UEFA Champions League Final
This Saturday, May 26, the beautiful NSC Olimpiyskiy will host the final for the 2017-2018 UEFA Champions League Final. And what a final it should be. After eight long tiring months of soccer, only two teams remain to claim the title of the best club in Europe. Will it be Spanish side Real Mardrid or the English side Liverpool? Lets take a look at these two clubs and see how they got here, how they shape up for the final, and how they can win.
The Reds come into the final having finished fourth in the EPL meaning they have qualified for the 2018-2019 UCL as well. Liverpool went through the match stage unscathed winning the Group E with three wins and three draws while outscoring their opponents 23-6. Their plus 17 goal differential good for second during group play behind only Paris Saint-Germain. They drew Porto in the Round of 16 and won easily with an aggregate of 5-0. In one of the bigger surprises of the season they shocked Manchester City in the quarterfinals winning both matches in aggregate 5-1. The semi-final round gave us some really superb and entertaining soccer with each side winning thier home fixture with Liverpool besting Italian club Roma in aggregate 7-6. Throughout the season Liverpool has been an offensive minded attacking side that finds the back of the net frequently and will look to continue that in the final.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Spanish giants Real Madrid has won 18 trophies over the last dozen years and will look to add one more to their trophy case. Real Madrid had a much tougher draw for the group stage than Liverpool falling in Group H with Tottenham, Borrussia Dortmung, and APOEL. But they used their depth and goal scoring to lead them to a 4-1-1 record and second place in the group behind Totthenham. They drew a very tough opponent for the Round of 16 in French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain. But they were up to the task and managed to win both legs. While that wasn’t necessarily a big surprise, what was is found in the way they did it. They held PSG to only two goals, the team that led all scoring in the group stage. So it was on to the quarterfinals with Juventus in what turned out to be a very weird set of matches. Juventus hosted the first leg but struggled mightily losing at home 3-0 and digging themselves a huge hole. Having to go on the road for the second leg down three goals seemed to be an impossible task. And while the end result was as expected Juventus game Real all they could handle at home beating them 3-1. But in the end it came down to Juventus not having scored a single goal at home ultimately losing 4-3 in aggregate. For Real it was on to the semi-finals against the #1 team in Germany, Bayern Munich. Bayern scored an incredible 92 goals during their run to the top of the Bundesliga and was on a scoring roll. But in the first leg it was Real’s defense keeping the Bayern attack at bay leading them to a 2-1 victory. At fixture in Spain the two teams played to a 2-2 draw putting Real back into the final looking to make it three in a row.
How Liverpool can win?
Youthful inexperience. Yes I said it. Inexperience. There is not a single player on their side who has any experience in playing in a UCL Final. None. So just how does that work for them? Its actually pretty simple and its believing in the direction they get from coach Jurgen Klopp. They follow his plan. They train hard. And they play harder. The attack, attack, then attack some more. Led by Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane. That trio accounted for 89 goals across all competitions this season including the record setting 32 Salah scored during the EPL. They will run at Real’s back line with abandon. And that is what it will take for them to win. The Real backline has three players 30 and over and although that adds up to a lot of experience it also has been a long season. Do they have the legs to withstand the continual push of Liverpool? Expect the Reds to push the attack toward Brazilian star Marcelo. Marcelo is an active player who likes to push forward. However, he is prone to getting caught up field and Salah in particular will look to punish any mistakes there. Sometimes inexperience can be a good thing. They may be too young and inexperienced to even understand the magnitude of the moment. If they stick to their plan and follow the guidance of Klopp they may just pull off the upset.
How Real Madrid can win?
Well how about polar opposites? Real has tons of experience and will be looking to make it four UCL titles in five years. Unprecedented level of experience. They will need every bit of that to overcome the energy and youth they are facing. But there are several factors that favor Real in this match beyond experience. For starters they have a player who is capable of putting a team on his shoulders and carrying them to victory. Cristiano Ronaldo does not like to lose. He does like to score and score a lot and he is very very good at it. Secondly, they have depth. Depending on the flow of the game, the field conditions, and ultimately the closeness of the score Real has better players off the bench. If the game goes to extra time the benches can come into play. Lastly, they WANT to win. They are driven to make history with the three peat.
Liverpool will lineup in a pretty traditional 4-3-3 that should look something like above. In the other side, expect Real Madrid to also come out in a 4-3-3 that looks like below.
The two sides formations look similar with the exception that Liverpool plays more toward a single central attacker (Firmino) and two attacking wigners (Mane and Salah) while Real plays more towards two wide attackers (Ronaldo and Benzema) with a single central attacked in a withdrawn position (Isco). But its important to note that these formations are fluid and actual player position and movement will change frequently throughout the match. This is especially true for both sides front three runners. They will change sides and depth on the field frequently looking to exploit any space they see left vulnerable by the opposing defenses. Here’s how this may go.
Real will come out looking to counter attack as they expect Liverpool to press forward. If Real keeps Liverpool off the board and nets an early counter the game may open up to a shootout. If Real scores twice and keeps Liverpool off the board it could be a tough road for the Reds to come back. If on the other hand the Reds take a lead the outcome tends more toward Liverpool. They are very good at controlling the flow of things once they get a lead. If neither team finds a the net in the first half then the game is likely to stay close and that could well mean extra time. Liverpool will have to be very careful in a close match to mark Ronaldo tightly on free kicks and corners. He has a penchant for finding a way to score game winners late in a match.
So I anticipate this to be a close match with enough scoring to keep it interesting till the end.
Prediction: Real makes history with a 3-2 win. But I think this game could just as easily go the other way. Liverpool is playing great soccer right now and both teams are hungry and motivated for the title. Should be a great match. Don’t miss this one!
Kick off is set for 2:45 EDT on Fox.