Kiev will provide the setting as Real Madrid walk out to defend their UEFA Champions League crown against Liverpool on Saturday.
Premier League giants Liverpool will take on holders Real Madrid in the finals of the UEFA Champions League 2017/18 on Saturday night.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have had a remarkable run in Europe’s premier football competition, despite small hiccups along the way, beating the likes of Porto, Manchester City and AS Roma to make it all the way to the showpiece event. However, they will go into Saturday’s big game as the outsiders, given how clinical Real have been in the competition in recent years.
Los Blancos have claimed three Champions League titles in the last four years and became the first ever club to successfully defend their title since the rechristening of the competition, when they beat Juventus in the finals last season. And they will be out to complete a hat-trick of trophies under manager Zinedine Zidane against the Merseysiders.
They too have had a few scares along the way, but have stuck it out to topple Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich, all champions in their respective leagues, on their way to the finale.
Team News & Tactics
Zidane has a fully fit and available squad for the main event on Saturday. The French manager will be expected to make a few changes from the team that started in the 2-2 draw against Villarreal in the La Liga last Sunday.
In goal, Keylor Navas has been very solid for the Merengues, but has shown a tendency to switch off at times, which he needs to iron out against a dangerous Liverpool attack. Navas’ goal will be guarded by a back four comprising of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo as the full-backs while Raphael Varane and club captain Sergio Ramos will slot in, in the heart of the defence.
A big part of how Madrid play under Zidane is the width that the full-backs provide going forward, but they will need to be wary of the pacey Liverpool attack, especially Marcelo, who will be going up against Mohamed Salah. Ramos’ attitude is unquestionable, but he will need to cut out his recklessness, if his side are to retain the trophy once again.
Brazilian international Casemiro will be asked to hold fort in the middle for Zidane’s side with key men Luka Modric and Toni Kroos pulling the strings on either sides of the 26-year old. Spanish playmaker Isco will start in the hole behind the strikers and look to exploit the spaces between the lines in the final third.
Up ahead, star man and the highest ever goalscorer in the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo will start and will carry Madrid’s biggest threat on Saturday. Alongside him, Gareth Bale could be set for a shock start after a series of impressive displays in the La Liga. The Welshman hasn’t started a single game in the knockout stages this season, but four goals in his last four league games should swing things in his favour ahead of Karim Benzema.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Isco; Bale, Ronaldo;
Klopp will go into the game without the services of the injured trio of midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and defenders Joel Matip and Joe Gomez. However, there is some good news for the Kop though, as midfielders James Milner and Emre Can have been both declared fit and will be available for selection in Ukraine.
Goalkeeper Loris Karius has improved a great deal over the past few months and has been a reliable presence between the sticks for the Reds. Unless there is a last-minute injury, he should start on Saturday ahead of Simon Mignolet.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have been two of the biggest positives of the season for Klopp and Liverpool this season, churning out consistent performances one after the other. They will occupy the full-back positions on the right and left respectively, flanking the central defensive duo of Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk.
While the Reds’ defence have considerably improved since Van Dijk’s arrival, they are still very much capable of a collapse, as was seen in the semifinals against Roma. And if something of that sort happens, Madrid will punish them hard.
Captain Jordan Henderson will occupy the deepest position in the midfield to try and screen his back four and keep a check on the dangerous Isco with support coming in the form of Georginio Wijnaldum and veteran James Milner.
Mohamed Salah has been absolutely unstoppable in his debut campaign for the Reds, netting 44 goals in all competitions. His battle against Marcelo will be one of the major highlights of the finals. On the opposite side, Sadio Mane will carry a big threat as well, with his pace and skills, while Roberto Firmino will line up through the middle.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane;
- Real Madrid will be playing in the final for the 16th time, which is more than any other clubs have managed. It will be the eighth finale for Liverpool, three more than any English clubs.
- If Zidane’s side win against Liverpool in Kiev, they will become the first ever team to lift the trophy three years in a row, since Bayern Munich who defended the title both in 1975 and 1976.
- Liverpool have lost their last two games against the Spaniards – both coming in the group stages of the Champions League in 2014. However, the Reds did beat Madrid the only time the two met in the finals, way back in 1981.
- Zidane could also become the third manager to win the European Cup or Champions League three times – joining Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti – but he would become the first to win it three years running.
Player to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The scene-stealer every time he is out on the pitch, Real Madrid maverick Cristiano Ronaldo will once again be the player to watch out for in Kiev. After a slow start to the season, the Portuguese international has netted 15 times and set up three more in the competition, firing Real to another final.
The 33-year old has scored four goals in the Champions League finals over the years, most by any player and will be gunning to get his hands on his fifth Champions League winners’ medal. If on song, Liverpool will find it extremely hard to stop him.
Real Madrid 2-1 Liverpool
Both the teams have been scintillating going forward, but have been equally vulnerable at the back, meaning the tie will be pretty much open. However, given Real Madrid’s record in the competition, their experience and winning mentality should give them an edge over Liverpool, who have lost two major finals under Klopp since he took charge of the club. And as a result, we at the Hard Tackle predict a 13th Champions League trophy for Zidane’ side with a 2-1 win.