In traditional colours of all white and all red, two European heavyweights will clash in Kiev this coming Saturday. Two teams who like to attack, two teams who are defensively suspect but two teams desperate to add to their Champions of Europe trophy haul, whether it takes 90+ minutes, 120+ minutes or even penalties.
LOS BLANCOS OF MADRID
The back to back champions and European Cup legends. The team from Madrid covet this trophy more than any other and do see it as their property. They won the first five editions and will be looking to be the first team to win three in a row since Bayern Munich’s threepeat of 1974-1976. It has been an up and down season for the holders, they ended their league season in 3rd place, 17 points behind title winners and arch rivals Barcelona as well as 3 points behind their city neighbours Atletico. They have no doubt left their best form for this competition especially since the knockout phase when it really mattered. They were slightly fortunate in their semi-final win, where Bayern Munich just couldn’t take advantage of the chances they created, but for me it was how they somehow worked their way back to get a controversial (but it was a foul) penalty to survive a brilliant fightback from Juventus in the last eight. Sometimes its mental strength that gets your through. They will be more than ready come kick off whoever is selected.
REDS OF MERSEYSIDE
Liverpool have been brilliant throughout this tournament. They have got better as each round has gone on, especially in regards to tactics. They actually began their campaign with two draws but have improved markedly since then. It could be argued they had an easy group, but you can only beat what is put in front of you and so called ‘lucky’ teams tend to be found out in the knockout phase, cue 0-5 away win in Porto, 3-0 home win against Manchester City and a 5-2 home win against Roma. All 1st leg victories that were the bedrock for run to this final. They will not be overawed by the situation and even as underdogs, they will think the trophy is more than up for grabs if they turn up and play to their best.
GOALS GOALS GOALS – PROBABLY
A combined 70 goals (30 Real, 40 Liverpool) scored in their 24 matches, tells us that it is very likely to be an open final with plenty of attacking intensity. That kind of match in my opinion will favour the English side. Yes Real have this seasons current (and barring a miracle will end up as) top scorer in Cristiano Ronaldo with 15 goals, but Liverpool’s fabled front three of Firmino, Mane and Salah have a total of 29 between them as we stand. Understandably a lot of the English media think that Liverpool can take down Madrid’s weak defence, something the Spanish media are also saying but obviously in favour of the defending champions.
MANAGERIAL TACTICS KEY
A year ago Juventus went into the final in Cardiff feeling they could beat the Real, but they were summarily dismissed in superb fashion. The Italian side’s manager, Allegri, was seen as a real tactician and it was thought he would find a way to plot a victory, but to be fair Zinedine Zidane put on a tactical masterclass to win comfortably. Jurgen Klopp has a poor recent record in cup finals, actually poor is being generous, he has now lost this last 5 attempts after winning his first one, a 5-2 win over Bayern Munich in the 2012 German Cup. He lost in both finals of Europe’s club cup competitions, two further German Cups as well as a League Cup. To be fair to the German manager credit is due as he has got his tactics correct in all the knockout matches so far, he just needs to make sure he gets it spot on to break the hoodoo and what a great time it would be to do such a thing.
So who do I think will be celebrating in the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium on Saturday. As mentioned, I feel tactics are going to be crucial. I cannot necessarily see an immediate basketball style game where it is just one attack after another. A cagey start from both sides to begin with, but hopefully a goal by half time, before a more open second half, with one team having to give it a go to get back into the match. Whoever gets that first goal, I see winning the match. I cannot do a fence sit for the final, so I predict Real Madrid to extend their winning run in the Champions League with a 3-1 victory.
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