It will be a monumental achievement for the Spanish giants particularly if they are able to follow up the previously unprecedented achievement of winning successive titles in the Champions League era with yet another title to their already burgeoning trophy cabinet.
Domestically things have not gone to plan for Real Madrid, last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Villarreal confirmed a third-placed finish for the Zinedine Zidane led side. This is the worst finish on the league table since 2003/04 season for the team and they ended the season 17 points behind La Liga Champions Barcelona.
More worrying for Zidane will be the fact that Madrid has 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 matches. It’s also important to note that they have also scored in each of their last 29 European games.
The most famous of Liverpool’s five European triumphs came 13 years ago in Istanbul when a team comprising of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso produced an unforgettable comeback against an AC Milan side filled with some of the best players of that generation. The class of 2017/18 now have the chance to create their own history.
Mohamed Salah has had an incredible season that saw 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 might still be an opportunity for the Egyptian winger to eclipse Ian Rush’s all-time club record of 47 goals in a season and he would require a hat-trick in the final match to accomplish the feat.
The Reds as a team have scored an unprecedented 46 goals in the Champions League this season including qualifiers, Liverpool have been ruthless in front of goal, Maribor and Spartak Moscow got hammered 7-0 along the way, Portuguese giants Porto were not spared as they received a 5-0 thrashing in their own backyard at the Estadio Do Dragao in the round of 16.
Manchester City and Roma all got a taste of Liverpool’s free-scoring recipe. It has been a hugely successful return to the Champions League for Liverpool, and domestically they have achieved their goal of yet another top-four finish as well, meaning that whatever happens on Saturday night, Klopp and his team will be back in this competition next season.
Liverpool has shown throughout the season that they can beat anyone on their day, and they must now simply hope that this Saturday is that day.
Real Madrid Form Guide
Recent Champions League form: WWWLWD
Recent form (all competitions): WDDLWD
Liverpool Form Guide
Recent Champions League form: WDWWWL
Recent form (all competitions): DWDLLW
Zinedine Zidane has a big decision to make, he has to decide whether or not to start Welsh man Gareth Bale. Bale has only started three Champions League games this season due to injury and loss 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 has 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 for 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
The defending Champions Real Madrid have to be considered favourites here, given that they’ve been clinical in big matches over the course of history. They have a stunning record of 12 wins in 15 European Cup finals. The Zidane lead team has a winning mentality which might play a big role here.
However, the lack of discipline at the back might be a big problem for both teams. Madrid has kept just one clean sheet in their last 11 competitive games and they conceded two or more goals in four of their last five outings across all competitions. They’ll be up against a deadly attacking trio of Firmino, Salah and Mane who has bagged 31 goals between them so far in the competition, so we might see a good number of goals in this match.
Los Blancos have proved their strength en route to Kiev by dismissing the likes of PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich in the knockout stage. We feel Madrid have the experience and quality to defeat Liverpool. There is no doubt it will be an exciting and tension-soaked match, end to end and breathtaking football but at the end, Los Blancos slight better quality in personnel and experience will give them the edge. Hence our prediction is a 3-2 victory for Real Madrid.