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Football News: UEFA Champions League Final - Preview

UEFA Champions League Final - Preview
Image from: goal.com

Introduction

For anybody who has been living under a rock, the 26th of May will see Liverpool face Real Madrid in the showpiece game of club football; The UEFA Champions League Final.

It really does not get any bigger than this in club football. This is the game that every player in the world dreams of. In fact, I'd say the only bigger game in the Sport is the FIFA World Cup Final.

For Real Madrid, this is familiar territory, having won the competition two seasons in a row. They will be looking to make it three in a row. Meanwhile, Liverpool contest their first Champions League final in 11 years!

Kiev will be absolutely rocking for this game; as will the streets of Liverpool and Madrid. For club football fans, there is no bigger occasion. This is the dream, and they will be living it.

Team News

Liverpool's 24 man travelling squad:

Goalkeepers: Karius, Mignolet, Ward

Defenders: Clyne, Van Dijk, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno, Robertson, Phillips, Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Wijnaldum, Milner, Henderson, Lallana, Can, Jones, Woodburn

Forwards: Firmino, Salah, Mane, Ings, Solanke, Camacho

Liverpool's back 5 picks itself right now. Karius will play in goal, Arnold will play right back, Lovren will partner Virgil in the centre, and Robertson will be the left back.

The midfield could go two ways. If any of Milner, Lallana or Can are fit to start then it will almost definitely be a 3 man midfield. If not, Henderson and Wijnaldum will probably play in a midfield 2. Klopp will be hoping Milner in particular can play the full 90.

The attack is also pretty obvious. Salah and Mane will line up either side of Firmino. The only potential difference could be Solanke playing ahead of that trio, if Klopp is forced into playing with a midfield 2.

Real Madrid's 24 man travelling squad:

Goalkeepers: Navas, Casilla, Luca.

Defenders: Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo, Theo, Vallejo, Achraf.

Midfielders: Kroos, Modric, Casemiro, Asensio, Isco, Ceballos, Llorente, Kovacic.

Forwards: Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale, Vazquez, Mayoral.

Navas, Carvajal, Ramos, Varane and Marcelo will almost certainly be the players in the Real Madrid defence. I do wonder if Zinedine Zidane might be tempted to play Nacho and make it a back 5 though, to try and cover Marcelo.

In front of the defence, it will probably be a straight shootout between Kovacic and Casemeiro. Modric and Kroos will complete the midfield, and they are Real Madrid's best players after Ronaldo so this will be key for them.

In attack, Benzema and Ronaldo will both play, undoubtedly for me. The only debate is whether Bale joins them to make a front 3, of Isco plays just off them to make a midfield diamond.

Ronaldo vs Salah?

I don't normally do anything like this in the previews, but with arguably two of the best players in Europe this season finally coming face to face, I thought I'd look at just how integral each player has been.

Ronaldo has yet again, dominated in Europe. It is a testament to the man that he has maintained his hunger and drive despite already winning everything there is to win. At 33 years of age, he should be winding down in his career, not looking to win a fifth Champions League medal!

Salah has impressed more consistently across the board than Ronaldo, breaking the record for the most goals scored in a 38 game Premier League season and taking home virtually every individual honour that was on offer.

The issue Ronaldo has, is that he is the only consistent goal threat in his side. His staggering 15 goals in 12 games, is undeniably the only reason Real Madrid are in the final. He even has 3 assists to go with the goals. Left back Marcelo is the next most dangerous player with 3 goals and 2 assists in 10 games (though Benzema has a respectable 4 goals in 8 games).

Compare that to Liverpool though, and it is clear that their run has been a real team effort. Salah still boasts an impressive 11 goals and 5 assists in 14 games. However, team mate Firmino has actually eclipsed him in Europe with a massive 11 goals and 9 assists in 14 games. Mane completes the familiar trio with 9 goals and 2 assists in 12 games.

Whatever way you dress it up, Liverpool don't rely on Salah half as much as Real Madrid rely on Ronaldo. I almost feel guilty for leaving out Milner's remarkable 9 assists in 12 games. He is on -1 goals mind you, thanks to that solid chin of his!

This game is crucial for Salah and Ronaldo individually but it isn't all about them. It is crucial because whoever inspires their team to victory, may well be Messi's only legitimate challenger for the Balon D'or. Messi has already won the European Golden Shoe, and a domestic double, but Ronaldo and Salah have a chance to eclipse those achievements and win the biggest trophy in club football.

Defence? What Defence?

I'd normally discuss the key battles here, but this game is building up to look like a pure slugging fest. I guess the least obvious battle will be whether Liverpool's work rate in midfield can stifle Real Madrid's midfield quality. Other than that, it is the obvious Salah vs Marcelo and Ronaldo vs Lovren battles.

Real Madrid cannot defend because of the attacking nature of their defensive unit. Carvajal and Marcelo are a bit "gung ho", Ramos still thinks he is a right wing back at times, and Varane likes to step out too. Throw in Navas in goal (who occasionally just doesn't show up) and they concede a lot of goals.

It is no coincidence that Real Madrid nearly threw away a 3-0 lead against Juventus. Quite frankly, they can be beaten. They crumble worse than a Nature Valley cereal bar, when people run at them. Their midfield is leggy despite It's obvious class, and their defence lacks discipline, with all 4 first choice players regularly going walkabout.

Liverpool though, have their own issues. When they are leading in a game, they seemingly get nervous or simply don't know how to manage it. Whatever it is, it results in the team needlessly dropping too deep and inviting pressure; pressure which they can subsequently buckle under.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, the Liverpool midfield just stops pressing. Milner's misfortune has highlighted this. Firstly at home to Roma when he conceded a penalty for hand ball, then again in Rome when he blocked a clearance with his face and scored an own goal. He didn't need to be hanging around the 6 yard box, on either occasion.

Liverpool are at their best defensively when the midfield is pressing the opposition high up, and the defence is playing a high line. If they panic and drop off against Real Madrid, they will be punished. Likewise though, if Real Madrid's wing backs and centre backs continue to make randomised forward forays, they will leave gaps for the deadliest front 3 in Europe.

As a Liverpool fan who is hoping for an easy night on the heart, I hope I am wrong. However, this really could be a case of who scores more goals. If I put my neutral hat on, at least that would make it a game which is talked about for years to come.

Prediction

This should be a very open and very exciting game to watch. Liverpool will come out of the traps at full speed after a two week break in which they've had a "mini pre-season". This extra freshness should play into their hands in the early stages.

If Liverpool are leading by 2 or 3 goals going into the last 20 minutes, I won't be surprised. However, when both teams tire, I expect Real Madrid's experience and superior bench to change the run of play in their favour. Whilst I predict Liverpool will panic, dropping deeper and deeper, Real Madrid will not veer away from what they do best.

I can see a very nervy last 20 minutes for Liverpool in which Real Madrid come on strong and start to claw the game back. It is my hope that Liverpool will hold on to whatever they have for a monumemtous victory, but if Real Madrid pull it back to lead, or for Extra Time, I can't see Liverpool recovering to win it from that position.

My prediction is that Liverpool will win the first half, and Real Madrid will win the second half. The final scoreline? A heavily biased 4-2 to Liverpool, simply because I can't bet against my team. We have to believe. I just hope Liverpool do themselves justice though. Win or lose, everybody associated with the club can be proud of what they have achieved; even the 12th man.

Written by Adam Jones May 26 2018 08:27:14

 

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