The attention shifts to the UEFA Champions League final this weekend. Everyone will be at the Stade de France. At least, the eyes will be tuned when Liverpool takes on Real Madrid in what is a repeat of the 2018 final. Of course, a lot has changed for both teams since that time.
An unprecedented quadruple is out of sight for Liverpool after Manchester City claimed the League title on an absorbing final day frenzy. And yet, a continental title to add to both cup successes will be just as cherished.
And for Real Madrid, the dream of a double is so close. If no one could have predicted this at the start of the season, even they would need to be awakened if it does come together. For everyone affiliated with this club, it has been one heck of a season. Absolute madness, they will tell you.
The stakes are high and so is the pressure. But for most, this final can not come any quicker. It is the peak of club football excitement.
Liverpool’s Route To The Final
Beyond reaching the final of the Champions League, this has been an almost perfect season for the Reds. They have competed excellently on every front and won about just every vital match.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were impregnable in the group stage. Ruthless! In what many had predicted as the group of death, the Premier League side made light work of it. Atletico Madrid, Milan and Porto all lost this fixture.
A comfortable away victory was enough to go past Inter Milan 2-1 on aggregate in the round of 16. Almost similarly, in the quarter-final, they defeated Benfica 6-4 with the job already done in Portugal.
Villarreal handed them a scare in the semi-final. With Liverpool playing and winning 2-0 at home in the first leg, the Spanish side clawed back in the second leg. Well, the first half at El Madrigal. The second half was different. The visitors scored three to set up a place in the final.
Real Madrid’s Journey To Stade de France
Real Madrid’s ride was all that Liverpool was not; chaotic, frenzied, ridiculous. From the start till this point, they had to do it the hard way. Except that, that is how they love it here in Spain.
They finished top of Group B with 15 points ahead of Inter. But that is after losing at home to a team called Sheriff in the second match.
The round of 16 was a crazy night. In what felt like PSG were going to advance, Karim Benzema scored a 17-minute hat-trick to send his side to the quarter-final.
Still, the last four should have been more straightforward but it was not. Carlo Ancelotti’s men surrendered a 2-goal first-leg advantage to Chelsea at home. And yet, with 10 minutes to go, Rodrygo scored to take the tie to extra time. Benzema finished off the business there.
Against Manchester City in the semi-final, they were five minutes away from elimination. Until Rodrygo entered the fray and scored two goals in less than a minute. As has become the norm, Benzema ended the tie with a penalty in extra time.
What To Expect
It is fair to expect a dramatic affair in France. Liverpool will nurse its revenge. Real Madrid will hope to reinstate its dominance in this competition.
The Reds will agreeably play the same way: press aggressively, snuff out possession in key areas and attack intensely.
The addition of Luis Dias has added more energy and directness to the team’s attack. And yet, the outstanding quality of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s delivery will also prove crucial. Mohamed Salah has also been talking tough. The Egyptian will be up for it.
And for much of it, Ancelotti will look to his defenders. As much as possible, he will expect them to avoid errors and track in-behind movements.
Luka Modric’s vision and precision will be key to finding Vinicius in space. Ultimately, Benzema’s threats, on and off the ball could just be the difference.
This tie is finely poised, largely unpredictable. However, on the balance of quality, Liverpool are the slight favourites. Knowing Madrid, the biggest folly will be to rule them out before the ball is kicked.