Every year, the UEFA Champions League takes place toward the end of the season. This year’s Champions League will take place in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 26, just less than a month away from the World Cup.
It will be a meeting between Real Madrid C.F., a team that looks to win the third title in a row with Zinedine Zidane at the helm, and Liverpool F.C., a team that barely anyone believed would reach this height at the end of the campaign.
Zidane, having won one Champions League as a player, led Real Madrid to the European crown every season he’s been in charge. Jürgen Klopp, the current manager of Liverpool, is his counterpart in North West England.
Klopp has lost two finals of European competition, one against FC Bayern Munich in 2013 when he was managing Borussia Dortmund, and the other facing Sevilla FC in the second-tier UEFA Europa League in 2016 during his first season in Merseyside.
Real Madrid, defined by its trophy cabinet, is expected to win every season.
On the course to Kiev, the team thoroughly dominated the star-studded, but disorganized Paris Saint-Germain F.C.
The coming rounds were more difficult. Many thought Real Madrid would be much more balanced against Juventus F.C. It was at the end — separated by one goal in aggregate — but not after the first leg, in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored a side-footed poacher and a stunning overhead kick.
Juve’s performance was defined by uncharacteristic mistakes, like the mix-up between the experienced duo, Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.
The second leg was a surprise for Los Blancos as Juve got two on the scoreboard before the interval and one more early in the second half, but it was a game remembered the most for the late penalty in the 97th minute on the clock, the red card shown by Michael Oliver to Buffon and the latter’s crude comments made to the official in the mixed zone. All in all, though, one can argue that the best team advanced.
The semifinal was different. FC Bayern Munich was much more coherent than its counterparts, an observation even conceded by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos, but Real efficiently executed the chances they got.
In the end, after winning away at Munich, Real Madrid held on to a 2-2 draw at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and qualified for its third Champions League final in as many years.
Liverpool had not been to the last four of any European competitions for eight seasons and the European Cup since 2007-08, when they lost to Chelsea F.C.
In the gegenpressing revolution led by Klopp, the Reds have been playing entertaining soccer, but the defense is still vulnerable, especially in the later periods of games, conceding four goals after the 80th minute in the two games against A.S. Roma.
Opponents of Liverpool often suffer waves of sustained attacks by Liverpool in a short period.
The Reds’ blitz is effective and has devastated high-profile teams like Manchester City F.C. — the Premier League champion who went largely unchallenged in the homefront — and Roma. In the quarterfinals, Liverpool stormed City with three goals in less than 20 minutes in the first half, which made the comeback much harder. In the last four, Klopp’s men put two in the last 10 minutes before the halftime whistle and then three in 20 after the interval.
Of course, the most dangerous trio in Europe might just be Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.
They are quick and clinical: Firmino is diligent and tactically aware, often running into spaces to distract defenders and creating chances for his partners; Salah is creative, threading passes and scoring from angles that are incredibly difficult; Mané is relentless and muscular, bullying opposition out of position.
But they are facing a formidable team. Barring Kyle Walker of City, the group still hasn’t faced a defensive unit as strong and organized as Zidane’s backline.
Both fullbacks, Marcelo Vieira and Dani Carvajal, are sound defenders and more threatening in attack when they bomb forward and stretch the width of the team. Sergio Ramos, though clumsy at times, can recover his mistakes by scoring a header or two likely late in the game, something Liverpool is susceptible to due to lack of stamina.
Kiev is not Anfield Stadium, where the crowd usually assists Liverpool and intimidates the
Real Madrid seems to play better away from home, winning all three games in the knockout stage so far.