Champions League Final Preview

It’s finally here folks. Champions League final.

Location: Kiev, Ukraine.

Kick-off time: 2:45pm EST on Saturday 26 May.

Where to watch: The match will be broadcast on BT Sport 2, and on YouTube. Or just stream it on Reddit if you don’t have the right cable package…

Odds: Real Madrid (8/11), Liverpool (5/4)

With all of the regular season games, domestic cups and international breaks behind us, we’ve got one final game before World Cup 2018 can begin.

Amongst all of the teams we started with, we’re left with the two big guys: Real Madrid FC and Liverpool FC. Let’s get you a little background for this enormous occasion, before we get into the nitty gritty of who’s going to come away with a cup. It’s going to be a doozy, and the hype is very real.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.

The titillating titans of Iberia, Madrid comes in as the obvious favorites with their inordinate amount of experience. With 12 titles under the incumbent’s name, they’ve taken 3 out of the last 4 UCL finals, and haven’t been a runner-up since 1984. That’s a little history lesson for you kids out there.

The overwhelming shit-talking coming from Los Blancos’ pundits is so funny, I almost don’t know what to make of it. It’s so much of “This is the easiest final ever,” or “Real Madrid have been here so many times, that pressure isn’t even a concern. They’re going to crush Liverpool.”

I go more in-depth later. But the mentally impregnable Los Blancos have earned such a title through their numerous final appearances, winning 12 out of 15 of them. I have no other sports comparison for that level of excellence.

We had a couple podcasts at the time, Room Tekkers, that were discussing the various problems that Real Madrid was facing earlier in the season. Namely, we discussed the cold form of Ronaldo. We did, however, caveat that with the notion that he could light up at any given time.

Which he did. He ended up with 26 league goals, and yet another season (8th in a row) where he tallied 50+ in a season in all competitions.

He now sits atop the UCL top scorer sheet alone, with 15. These are obvious things though; no one is coming into this game saying he’s not an X-factor.

But another talisman that Liverpool have to contend with, other than a last-minute header, is Sergio Ramos. Since moving to Center back in 2011, Ramos has won almost every award imaginable with Real Madrid, and has earned the place as one of the greatest defenders of all time. Putting it another way, when the second leg of the Semifinal round was over against Bayern, he ran to the stands where the fans were cheering, and started in on one of Los Blanos’ most famous chants “Reyes de Europa, somos los Reyes de Europa!” (We’re the kings of Europe!).

You can’t do that unless you have a chip on your shoulder. Beyond the antics and history, Ramos will still be the most formidable test that players like Roberto Firmino might ever have to face. He is powerful on the tackle, not afraid to mix it up, and can keep his cool in even the most intense of situations.

Real Madrid not only has a list of lethal players at its disposal, but also experience. A majority of the players on that first team have 3 Champions League titles under their belts. Players like Marcelo, Varane, Benzema, Modric and even Bale all are big factors that Liverpool will obviously not overlook. Obviously, the entire team is lethal, but you get my point.

Not much has changed since last season for them, and there’s a good reason they’re here again.

Mo Salah and His Chosen Disciples

From the gritty depths of desire and heart, we have Liverpool FC, fighting for its 6th Champions League title, its first since 2005.

“Real Madrid are more experienced,” said Klopp in a BBC interview. “Experience is important in life but it is not the only thing.”

He added: “You can level it with desire, attitude and work-rate, and that is why I love football.”

People are calling them “mentally weak.”  Writers for El Pais and El Mundo are calling them everything from “unstable” to “the easiest Madrid competition.” Former players (who are like, a million years old) are scoffing at the very idea that Madrid could be challenged. Each of these have a number of instances that are all saying the same thing: You have no chance, Liverpool.

The obvious player to look out for on Liverpool will undoubtedly be Mohamed Salah. Having only been beaten by Lionel Messi in their respective domestic goal tally, Salah has been a revelation for Klopp.

But if there’s one person on the planet who’s equipped to stop him, it will be Marcelo. That matchup is going to be a fantastic display of showmanship, skill, and disrespect come Saturday. Both are aggressive competitors, and neither has an advantage on paper, I don’t think. If Marcelo can successfully shut him down, we’re going to see the Reds push hard into the middle of the field through Firmino, where he will contend with Ramos. Or to the other side through Mané, who Real Madrid would most likely rather than the former two.

I do think because of Liverpool’s attacking prowess, noted especially in its formation with 3 forwards, they’re going to keep both Carvajal and Marcelo in-check. Those two like to attack as often as possible, but with the speed of both the Reds’ wingers, it might force them to think twice.

Then, as Mickey will mention below, are the outside backs of Liverpool keeping Real’s forwards in check. Obviously that will be a factor too, two young outside backs looking to prove themselves on the literal biggest stage against a dynasty.I think the more I think about this game, the more it becomes a matter of if Liverpool can play the best game of its life. Plain and simple. Their back line has been shaky in recent months, years, decades, etc…Their forwards have played out of their minds, but not in the UCL final against a team like Real Madrid. Their keeper is either hit or miss, so if he shows up we’ll see a lot of sad Ronaldo faces.

Best game of their life and they can compete with anyone. That’s what it is.

Mickey’s Minute: 

I think there will be two huge keys to this game for my Reds. 1) Roberto Firmino’s pressure on his fellow Brazilian Casemiro. If Firmino gets Madrid’s #6 off his game and allows Liverpool’s midfield three a grasp on the game Mane and Salah are going to be seeing a whole lot of Madrid’s bad line. 2) Liverpool’s young fullbacks have been instrumental during this UCL run and Real Madrid’s wide forwards will probably be their hardest test just ahead of Man City’s attack. If Robertson and Alexander-Arnold show up with the swagger they’ve had up into this point I believe Liverpool can give Madrid hell in the wide areas of the pitch.

This game has me terrified, I am incredibly thankful the UCL doesn’t have the Copa Libredores set up with a two legged final. That being said I think Liverpool are the perfect team to beat Madrid. Their front three have been talked enough ad noisome this season and VVD has fortified the back line. Gimme the Reds all day. BRING ME RONALDO

 

Final Prediction

Betting against Real is funny, because I’m stupid to do it. But today I’m going to make an exception. I think their reign may be reaching a tipping point, even if Real does come out victorious on Saturday (which is insane to read-back). What i mean is that we’re approaching an aging Dynasty that MIGHT be seeing a decline soon.

But I do think the Reds have a legitimate chance, and if one or two of the aforementioned things go their way, we’re going to see goals, and that has been their M.O. this whole year (pun intended).

They NEED to score to beat Real, because Real is going to score.

Final Prediction: Liverpool 3 Real Madrid 2

Goal-scorers: Liv: Mo Salah x2, Bobby F Baby, Real: Chris, Marcelo

As a Chelsea fan this is really hard to say, but ‘Go Reds.’ That is all.

A sidenote: love Will Smith being selected for the World Cup song performance.  I like “Gettin jiggy with it” as much as the next guy, but why is he partnering with Nicki Jam, a Kosovan singer, and Diplo? Interesting to say the least – i’m into it.

-Voggel

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