I have been a Liverpool FC fan since the day I started watching football. From the Miracle of Istanbul to the disappointment of falling short in 08-09 and 13-14, from the euphoric high of beating Borussia Dortmund 4-3 at home to the low of capitulating against Sevilla in the Europa finals, I have been with the team through it all.
And here we all are again. It’s Real Madrid vs Liverpool in the 2017-2018 Champions League finals, the Reds’ most important match since the ’07 finals.
Real Madrid are rightly favourites. Of course, they are. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? On course to win the Champions League three times in a row and add to their 12 titles already, the Galacticos have walked through fire on their way to the finals by beating PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
And sure, Real Madrid weren’t nearly as convincing as they should be in some of the matches but, they still pulled through. That’s what champions do. They find a way to win even when they’re not at their most fluid or attacking.
Come this Saturday (Sunday IST), Liverpool must find a way to beat the champions.
Who will be crowned champions in Kiev? Hard to say. Despite Real going in as favorites and much of the Spanish media’s confidence in Kiev being the ‘easiest of finals,’ it doesn’t seem as easy. Here’s what we can expect from Real Madrid vs Liverpool in Kiev.
Will Zidane’s Real Madrid Spring A CL Final Surprise?
As unpredictable as Liverpool are, their style of play is far from surprise. Everyone knows Klopp’s Liverpool will lead his team with a 4-3-3, with the absolutely lethal trio of Firmino, Mane and Salah leading the charge up ahead and a hardworking midfield that presses and wins the ball up high and counterattacks with ferocious pace.
Real Madrid on the other hand, has the benefit of a deep and amazingly talented bench which allows Zidane to experiment with his formations, whether it is a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-2-1-2.
That allows him room to pull off tactical surprises mid-match and unleash game-changers such as Isco and Gareth Bale on the opposition.
On that count, Real have the advantage. But, let’s not write off Liverpool. After all, knowing what Liverpool do doesn’t make it easier to stop them. Just ask Manchester City.
Creating Spaces and Defensive Discipline
A lot of attacking football is about finding the right finish to the right pass. However, it is also about finding and creating space for players to do either of it. The team that creates the most spaces and is more clinical with it, will be the team to win the final.
It’ll be up to Lovren and Van Dijk to mark the brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who can score a CL goal with his eyes closed. If that alone wasn’t daunting, Liverpool must keep an eye on Benzema.
Benzema has a tendency to drop deep and create space for Ronaldo as well as compress the space available to Kroos, Modric and Isco to avoid them running the game.
The same applies to Real. With Firmino dropping deep to create space for Mane and Salah who like to cut inside and run at the goal, it’s up to Ramos and Varane to make sure Liverpool’s front three don’t do exactly that.
With Casemiro set to return to his position as a defensive midfielder (he sat out the second leg against Bayern Munich), Real’s centre-backs might have some protection, however.
Individually, Real’s squad is miles ahead when compared to Liverpool. Which is why, it is important that Liverpool stick to their system to dissuade any of the above the space to pull their tricks.
Press forward aggressively, win the ball high and do what Liverpool do best. Real have conceded a lot of goals. I predict they’ll concede again.
Battle of the Flanks
Brazilian Marcelo is arguably one of the world’s best left-backs at the moment. More significantly, he’s a goal-scoring one with important contributions made throughout Real’s CL run in the past few years.
That being said, Marcelo is a marauding left-back. Acting often as a winger, Marcelo tends to charge forward to support the attack, leaving open spaces and often leaving Real’s centre-backs to deal with an opposition counter-attack alone (see Bayern Munich’s first goal in the first leg for reference).
If Marcelo chooses to do so again, there will be space for Liverpool’s trio to run into and make magic happen.
On the other end of the field, it will be 19-year old Trent-Alexander Arnold lining up against the incomparable Ronaldo.
TAA has had his moments (pocketing the impressive Leroy Sane is one of them) but, he has also struggled at times (against United in March). Like the centre-backs, TAA must be strong and disciplined and keep up with Real’s no. 7.
Then there’s the matter of Zidane possibly unleashing Bale on the other flank mid-way through the game. Wouldn’t that be a nail-biter for Liverpool fans?
Always the hardest part. This.
Real are champions. And they deserve to be. They have the talent, and they have the experience; both of which give them the advantage over Liverpool. Alas, they aren’t perfect and they haven’t had the best of season. And yet, wouldn’t be surprised if they eke out a win.
Liverpool on the other hand, are the upstarts. For all their European pedigree, history and tradition, this is a team that can’t match Real for its experience or individual talent.
What Liverpool can do is be decisive with the ball, brave off the ball and take the fight to Real. That’s the only way they can win.
I predict a high-scoring affair, either a one-sided one or one equally shared by both Real and Liverpool. Not making actual predictions but, the longer the game goes, the more the possibility of Real making it 3 in a row.
As a Liverpool fan, I’ll be praying for one of those quickfire first-half blitzkriegs Liverpool is so good at.
Either way, Real Madrid vs Liverpool promises to be a memorable final.
Image Sources: Google Images