That Liverpool go into the Champions League final this time as the form favourites is no secret. They have had a remarkable season and have been top class. They narrowly missed out of keeping their chances of a historic and unprecedented quadruple alive when they were pipped to the Premier League title by perennial rivals Manchester City by just one point, but that might just give Jurgen Klopp and his team that extra bit of motivation to throw everything including the kitchen sink at winning the holy grail of European club football.
On the other side though stand a gritty Real Madrid. The Spanish giants, who are the most successful team in the history of the competition (13 titles) have defied logic and pulled themselves back from the brink of elimination in the knockouts three times from the Round of 16 to the semi-finals, knocking out teams like PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City to make sure that they made their way to yet another Champions League final.
In Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti, the summit clash will see two of the best man managers in professional football today going toe to toe, trying to outthink and outsmart the other. Ancelotti stands on the brink of a record fourth Champions League title, having recently become the first manager to win titles in the five major European leagues (La Liga, Serie A, EPL, Bundesliga and Ligue 1). Klopp meanwhile is someone who has transformed Liverpool into a win machine. The Reds already have the League Cup and the FA Cup titles under their belt and have also tasted Champions League glory before with Klopp at the helm of affairs.
Two former footballers who have played tons of English club football, Ashley Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday, Northampton Town, Chester City) and Mark Seagraves (Liverpool, Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers) were guests on the latest episode of TOI Sportscast and talked about the chances of both teams.
Ashley felt that if there's a team that can trip up Liverpool it's Real Madrid.
"All of a sudden Real Madrid have done fantastically well - beating PSG, Manchester City - a club I support. I was actually at the Bernabeu for the second leg and couldn't believe that Real Madrid had the resilience to turn that game around. And they obviously beat Chelsea as well, so they deserve to be in the final. They have shown great levels of playing ability. Benzema looks rejuvenated. And what a fairytale it will be for (Carlo) Ancelotti to win his fourth Champions League and become the first manager to win that accolade (4 Champions League titles)." Ashley Westwood said on TOI Sportscast.
"For sure, if there's a team that can trip up Liverpool it is Real Madrid. I watched them live from a high vantage point in that second leg vs Manchester City. And when you watch them live and see the players all around the pitch. Unless you are a Real Madrid fan you might not know a lot about players like (Dani) Carvajal, Nacho - people like that don't often catch the eye unless you are a football fan - to see them live and see the ability they have, the manipulation of the ball, the control, the game knowhow, they are a world class outfit that's for sure and they can do anybody on the day. Luka Modric is one of the best midfielders of all time, with fantastic abilities. Toni Kroos knows how to pull strings in the midfield, we already spoke about Benzema. And then you have some young players as well. A nice blend of Vinicius Jr. on the left hand side, Rodrygo who can come on the pitch, (Federico) Valverde, (Marco) Asensio - they have got world class players and they can hurt you. So, Liverpool know that they are in for a game. It will be interesting to delve into Jurgen Klopp's mind - would he have preferred to have played Manchester City, or would he prefer playing Real Madrid - it's a tough question. Both teams are fantastic on the day.” Ashley Westwood further said on TOI Sportscast.
For the longest time hope of that unprecedented quadruple (League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League) was alive for Liverpool. They did everything they possibly could to push Manchester City in their race for the EPL title, but City held firm, making sure that they always stayed a step ahead of Liverpool on the points table. But will the fact that their hopes of winning the Premier League were dashed so close to the Champions League final have a psychological impact on the Liverpool players? Mark Seagraves doesn't think so, but he does sound a warning for the Reds, considering they are now up against a team which has come back from the dead almost to win crucial knockout matches in the recent past.
"No, there won't be a psychological impact on the Liverpool players of them losing the Premier League title to Manchester City by a point. The reason I say that is because they couldn't do any more. They won the games they had to win. They didn't lose it (Premier League title) because they got beat, they lost it because Manchester City were better over the course of 38 games. That one is put to bed. The one thing I will say about the game vs Real Madrid (Champions League final) - 2018 - We owe them something back for that (Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in 2018 Champions League final). And I will say, if you look at the Liverpool team in 2018 to where it is now, it's miles better right now. When you look at the Real Madrid team - back when it was in 2018 to where they are now, I don't think it's as strong. Liverpool will start the game as favourites and rightly so. Having said that, we have seen Real Madrid on so many occasions this season, get out of jail basically and I am hoping they don't do that again. But they do have the players in their team to actually do that. And not only in the team, in the starting XI, but on the bench as well as we saw in the last game - Camavinga coming on, Rodrygo coming on and changing the game against Manchester City. If Liverpool are in that situation where they are 2-0 up or 3-1 or 2-1 up, I would like to think they can manage the game a little better than what Chelsea and Manchester City did. And can they (Real Madrid) do it (turn the game around) for a fourth time? You can only go to the well so often can't you?” Mark Seagraves said on TOI Sportscast.
Mark also felt that a comparison of the two teams shows that Liverpool are stronger defensively, but that Real, who are on a high after winning La Liga, will always be a threat going forward.
"We have seen Liverpool play. They are like a roller coaster. They are not for stopping. We have seen Real Madrid. The keeper Courtois has made 52 important saves this season, so that tells me that defensively they (Real Madrid) are not that great, but going forward they will probably create more chances and score more goals, so in what they lack defensively, they make up for in going forward. Liverpool defensively are rock solid now and going forward they have 5 players, 6 if (Divock) Origi is involved - up top that can absolutely change the game.” Mark Seagraves said further on TOI Sportscast.
It will be extremely interesting to see what the final complexion of the starting XI looks like for both teams. Both teams have plenty of players who can turn a match on its head. Mohamed Salah, Thiago Alcantara and Virgil Van Dijk are all expected to be fit for the summit clash for the Reds.
"Whatever three he (Klopp) puts out - whether Salah is fit and he goes with Salah, (Diego) Jota and (Sadio) Mane or Mane, (Luis) Diaz, Salah - whatever, and then you have (Roberto) Firmino in the mix as well. Liverpool, this year are an awful lot stronger and I think Real Madrid will be more frightened of Liverpool than the other way around. Real Madrid are a fantastic team. What they have done in coming back three times has shown an awful lot of character and that's from the manager down. The manager (Carlo Ancelotti) is top class and then you have the players - Benzema - 44 goals this season in all competitions. The interesting one for me will be the tussle between Trent Alexander Arnold and Vinicius Jr. Vinicius has been brilliant this season, he has come of age. He has a huge price tag and he is still a young lad and he has started to show the glimpses of what we know he is all about and with his dynamic running - he is direct, he gets at players and he is quick. His ability now to see a pass and to also finish is brilliant so for me that will be the key area for Liverpool and for Real Madrid.” Mark Seagraves said further on TOI Sportscast.
Going into the final clash, Mohammed Salah has been quoted as saying - "We have a score to settle". The 2018 Champions League final saw these two teams squaring off against each other and that brings back horrible memories for Salah. In what he has called 'the worst moment of his career', Salah was brought down by Sergio Ramos who kept the Egyptian's right arm locked under his left. Salah had been on the pitch for less than 30 minutes. The fall resulted in a dislocated shoulder for Salah, who at that time carried the full weight of the Liverpool fans' expectations and had to walk off the field in excruciating pain and in tears.
According to reports, as many as 535,000 people signed an online petition asking FIFA and UEFA to take some action against Ramos. Incredibly, the referee in that 2018 final had not even called it a foul.
Likely line-ups for 2022 Champions League final:
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konaté, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Keïta; Salah, Mané, Luis Díaz
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Éder Militão, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinícius Júnior