We all know how Liverpool can triumph in this weekend’s Champions League Final, don’t we?
The Reds’ front three of Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have been brilliant throughout the campaign, scoring a combined total of 29 goals in the Champions League and Salah in particular sparking speculation of a Ballon d’Or award after a spectacular season.
If the forward line fires, especially against Real Madrid’s dodgy defence, the English team have every chance of bringing the trophy back to Merseyside.
But what if they don’t? What if Sergio Ramos deals with Salah as well as he did in the last sixteen meetings between Madrid and Roma a couple of years ago (a pair of 2-0 victories for the Spanish side)? What if Mane finishes like he did in the first half of the semi-final first leg against Roma? What if Firmino has an off-night? What if Marcelo remembers to defend for once?
Where are Liverpool’s goals coming from if the front three are kept quiet? The answer is not easy to find, making it plain that the Reds’ eggs are all in one basket. It’s the front three or bust.
For Real Madrid, the situation is very different.
Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, possesses by far the biggest threat. The man is simply a goal machine, having already plundered 15 in this season’s Champions League campaign and finishing the season by netting in each of his last ten La Liga outings. If Ronaldo doesn’t score at least once, it would be a big surprise.
He will probably be partnered by Karim Benzema, who has struggled for goals this season but links play superbly and does tend to strike on the big occasion – he netted two crucial efforts in the semi-final second leg against Bayern, for example.
Benzema appears to be in a straight fight for a starting place with Gareth Bale, who has strengthened his claim by bouncing back from an underwhelming campaign with an excellent run of form. The Welshman has scored four goals in his last three games, including belters against Barcelona and Celta Vigo, and will clearly be a major goalscoring threat if he appears.
Then there’s another versatile player, Marco Asensio, who always seems to score in big Champions League games: he netted in the first leg win at Bayern, in last season’s final against Juventus and the preceding semi-final, also against Bayern.
Another potential scorer is Isco, whose propensity to curl home beautiful strikes from the edge of the box was demonstrated in the thrashing of Celta a couple of weeks ago, not to mention his recent international hat-trick for Spain against Argentina. He’s also due, having not yet registered in the Champions League so far this season.
Not many people would think this but perhaps the biggest threat to the Reds, aside from Ronaldo of course, comes from the least-heralded of Madrid’s attacking players: Lucas Vazquez.
The 26 year-old is technically a long way behind the likes of Isco and Asensio, but he is still an extremely important player – not only for his ability to energetically cover every blade of grass and deliver dangerous crosses into Ronaldo, but also for his positional sense.
More than anyone else, Vazquez holds his position on the right wing and gives Madrid a shape that is otherwise largely lacking. His goal supply might be pretty limited, but helps to hold the team together and Liverpool should be wary of his presence: when Vazquez is on the pitch, Real Madrid are generally a much more effective collective unit.
It’s pretty clear, then, that Zinedine Zidane is blessed with an enviable array of attacking talent, and one aspect of his management that is under-valued is his willingness to use the various options at his disposal.
During the current campaign, Madrid have played with a wide range of different formations, from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 with lots in between, with a midfield diamond or a traditional wingers, with Benzema as a false nine or Bale as an inverted winger.
Thanks to his excellent sextet of forwards Zidane’s options are endless, and he is never slow to use them if he sees that things aren’t working – during the second leg meeting with Juventus, for example, he took the bold and rare step of making a double substitution at half-time.
This depth of top-quality attacking options, surely, is the biggest reason to believe that Madrid will prevail in Kiev. The game is not just Ronaldo vs Salah, as it’s being billed in some quarters: it’s Ronaldo and Bale and Benzema and Asensio and Isco and Vazquez. Take your pick. They can all do damage.
And, of course, if all else fails, there’s always one final guarantee of a goal when it’s most needed: send up Ramos to head home a corner.