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Champions League final | Liverpool’s Salah out for revenge, Madrid looking past Mbappe saga

Mohamed Salah could easily have given the kind of diplomatic answer trotted out by most football players. He just couldn’t.

Was there a preference, Salah was asked minutes after Liverpool reached the Champions League final three weeks ago, over which team he faced in the title match in suburban Paris?

“Yes,” Salah said, stretching his neck and turning his head from side to side as if he was limbering up for another game. “I want to play Madrid.”

Dark day in Kyiv

Salah clearly hasn’t forgotten what went down in the 2018 final against Real Madrid in Kyiv. That painful moment in the first half when he tussled with Sergio Ramos and landed heavily on the ground, dislocating his left shoulder. Some likened it to a wrestling-style maneuver by the wily Ramos, who appeared to pin Salah’s right arm and roll the forward down to the turf.

Salah left the field in tears and watched the remainder of the match on TV in the locker room as Liverpool, deprived of its most likely scorer, lost 3-1.

Four years later and Ramos is no longer at Madrid, with the Spain great having just reached the end of an injury-ravaged first season at Paris Saint-Germain.

That didn’t stop Salah from posting “we have a score to settle” on Twitter after Madrid joined Liverpool in Saturday’s final by producing that amazing second-leg comeback against Manchester City in the semifinals.

‘Revenge time’

“I think it is revenge time,” Salah has said in another interview about facing Madrid. The man is on a mission. Maybe in more ways than one.

After all, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that this is the last final he plays for Liverpool, given he has yet to sign a new deal with the club. Negotiations seemingly are at a deadlock. As it stands, Salah has one year left on his contract and he is free to talk to other clubs in January.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has appeared sanguine about the whole thing, but he—like the club’s fans—must be getting slightly concerned about a potential parting of ways. Money is not the issue, according to Salah, who has said he is not asking for “crazy stuff” and simply wants to be appreciated for all he has done for the club.

Strong attack

Liverpool has moved to future-proof its attack by signing three forwards over the last two years—Diogo Jota in August 2020, Luis Diaz in January and one for the long term in Fabio Carvalho from Fulham this week.

Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are still around, too—Mane is playing as well as he ever has at Liverpool—but a departing Salah would represent a huge loss for the club, especially when big domestic rival Man City has strengthened its forward line with the signing of Erling Haaland.

Salah has just finished a Premier League season as the top scorer, either outright or tied, for the third time in his five years at Liverpool, sharing the Golden Boot award with Tottenham forward Son Heung-min with 23 goals. Salah had the most assists, too, with 13.

For the first half of this season, he was regarded by many as the most in-form player in world football having scored 10 goals in his first nine games, including a hat trick at Manchester United and probably the goal of the season with that slaloming solo run and finish against City.

Salah hasn’t been as rampant since returning from the African Cup of Nations in February, with Diaz perhaps taking away some of the limelight, but he remains Liverpool’s most likely match-winner—the man Klopp relies upon for goals more than anyone else.

Forgetting Mbappe

Real Madrid wants to quickly forget about Kylian Mbappé and turn its focus back on the Champions League final.

Four days before the final in suburban Paris, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti and his players tried their best to avoid talking about the France forward and his decision to stay with Paris Saint-Germain. They also downplayed the apparent call for vengeance by Mohamed Salah.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti talks to his players during a La Liga match. File (Source: Reuters)

No Mbappe talk in Madrid

Mbappé made the surprising announcement about his future on Saturday, dealing a major blow to Madrid and its fans, who were certain he would be playing in the Spanish capital next season.

“It’s very clear for us that we have to think about our own things,” Ancelotti said Tuesday. “We’ve never talked about players from other squads. We respect everyone, every decision, every club. We have to do our own job. It’s very clear and obvious what we have to think about, which is to prepare for the final.”

Madrid as a club had not made any comments about Mbappé’s decision, although some players were quick to post messages praising the club and saying it was a honor to wear its jersey.

Veteran defender Marcelo said there was no Mbappé talk in the locker room.

“It wasn’t a surprise because we don’t talk about players from other teams,” said Marcelo, one of the Madrid players with a chance to win a fifth Champions League title. “It’s indifferent. It would be something else if he had been signed by Madrid, but because he was not a Madrid player, there is no reason to talk about what happened.”

Karim Benzema, Mbappé’s teammate on the French national team, said there was nothing more important than Saturday’s match.

“We are playing a Champions League final on Saturday,” he told MarcaTV. “It’s not the time to talk about these other small things.”

Mbappé had said last year he wanted to join Madrid but PSG turned down offers of nearly 200 million euros ($214 million) for the player. The France forward was widely expected to complete a move to Madrid after becoming a free agent at the end of this season, but instead opted to sign a three-year contract with PSG.

“I’ve never talked about players who are not playing for Real Madrid, and I will never talk about players who are not playing for Real Madrid,” Ancelotti said.

Mbappé’s decision to reject Madrid was the most talked-about subject in Spain in recent days, leaving the Champions League final to the side.

Can Madrid extend their record?

Madrid will be trying to win a record-extending 14th European title on Saturday at Stade de France in its fifth Champions League final in eight seasons. It has won 13 of the 17 European finals it has played in the continent’s top club competition.

Madrid won its 10th European Cup eight years ago with Ancelotti as coach, then clinched three straight titles from 2016-18 with Zinedine Zidane at the helm.

“There was a lot more pressure then (in 2014). It had been several years since Madrid had won the Champions League. It was almost an obsession for everyone,” Ancelotti said. “Now Madrid fans are motivated, but not so much obsessed about it, and I think that can give us an advantage.”

Madrid at full strength

Ancelotti, who can become the first coach to win four Champions League titles, will have Madrid at full strength on Saturday.

“The starting lineup is not really a problem, to be honest,” Ancelotti said. “It’s not a match for only 11 players. And those who have entered off the bench have done well to help us so far. Everything has gone well for us so far.”

Madrid reached the final after comebacks against PSG in the round of 16, Chelsea in the quarterfinals and Manchester City in the semifinals.

“I hope this time it’s Liverpool trying to rally against us,” Ancelotti said. “It will be an entertaining final, very even.”