With 19 European Cup/Champions League crowns between them, it’s safe to say that Saturday’s meeting of Liverpool and Real Madrid is a clash of continental royalty.
Our betting expert is here with the biggest talking points, key team news and the best facts & figures ahead of what’s sure to be a fantastic night in Paris.
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🏆 UCL Final Match Teaser
After narrowly missing out on the Premier League title, Liverpool will be determined to lift the Champions League on Sunday against 13-time European champions Real Madrid to complete a cup treble in 2021-22 after already scooping EFL Cup and FA Cup glory. Los Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti is seeking a record fourth Champions League title as a manager.
🗣 Major talking points
🔴 Liverpool imperious in Europe
Liverpool have shone in this season’s Champions League. They became the first English side to win all six of their group matches, a section that included the newly-crowned champions of Portugal and Italy, as well as last season’s champions of Spain, and they lost out on the Premier League title by just a point after trailing eventual champions Man City by 14 points back in January.
They beat last season’s Italian champions Inter in the last 16, and dismissed Benfica in an entertaining quarterfinal tie. When they faced their first true test away to Villarreal in the second leg of the semi-final at the Ceramica, they dug deep turn the match and the tie in their favour, and by the end of that contest it’s no exaggeration to say that they were in cruise control. Now they’re in the final for the third time in five seasons.
🤺 The midfield battle
Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and the mononymous Casemiro are a world-renowned, fabled, fantastical midfield triumvirate possessing as much balance as you’re ever likely to see in an elite central combination. Saturday night in Paris might well be their last ride, too.
The majestic midfield figure of Fabinho has missed Liverpool’s last three matches but should be fit enough to start on Saturday, and his importance to Jürgen Klopp’s machine can simply never be underestimated. His compadre Thiago Alcântara was injured against Wolves and now looks highly unlikely to feature. Thiago has completed 90.5% of his passes in this season’s Champions League, despite being one of the most adventurous schemers in world football, and the inventive Spaniard would be mighty conspicuous by his absence. Madrid’s legendary trio will look to exert control in this portion of the pitch and that could pay rich dividends.
🐐 Don Carlo commands respect
One of the greats in modern management and indeed the history of the game has already delivered the LaLiga title this season. In so doing, he became the first boss ever to win titles in all five of Europe’s top five leagues.
Ancelotti has a mixed history with Liverpool, too. He was on the wrong end of that miraculous Reds comeback in Istanbul 17 years ago, but exacted some sweet revenge when the teams met again in Athens two years later.
⚪️ Don’t ever rule Real Madrid out
Madrid’s truly extraordinary comeback exploits and powers of recovery against PSG, Chelsea and Man City have propelled them to this final, where they’re looking to become European champions for the 14th time. When push comes to shove and everything is on the line, this footballing institution and its galaxy of stars somehow finds a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as if it’s written into the strands of their DNA.
They were two down on aggregate to PSG until a 17-minute Karim Benzema hat-trick turned the tide in the round of 16. They were ten minutes from elimination against Chelsea but dumped the defending champions out in extra time, 5-4 on aggregate in a rapturous quarterfinal. Incredibly, they needed two goals at the death just to stay alive against Man City in the final four, and Brazilian substitute Rodrygo duly delivered with the sands of time running out. Karim Benzama’s nerveless Panenka penalty (he had missed three of his last four spot-kicks for the club) early in extra-time sealed the deal. It’s really not over until it’s over with this club, and even though its adoring supporters know that all too well, even they must have been astonished by what they’ve witnessed in this season’s knockout phase.
👑 Mo the matchwinner with revenge on his mind
Mohamed Salah is the joint-winner of this season’s Premier League Golden Boot with 23 strikes, and he also scooped the Playmaker Award with 13 assists. Staggeringly, that wasn’t enough to land him the PFA Player of the Year award, but his match-winning credentials are not in question. The Egyptian came off the bench on Sunday against Wolves and his 84th-minute strike ensured that the 29-year-old wouldn’t be outdone by the outstanding Tottenham attacker Son-Heung Min. Like Michael Jordan, Salah probably took it personally.
