Europe’s elite clubs have been whittled down to the final two as Liverpool face Real Madrid in the 2018 UEFA Champions League final on May 26.
The Merseyside club, who have won the European Cup five times, beat AS Roma in the semi-finals to advance to a showpiece clash against holders Real Madrid. Real edged past Bayern Munich in the semis and are hunting a hat-trick of Champions League triumphs after winning the competition in both 2016 and 2017.
With the two teams experiencing fluctuating domestic campaigns, both will be eager to finish the season off in style. Liverpool finished fourth; a whopping 25 points off champions Manchester City. Their considerable improvement in the second half of the season, however, could have surely found them a higher placing had they discovered that form back in August.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, finished third in the La Liga, three points behind city rivals Atletico and seventeen behind Barcelona, who finished the season with just the one league defeat to their name. In what is considered a poor season in Zidane’s short managerial career, the pressure has mounted from Galácticos fans who now expect a third consecutive European triumph to ease their nerves.
Jurgen Klopp has spoken about his side’s ‘desire’ to put a stop to his opposition claiming a 13th European title. Regardless, Zidane remains confident his side possess the will-power necessary to defeat Liverpool “You can’t say Liverpool have more hunger than us – it simply isn’t true.”
One of the largest factors perhaps when studying the two teams, is depth of squad. Real Madrid have a frightening looking bench no matter what starting 11 they pick, with the likes of Asensio, Isco and Gareth Bale ready to get in on the act. Liverpool, meanwhile, may struggle to change the flow halfway through the game if they’re not on top. It makes it all that more vital that Liverpool start strongly in Kiev.
Liverpool do possess the power to blow away any team within 15 minutes if they so choose. It’s a gear they can shift up to that other teams simply don’t have. Their ability to reach this level that we’ve seen so often this season will be a defining factor in the match. Can they do it against the strongest opposition in Europe?
Ronaldo v Salah
Ask any football fan on the street ‘Who’s the first player you think of when I say Real Madrid’? It’s a sure bet they’ll say Ronaldo. It’s possibly an even surer bet they’ll mention Mo Salah when asked to do the same for Liverpool. The main question on everyone’s lips regarding these two (aside from who’d they’d rather have) is who will have the bigger impact come 7:45pm on Saturday?
The two maestros have had similar seasons on paper, with Ronaldo registering 45 goals and 8 assists in 45 appearances whilst the Egyptian-born Mo Salah boasts 46 in 54 with a respectable 14 assists. Not too shabby from either party. The difference for many, however, is that Ronaldo has been doing this season in, season out for close to a decade. For Salah, this can be considered his first ‘break-through’ season.
When it comes to Saturday night, however, it’s difficult to call. Mo’s record is undeniable, but he faces the challenge of one of the most successful modern European defenses. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane present a looming physical presence with ample pace to keep up with the speedy Liverpool forward. Ronaldo, meanwhile, comes up against a fairly recent pairing made up of Virgil Van Djik and Dejan Lovren. The latter is known by many to provide some comical errors. The red’s defense has, without a doubt, improved since the start of the season but still find themselves prone to the odd lapse of the concentration. They’ll know that one mistake may be the difference between the two teams.
What distinguishes the two superstars the most, however, is experience. Ronaldo, with bucket loads of it, has been in this scenario countless times before and, most often, comes out on top. Salah (and much of the Liverpool team) find themselves in their first major European final. Against such strong opposition and on such a glittering stage, Liverpool and Salah must find it within themselves to remain focused and challenge the Madrid defense and midfield rather than sitting back and allowing them to play.
NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
Real Madrid vs Liverpool kicks off at 7:45pm this Saturday. All the action will be live at your local Last Orders pub so get yourself down there nice and early to claim the best seats.