The Champions League final is never predictable and this one is no different.
However, there are certain factors which standout and could prove to be decisive.
LIVERPOOL’S CHANGE IN APPROACH
When the Reds are at full throttle, they’re nigh on impossible to defend against. Their devil-may-care attitude is endearing and ever so effective. It’s that fearlessness and vigour in attack which sees oppositions scrambling at the back.
But is that how they will approach this game, the biggest and most important of their lives? Every Liverpool supporter will hope that they produce the kind of ruthless attacking football which has brought them so far but that’s easier said than done.
The Reds are fully aware that they face arguably the most daunting team in Champions League history simply on the basis of their track record. Madrid are looking to secure their third title on the trot and fourth in five years. The competition has never before witnessed this level of utter domination.
As such, the Merseysiders may feel compelled to curb their natural instincts and practice caution but nothing would hurt them more. It was when they tried to see out a result at Rome in the semi-finals that they lost 4-2 and only just sneaked through to the final 7-6 on aggregate.
Every time they’ve taken their foot off the gas against quality opposition this season, they’ve looked vulnerable. Madrid are strongest on the counter but are still adept at breaking down teams, more so than Liverpool, it could be argued.
Adopting anything less than their usual enthusiasm in attack would invite Madrid onto them and give the defending champions the upper hand.
PERFORMANCES IN FULL-BACK ROLES
Much has already been said about the battle between Mohamed Salah and Marcelo. The concern is that while the Madrid left-back is one of the best full-backs in the world in attack, his ventures forward regularly leaves space in behind him to exploit. On current form, no one is more equipped to take advantage of that than Salah.
On the other hand, Marcelo’s advances may force the Egyptian to track his runs and if he doesn’t, that could leave young Trent Alexander-Arnold faced with the double threat of the marauding left-back and Cristiano Ronaldo.
As such, the duel between the two is being touted as the most mouthwatering individual battle in the final and rightly so. In fact, all four full-backs on show share the same strengths and weaknesses in some capacity.
However, Alexander-Arnold has the added aerial threat of Ronaldo to contend with. There’s only one winner in that duel.
How the full-backs on both sides perform on the night will have a huge part to play in the final result.
ISCO STARTING THE GAME
Madrid’s game against Villarreal last week felt like a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final and if that’s true, Isco will start against Liverpool in a 4-3-1-2 formation in behind Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
The inclusion of the Welshman from the start is debatable but even in the event that Karim Benzema line-ups alongside Ronaldo instead, the system remains the same. Isco’s presence means Madrid are bound to dominate the middle of the park while retaining a threat on the break.
A midfield three of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will command possession, especially with Isco dropping in and getting involved as well. The Spaniard also links the midfield with the two forwards up front and his ability to slide throughballs into their paths will be key in an opportunity to counter-attack.
Playing Isco does mean that Madrid will be reliant on their full-backs for genuine width and keeping tabs on Liverpool’s will be tricky. However, the attacking midfielder’s inclusion will provide the most avenues to goal from open play and Los Blancos are bound to create more chances with him than in his absence.
But as Los Blancos target their third successive European title, Jurgen Klopp and his army will look to spoil their party, after ending what has been a terrific campaign of their own, on a positive note.
Here’s a look at what’s been said and all the numbers as an epic battle awaits football fans across the globe!
An era-defining third straight European title awaits Zidane, while Klopp can cement his place in Liverpool folklore by leading the club to its sixth European Cup/Champions League triumph.
Which celebrated manager ends up burnishing his legacy rests on a few crucial calls, with both looking to shore up their defences and gain a critical edge.
Here are the key tactical talking points for the match.
HOW DO REAL MADRID SOLVE THE SALAH PROBLEM?
Does Zidane pick Mateo Kovacic and ask him to track Salah like the way he did Lionel Messi? Trust Ronaldo to command enough attention that Salah himself has to track back more than Liverpool would like? Play Gareth Bale on the left to push him back? The radical options would be playing three at the back, or deploying Marcelo as a left-winger, releasing him from defensive duties, with Theo Hernandez playing left-back.
This will be Zidane’s biggest call on Saturday.
KLOPP’S SET-PIECE DILEMMA
Madrid will back themselves to exploit Liverpool’s defence whatever the situation. But what must really be worrying Klopp is his back line’s vulnerability from set pieces.
Virgil van Dijk’s arrival has helped, somewhat, especially with the way his presence has brought about an improvement to Dejan Lovren’s showings. But it’s still only those two, and possibly Jordan Henderson, left to deal with players like Ronaldo, Bale, Karim Benzema, Casemiro, Raphael Varane, and of course, Sergio Ramos, all dangerous in the air.
Of all the defensive drills Klopp will be putting his players through, the set-piece ones may matter the most.
BALE’S NIGHTMARE SEASON TO END WITH START IN FINAL?
While stopping Salah poses a selection dilemma in itself, Zidane had one regardless. At the moment, Ronaldo is of course the only player who is guaranteed a starting berth.
Benzema will probably join him, for how he complements the Portuguese star, not to mention his semi-final-sealing brace against Bayern Munich. But the recent form of Bale, Isco, and Marco Asensio makes this a tough decision. Asensio and Bale can provide width and exploit Liverpool’s vulnerability from crosses, while Isco is a nightmare to defend against.
Bale may just get the nod – and after the season he’s endured, what a turnaround that would be.