Will Europe’s guard change in one of the oldest cities on the continent?
Soccer fans will learn the answer when Real Madrid takes on Liverpool at 2:45 p.m. ET on Saturday in Kiev, Ukraine, in the 2018 UEFA Champions League final. The Reds are looking to upset the two-time defending champion and perhaps announce the end of Spanish clubs’ recent dominance in European soccer’s elite competition.
The players aren’t just competing to lift club soccer’s most prestigious trophy. Real Madrid is chasing history, trying to join its counterparts from the late 1950s among teams which have conquered Europe four times in a five-year period. Beating Liverpool would cement this group of Real Madrid players, and head coach Zinedine Zidane, among the greatest in history.
Liverpool has walked the long road back to European prominence since its last Champions League final appearance in 2007, and the Kiev trip is just rewards for the accelerated development the club has experienced under manager Jurgen Klopp. The Reds are hoping this season’s Champions League run will be a springboard for domestic and European title challenges in the coming years.
Let’s look at how the teams stack up against one another.
How they reached the final
Real Madrid finished runner-up in Group H, having earned 13 points in the six games. Los Blancos then beat PSG 5-2 on aggregate goals in the round of 16, and edged past Juventus 4-3 in the quarterfinals and Bayern Munich by the same score in the semifinals.
Liverpool topped Group E with 12 points in six games, then blitzed Porto 5-0 in the round of 16, routed Manchester City 5-1 in the quarterfinals and outlasted Roma 7-6 in the semifinals.
Strengths and weaknesses
The quality and experience at this level for Real Madrid’s squad contains is staggering. Cristiano Ronaldo was the Champions League’s top scorer this season (15 goals) and remains arguably the best player on the planet. He and his teammates also have proven they can maintain composure in difficult situations and overcome in-game setbacks when necessary.
The Champions League final offers Real Madrid the chance to save their season. A third-place finish in La Liga (Spanish League) was the result of domestic inconsistency and perhaps apathy, which often sets in among groups of serial winners.
Liverpool set a Champions League record with 46 goals this season, and its attack undoubtedly is its greatest strength. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and the irresistible Mohamed Salah can damage opponents instantly, and the players behind them are well organized and balanced.
The Reds’ inexperience at this level could help or hinder them against Real Madrid. This season marks the first journey through the Champions League knockout rounds for the vast majority of Liverpool’s players. They’ve weathered the storm so far, but the final is an extremely pressurized environment.
Real Madrid’s entire squad is available for the Champions League final. Liverpool will be without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip due to injuries.
Keylor Navas (goalkeeper); Dani Carvajal (right back), Rafael Varane (center back), