In a Champions League campaign arguably defined by the underdogs, Liverpool will need the football gods to be in their favour if they are to dethrone Champions League specialists Real Madrid, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
The five-time Champions League winners have been pitted against the twelve-time Champion League winners from Spain after the Reds arguably punched above their weight to reach the final. And although Madrid seems to be experiencing somewhat of a decline, securing the title will be no easy feat.
In the biblical parable, David beat the odds to defeat the giant Goliath, but come 26 May in Kiev, can Liverpool repeat a similar feat by ending Madrid’s stranglehold on the competition?
The task seems near impossible, but in reality, it can be done. I mean, how many of you believed that Liverpool would reach the final of the Champions League this season?
Under the tutelage of Zinedine Zidane, the La Liga giants have not lost a single game in the knockout stage of the competition. They do, however, come up against a Liverpool side who have slashed all sorts of records en route to the final.
🇨🇵 Zidane’s record as a manager in the Champions League:
🗓 Games: 32
✅ Won: 22
⚖ Draws: 6
❌ Lost: 4
And he’s never been knocked out of the competition.
👏🏻 Wow. pic.twitter.com/7ytTn1LGn8
— MobileBet (@MobileBetUK) May 1, 2018
Not only did they equal Bayern Munich’s 7-0 victory to equal the biggest away victory in Champions League history, but they also became only the second club to score seven goals twice in one season in the competition.
Having scored 46 goals in the competition thus far, Jurgen Klopp’s side hold the record for the most ever goals scored in the Champions League, with front three Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane the highest-scoring trio in the competition’s history with 29 goals amassed between them.
#UCL: With one game left to be played in their 2017-18 @ChampionsLeague campaign, #Liverpool hold the all-time record for MOST goals in a single #ChampionsLeague season.#UCLFinal: #Liverpool vs #RealMadrid pic.twitter.com/ryXYQePLQ2
— Marshall P Gouts (@MarshallGouts) May 9, 2018
Salah, who arrived from AS Roma last summer, has been in devastating form this season, netting ten goals in the Champions League and 42 in all competitions.
If the Egyptian does continue his red-hot scoring form and guides Liverpool to the Champions League title, surely he will be in with a strong shout for the Ballon D’or award – an award that has been dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the last decade.
Other factors which stand the Premier League outfield in good stead against Madrid is the fact that the La Liga giants have not been at their best this season (even in the Champions League). They succumbed to 3-1 defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Juventus, proving that there is a chink in their armour.
Nevermind the fact that the Reds are the last team to have defeated Madrid in a European Cup final, when Bob Paisley’s side secured a 1-0 victory in Paris courtesy of Alan Kennedy’s winner.
— Samue 🇺🇦 (@VintageSalah) May 3, 2018
What really sets Liverpool apart from their opponents is the sheer heart and passion displayed by their coach.
Klopp’s ability to draw inspiration from his players is his biggest trump card and he will need to draw on his excellent man-management skills to get 120% effort from his players in their bid to topple Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane has never been knocked out of the Champions League as a manager.
🏆 2015/16: Winner
🏆 2016/17: Winner
🏆 2017/18: In the final
Incredible record. ⚽👏 pic.twitter.com/bR0kY5ByMj
— Football__Tweet (@Football__Tweet) May 2, 2018
But it will be no easy feat and Klopp is well-aware of this, based on his side’s poor record in finals coupled with Madrid’s superiority in finals.
‘We were in a League Cup final and didn’t win it,’ he told the media. ‘People don’t tell me in the street since then: “Thank you for bringing us to the final”.
‘We were in the Europa League final too. Nobody tells me “thank you”. I see no trophies after these games. They don’t hang silver medals at Melwood.
‘Going to a final is really nice but winning is even nicer. We will be ready but it is Real Madrid? You cannot be more experienced in this competition than Real Madrid.
‘I think 80% of their team played all these finals. They are four times [in the final] in the last five years and still together. They are experienced, we are not, but we will be really on fire,’ he said.
The La Liga giants have a cup-final winning pedigree under Zidane and although they are seen as firm favourites to secure the title, Los Blancos needed Lady Luck on their side en-route to the final.
They rode their luck to see off Juventus and Bayern Munich in the quarter and semi-final stages respectively, most notably needing a dramatic 97th-minute penalty from Ronaldo to overcome the Turin outfit.
3 – Zinedine Zidane is the first manager to reach three consecutive Champions League finals since Marcello Lippi between 1996 to 1998. Specialist.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 1, 2018
Zidane, who categorically stated that the Champions League is in the DNA of the club has everything at his disposal to clinch an unprecedented third successive title, but his biggest motivation will be to keep his Champions League-winning specialist tag intact and guarantee his stay at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium for at least another season or two.
Madrid have ridiculous squad depth as opposed to Liverpool and depending on which starting XI takes the field against Liverpool, Zidane can call on a number of world-beaters from the bench in Gareth Bale, Lucas Vazquez, Isco, Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovacic to mention a few.
The Reds’ run to the final did not include giants such as Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Instead, they were handed an easier route, where they blitzed past the likes of FC Porto, Premier League champions Manchester City and Serie A outfit AS Roma.
We made the CL final with;
1 – 4m Goal keeper
66 – 19 y/o academy RB
6 – Croatian Donkey
4 – “Waste of money”
26 – 8m LB from hull
14 – Back passer
5 – “Doesn’t perform in away games”
7 – 33 y/o “finished” LB
11 – Chelsea reject
9 – Not a striker
19 – Pace merchant
— liverpool (@bahaa97599865) May 3, 2018
In addition to not boasting a squad full of world-beaters like their opponents, Liverpool have been dealt injury blows to key men and will be without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez, who joins the likes of Joel Matip and Emre Can in the treatment room.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Liverpool ending Madrid’s dominance.
To be brutally honest, I’m actually rooting for them; however, it will require a miracle from the Reds, who have lost two cup-finals under Klopp (Europa League and League Cup), while Zidane has an impeccable record of winning cup finals (seven played and seven won)
Prior to the draw of the semi-final clashes, I remember telling my office colleagues that Liverpool’s best bet of winning the Champions League is facing Madrid in the final, where they are more likely to compete against Madrid over 90 minutes, rather than over two legs.
My wish was granted. Please prove me right, Liverpool.
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