CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL Preview: Liverpool vs Real Madrid

Five-time winners Liverpool take on the defending champions Real Madrid in Kiev on Saturday evening, in the biggest fixture in club football, the Champions League Final.

The two giants of European football share a romance with the prestigious cup competition and both have won the iconic trophy with the combined number of wins totalling 17. Thirteen years ago, the Anfield club won the competition for the fifth time in spectacular fashion, coming from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan to win on penalties in Istanbul.

Reigning champions Real Madrid will be looking to continue their dominance in the competition, as they bid for their 13th title, and their third straight, which would make it an unprecedented four Champions League trophies in five years.

The Key Men: Salah vs Ronaldo

Having arrived from Roma for a club record fee of £36.9m, Mohamed Salah has surpassed any expectations the Anfield faithful may have had, picking up the PFA Players’ Player and FWA Footballer of the Year awards, respectively, in his debut season.

On the last day of the Premier League season, he notched his 32nd league goal to surpass the record for goals scored in a 38-game campaign, which was held by Alan Shearer, Luis Suárez and Cristiano Ronaldo.

If he can add to his overall total of 44 goals in the Champions League final, he will break a record he currently shares with Ruud van Nistelrooy, for the most goals scored in all competitions by a premier league player in a season.

Ronaldo has normalised greatness since his move to Los Blancos, and has also recorded 44 goals for his club this year. Surprisingly, the Portuguese marksman needed eight less games (43) than Salah (51) to achieve his overall goals tally.

Furthermore, Ronaldo’s goal-return is just the seventh best of his career, having notched a mammoth 450 goals in 437 appearances since he moved to the Spanish capital. His overhead kick goal away to Juventus in the Champions League final brought a standing ovation from the Turin crowd, and will go down as one of the finest goals the competition has ever seen.

The Managers: Klopp vs Zidane

Jürgen Klopp has defied all logic this season as he lost his best player in Philippe Coutinho but somehow made Liverpool better. He has a history of improving teams and when he first arrived at Borussia Dortmund they had finished a disappointing 13th place in the Bundesliga.

After two years of progress, he led ‘Die Borussen’ to back-to-back German titles, and added the German Cup in 2012 to complete the double.

His record in cup finals, however, remains a poor one. The Liverpool manager has lost five-straight cup finals in a row, following his German Cup victory, including a 2-1 Champions League defeat at the hands of rivals Bayern Munich.

Zinedine Zidane was widely regarded as the greatest central midfielder of his generation. More than his style and grace, the Frenchman will be remembered for delivering huge moments on the biggest stages.

His two headed goals in the France ‘98 FIFA World Cup final propelled the host nation to their first ever World Cup victory and his left-footed volley in the 2002 Champions League final remains one of the greatest the competition has witnessed.

Since his appointment as Real’s head coach on 4th January 2016, ‘Zizou’ has amassed eight trophies including successive Champions League titles.

Whose Name Is On The Trophy?

In the 2nd leg of the semi-finals both teams got that bit of luck all teams need to win a major trophy. Liverpool escaped two penalty appeals, which could and should have led to dismissals, whilst Bayern Munich’s back-up keeper gifted Real their decisive second goal, with a gaffe for the ages.

But there can be no dispute that both teams deserve to be a part of the final.  Los Blancos dominated a PSG side that invested in the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé for the sole purpose of Champions League glory, whilst Liverpool thumped a record-breaking Manchester City and Roma on route to Kiev.

If past finals have taught us anything, it’s that the best team doesn’t always win, with Man United ’99 and Liverpool 05′ serving as prime examples.  Real Madrid’s recent trophy haul, and their experience as a team, will hold the edge when the two teams collide.

Keys to the Game

Liverpool‘s high-press approach has blown teams away before the half-time whistle.  If Real Madrid can withstand their initial punch, they will be expected to go on and win the trophy against a Liverpool side that fades late in games.

One of Los Blancos key attacking players, Marcelo – who provided a goal and assist over the two legs against Bayern – occupies the left-back position where Salah will be attacking.  Whichever player assists their flank the best is likely to find themselves on the winning team.

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