Champions League Final Preview


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Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Watford at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on March 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)

For the fourth time in the past five years, Real Madrid are in the Champions League final. But Los Merengues may be up against a much greater force than years past, as they face high-flying Liverpool in a much- anticipated match at the NSC Olimpiyskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine. But who will win the match? Will Madrid win its fourth champions league title in the past five years? Or will Liverpool win a piece of silverware for the first time since 2012, and the first major trophy since 2005?

Let’s start by looking at Madrid, who appear to be favorites for this game, considering their track record of success in the past five to ten years (12 trophies won since 2011-12 season), and the existence of Cristiano Ronaldo, who just so happens to have scored five more goals in the Champions League than any other player. But the 12-time winners of the competition aren’t solely reliant on their Portuguese wonderman… are they? Ronaldo has scored in every game of their CL campaign this year except the two semifinal games against Bayern Munich. But when they don’t have Ronaldo firing on all cylinders, don’t sleep on the others. There’s a reason why they’re in the final. Their goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, is easily one of the most underrated players in the world. Their defense consists of Marcelo, whos job as an attacking left-back is matched by no one; Sergio Ramos, who always comes up with clutch plays (90th minute goal to tie the 2014 CL final, first goal of the 2016 final) at the heart of the back; Raphael Varane, a cool head that can cover up for everyone else’s mistakes with his speed; and Dani Carvajal, who came back from heart surgery early this year to be named in the La Liga team of the season. Their three in central midfield may be the best in the world just due to to individual talent, but they also all work in the system. Casemiro is a world class defensive shield. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are very similar, generational playmakers that don’t look for individual success and have loaded trophy cabinets. But it is in the attack where the accel: they scored 92 goals in La Liga this year, and the trio of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo are widely considered one of the best front threes around.

Liverpool is a squad built a lot like Real. Like their opponents, they rely mostly on their attackers, one winger in particular, to win them games. That man for the English side? Mohamed Salah, who in his first year in the premier league, won the golden boot with a record-setting 32 goals in 38 games. He also has scored 10 in the champions league, along with 15 assists in all competitions. But he is not the only great player in the Liverpool squad. They have scored the most goals in champions league history for a reason- they have four players with eight or more combined goals and assists. Both Salah and striker Roberto Firmino have scored ten goals and have five or more assists, left winger Sadio Mane has nine goals, and backup central midfielder James Milner has accumulated nine assists in the CL campaign, which is a record. One more thing that Liverpool has an advantage in: youth. Liverpool’s starting eleven is much younger than Real’s and is much more equipped to playing high intensity soccer for longer during the game and beating the Spanish side on the counter attack.

Now, for my prediction. I think Real Madrid has a better goalkeeper than Liverpool, no question. I also think Madrid has a better defense than Liverpool, and their midfield is more experienced in big-game scenarios. But, if Salah is playing his best football, and Mane and Firmino are motivated to win, they will cancel out the defensive skill of Real. However, their best midfielder, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is injured and out of the game, and he has been key for the English side in the big matches. But I believe. I believe in Klopp. I believe in Salah. I believe in Mane, and Firmino, and their young defense. I believe Emre Can wants to prove his worth to the world (Bayern Munich and Juventus are rumored to be interested in him). So I’m going to say it. Liverpool will do it, in a high-scoring, 4-3 game that will extra time to determine a winner. In the end, if Liverpool can keep the scoreline close in the first half and continue to press with energy in the second half, they will tire Madrid, which is when they play their worst soccer.

 Final Prediction: Liverpool FC 4-3 Real Madrid CF AET