5 things that could decide the fate of the UCL final
Written by: Manas Pratim Kashyap
Two of the continent's most successful teams meet in a showpiece that promises to be a thrill-a-minute ride.
Different year, different territory, yet another European final, and the same Real Madrid in it yet again. But, against a different opponent, of course. This time we shift our focus to Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, as English side Liverpool try their luck at foiling Real Madrid’s ‘hat-trick’ moment. Los Blancos could extend their UEFA Champions League trophy count to a staggering thirteen, if not, Liverpool will proudly take home their sixth European honour, the most by any English club.
After losing out on League Cup and Europa League success in his previous seasons, Jurgen Klopp knows there is no place for silver medals at Melwood and expects his lads to spit fire on the pitch come Saturday. For Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, three European finals in three seasons as the manager, the story couldn’t have been scripted any better. Of course, the talking point is the geniuses of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohammed Salah, we at Khel Now take a look at five factors that could swing the grand finale either way.
REAL MADRID VS LIVERPOOL | UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2017-18 Final Trailer
1. The opening blow:
This could be a vital stat, and possibly the deciding factor in the big game at Kiev. The side which draws first blood in the game will look to cling on to their lead and frustrate the opponents. Given that Madrid concede early on, they will feel the weight of the whole world upon their shoulders, to try and equalize as soon as possible, against a desperate Liverpool side, where Klopp will be happy to fall back and ‘park-the-bus’, a strategy they have rarely used this season. But if Madrid take the lead, skipper Sergio Ramos and his backline could be in for a gruelling physical battle to prevent Salah-led Liverpool attack from scoring, putting their bodies on the line, provided the Liverpool midfield perform to their full potential.
2. ‘Big Game’ Experience:
Big names anchor big games --- although partially true but such is the prevalent belief. Real Madrid playing their 3rd consecutive final, having won the previous two, are the same team more or less, boasting of almost an entire squad with ‘big match’ experience. On the flipside, this Liverpool squad is a re-emerging one under the shrewd tactical brain of their German manager.
Having said that, football’s most expensive centre-back Virgil van Dijk would like to shut critics up who bark at his price tag. Van Dijk and the backline would be entrusted with the task of dismantling the roaring Real attack, and Ronaldo in particular. On the other side of the pitch, a razor-sharp Liverpool attack in Salah-Mane-Firmino would hope to pierce through the formidable Madrid defence led by skipper ‘Cuqui’ (Sergio Ramos).
3 - Real Madrid are the first team since Juventus (1996-1998) to reach three consecutive European Cup/Champions League finals, while they could become the first team to win it three years in a row since Bayern Munich (1974-1976). Dream. pic.twitter.com/fQvS4oLhXj— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 23, 2018
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool are always the underdogs going into the UEFA Champions League final against holders Real Madrid, who are playing their third consecutive final. Both sides haven’t had the best of domestic seasons to their records, Liverpool finishing 4th in England and Real Madrid only the 3rd best in Spain.
However, Liverpool would be under no pressure at all, having already been deemed as second favorites. This could actually be a blessing in disguise, to play free-flowing football and pile up a mountain of pressure on the Los Blancos. Similarly, Real Madrid, who like to activate beast mode for European games in particular, look tough on the outside as usual. But they might already feel the sweat trickling down their faces ahead of the big game, given the pressure of expectations upon them.
4. Chances of goalkeeping slip-ups
With Keylor Navas and Loris Karius under the woodwork at opposite ends, one can’t straight away deny the probabilities of minor gaffes allowing the oppositions to have a sniff at goal or even major spill-offs that could lead to a goal. The error of judgement and lack of communication with fellow defenders are the last things a shot-stopper would expect in a game as big as the Champions League final. As for Karius, the German is a much-improved player now since his debut for Liverpool and is proving to be a long-term choice for Klopp’s No.1. We expect old habits won’t return to haunt him back.
Navas, 31, pulls off jaw-dropping saves at times, but fumbles to collect the ball cleanly the very next moment, thereby conceding silly goals. The Costa Rican would not like to disappoint the Madridistas as well.
5. The heart of the battle
Midfield holds the key to the entire game. After taking over the baton from Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson would like to step up responsibly for his midfield duties with the experience of James Milner around him on the big day and manager Jurgen Klopp would want his lads to tick all the boxes. Liverpool fans would hope they can rejoice yet again since the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ in 2005.
Likewise in the Madrid camp, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos would be doubly aware of the threat Liverpool could possess on the night of the final. However, the creativity and ‘big match’ experience of Zidane’s midfield as compared to their opponents would be an advantage. Ultimately the onus will be on the defending champions to prove themselves and stamp their authority on yet another European title.
Published: Fri May 25, 2018 01:12 PM IST