Part 1: Kiev 2018: Zidane vs. Klopp
Part 2: Kiev 2018: Road to the Final.
Part 3 – Kiev 2018: Squad Comparison
Among the two teams facing off on Saturday, Real Madrid have the better team by far. In goal, Keylor Navas has had a slightly less impressive season than his previous two years but is still miles ahead of his counterpart Loris Karius, who until recently was being rotated with Simon Mignolet and is now first choice not because of his own quality but because of Mignolet’s innumerable mistakes. Karius has been making good progress since but Navas wins this one.
The addition of Virgil Van Dijk (VVD) in mid-season has stabilized a leaky Liverpool defence. Dejan Lovren, once the scourge of Liverpool fans, positively looks a different player. Alongside youngsters Alexander Trent-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, the former two have been key to Liverpool’s march to Kiev. Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno are also fit and ready to jump in if needed.
As impressive as the post-VVD defence is, they are no comparison for the Madrid quartet: Carvajal-Ramos-Varane-Marcelo. Carvajal has had his injury concerns this season but is fully fit for the final. As for Marcelo, he is undoubtedly the best left-back in the World right now. Captain Sergio Ramos is the most important player for Real Madrid alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. He is often remembered for his red cards but we should also keep in mind the world class performances he had pulled for both club and country in big games. We can expect him to be marshalling the defence with frenchman Varane.
The two teams have very dissimilar midfields. Liverpool’s midfield is based on selfless, aggressive hardworking players who will press and intercept so the attacking trident can be fed and unleashed upon the Madrid defence. With his 9 assists in Europe, James Milner is the stand out performer in Liverpool’s midfield three. He will tirelessly run at those Madrid players and it would not be surprising if he ends the game having run the most. Two of Wijnaldum, Emre Can and captain Jordan Henderson will be joining Milner. The lack of depth in Liverpool’s midfield is worrying though. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be sorely missed.
In contrast, Madrid have an abundance of riches in this area. Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, Kovacic, Isco, Asensio, Lucas Vasquez – you could pick any of them to start a Champions League final. Modric and Kroos are well-known for their game controlling and play making abilities. They are also not ones to shy from pressing and harrying their opponents. Casemiro and Asensio could have their place alongside those two in the Madrid midfield four.
Again, advantage Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo, uncharacteristically quiet in the first half of the season, now has 15 goals to his name in the Champions League alone (half of his team’s haul). While the Bs in the BBC have been blunted, Ronaldo has been doing what he does best. His decisive strikes in the first leg of the Juventus tie come to mind. Karim Benzema showed glimpses he is not finished with a brace against Bayern Munich in the semi finals and Gareth Bale is finally rid of his injury problems. The expectation is for one of them to start alongside Ronaldo and the other should be coming off the bench depending on the running of the game.
Much has been made of Mohamed Salah being the next Ronaldo or Messi this season. As good as he has been, one good season does not make you a world-beater. Salah has 10 goals in the Champions League and so does Firmino, with Mane close behind with 9. Liverpool’s attacking strength is the combination of the three players. The pace of Mane, trickery of Salah and play making abilities of Firmino make a lethal striking force. Again, the lack of depth is worrying. If one of them picks up an injury, Liverpool’s attacking potence will be considerably reduced. Given enough space, they could do some damage to Madrid.
If the BBC was still performing at their peak, this would have been a 100% Madrid domination but in this case, we can call it tie. Ronaldo’s magic vs the Salah-Mane-Firmino triumvirate.
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On paper, Madrid has the better squad but games of football are won on the pitch. As we mentioned in Kiev 2018: Zidane vs. Klopp, Liverpool can take Rafa Benitez’s unlikely triumph against a star-studded Milan as inspiration.