Salah is an outrageous talent and goal-machine, hell-bent on collective as well as personal accolades. He’ll also have a personal score to settle with Los Blancos after he went off early in the 2018 final after a clash with Sergio Ramos that left him with a damaged shoulder. The legendary Spaniard has since left, but Salah’s desire for vengeance will still be front and centre after that night in Kyiv.
🔥 Karim “The Dream” Benzema is difficult to ignore
Karim Benzema has been a world-class operator for more than a decade now, but even by his own lofty standards, this has been the Frenchman’s finest season yet. He has found the net 15 times in this season’s Champions League and rattled in 27 LaLiga strikes to earn him the 2021-22 Pichichi award.
When Los Merengues have needed someone to deliver the goods, Karim Benzema has obliged, time and time and time again. A triple centurian for goals in the famous white jersey, the evergreen 34-year-old would become the outright favourite to win 2022’s Ballon d’Or if he adds a fifth Champions League winner’s medal to his bursting trophy cabinet.
🧮 Trent vs Vinícius Jr. could be the decisive tactical battle
21-year-old Vini Jr. has produced the best season of his young career to date, scoring 21 goals & laying on 20 aasists in 53 appearances across all competitions. He’ll be eager to exploit the inevitable space that Trent Alexander-Arnold will leave behind him as the Englishman bombs on down the right-hand side for the Reds, with Salah making diagonal runs into the centre ahead of him. Vini was a thorn in Liverpool’s side last season in this competition, scoring a brace in Real’s 3-1 win at the quarterfinal stage in the Spanish capital and Klopp will need a master plan to contain the brilliant Brazilian.
🔋 Madrid with more in the tank?
When Liverpool takes the pitch at the Stade de France on Saturday, they will be contesting their 63rd competitive outing this season. That will surely take its toll, both physically and psychologically, on this special group of players.
Although Los Blancos finished their La Liga campaign with a 0-0 draw against Real Betis, Ancelotti has enjoyed the luxury of rotating his squad as they sealed the club’s 35th Spanish top-flight crown with four games to spare. They’ll surely be the fresher of the two teams as they prepare for a 17th appearance in a European Cup/Champions League showpiece final.
🔮 Likely starting XIs
Klopp must choose between Joël Matip and Ibrahima Konaté to partner up with Virgil van Dijk in the centre of defence. With Thiago facing a race against time, Naby Keïta should start in midfield.
🔴 Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konaté, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Keïta; Díaz, Mané, Salah
Carlo Ancelotti will be without David Alaba, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard but, out of that trio, only Austrian stalwart Alaba has been a key first-team regular this term.
Real Madrid XI (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militão, Nacho, Mendy; Kroos, Modrić, Casemiro; Valverde, Benzema, Vini Jr.
📊 UCL Final Facts & Figures
Sadio Mané has scored in eight of his last 13 games in all competitions, and he scored against Real in the 2018 final.
Liverpool has gone 18 competitive matches unbeaten (W15, D3) with five of their last six fixtures featuring goals at both ends.
The Reds have scored their last seven European goals in the second half of matches.
The Reds have also not been leading at the halftime break in any of their last three Champions League matches.
All four goals in the 2017-18 final between these sides came after the break.
Real Madrid has seen off English contenders Chelsea and Man City in previous rounds – after trailing at some point in each tie.
Spanish sides (Madrid in 2000, Barcelona in 2006) won both previous finals held at this stadium.
Mohamed Salah laid on assists in both legs of Liverpool’s semi-final win over Villarreal, while Karim Benzema has netted 15 UCL goals this term, including one after the 80th minute in each of his last three appearances.
Benzema needs two more goals to equal Cristiano Ronaldo’s single-season record of 17 in 2013-14.
The side scoring first won all seven previous H2Hs to feature goals (Madrid: W4, L3).
💶 BEST BET: Back the final to go to extra time.
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