Liverpool lock horns with Real Madrid in this weekend’s Champions League final, in a battle between two of the competition’s most successful sides.
Having won three of these finals in the last four years and possessing a squad that most can only dream of, Real are seen as favourites to deliver a 13th European Cup in Ukraine on Saturday.
However, Liverpool have scored the most goals of any side in the competition this season, have powered past Porto, Manchester City and Roma in the knockout stages and won’t be afraid of attacking the Spanish side in a similar manner.
The match looks set to be decided by a number of key areas throughout the pitch, which will combine and mesh to form the overall narrative of what promises to be a fascinating Champions League final.
Mo Salah v Marcelo
Marcelo is not a particularly defensive-minded full-back, but might have to be in the face of Mo Salah coming against him. The Brazilian is a demon going forward, which Trent Alexander-Arnold is going to find out the hard way on Saturday, but his licence to roam forward could leave large gaps in Salah’s favourite area of the pitch.
Liverpool’s width advantage means that Salah and Alexander-Arnold will occupy different areas of the right hand side, but if Zinedine Zidane opts for a narrow formation it could leave his left-back a bit exposed. How Marcelo handles that balance will be very intriguing, as if he neglects his defensive duties then Liverpool’s Egyptian king will fancy his chances of causing Real some serious damage.
Cristiano Ronaldo v Virgil Van Dijk
Virgil Van Dijk has shored of Liverpool’s defence, of that there is no doubt, but this will be the hardest test that the Dutchman will have faced in his relatively short Anfield career thus far. Crisitano Ronaldo is the ultimate goal machine, and his record since Christmas in particular has been little short of insane.
Dealing with Ronaldo from open play will be hard enough, particularly given his penchant for getting into great goalscoring areas, but his strength from set pieces also hints at a busy evening for Van Dijk. That being said, he has given the defence a huge confidence boost since his arrival so he will believe that he can weather the storm.
Roberto Firmino V Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is a brilliant defender, but that doesn’t mean that he is not liable to make an error or two.The thing about Ramos is that he tends to have a big impact in a lot of matches, which could either be positive or negative – he could score the winning goal as easily as he could get sent off. Van Dijk having to deal with Ronaldo could present him with an opportunity to punish Liverpool from set pieces.
In Firmino, however, Ramos is faced with an interesting opponent at the other end. The Brazilian is unlike most conventional centre-forwards and his tendency to roam about the attack line could draw the Spaniard out of position if he is not careful. Ramos will have to nullify Firmino as best he can but that is much easier said than done.
Luka Modric V Jordan Henderson
The midfield is one area where Real have a distinct advantage – not to suggest that Henderson, Milner or Wijnaldum are bad or have not been performing well this season, but the Spanish giants have two of Europe’s best in Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
Assuming Henderson takes up the role as Liverpool’s number six, then stopping Modric in his tracks will be a big part of his remit. The England man will act as a shield for the defence, and part of his responsibility will be to stop Modric from puling the strings against him by thwarting his attempts to dribble and pass his way into danger.
Modric. for his part, is capable of gliding past the midfield if need be. Real’s unconventionally direct and powerful midfield play is something that Liverpool won’t be used to at all.
Jurgen Klopp V Zinedine Zidane
The managerial tactical battle will be almost as interesting as what happens out on the pitch. By now, Jurgen Klopp has a preferred system and style of play, and injuries and to a small squad have meant that his starting lineup basically picks itself. However, he may make small tweaks to counteract Zidane’s approach, which makes the Real boss’s lineup selection even more interesting.
Zidane has preferred to utilise four in the midfield this season, be it flat or in a diamond, but one has to wonder if a 4-3-3 might be the way to go against this Liverpool side. Real have ridden their luck at times this season but still come out on top most of the time so he could well be confident in trusting his instincts and expecting it to see him through.
That said, can he really take a risk on Liverpool being as wasteful as Bayern Munich were?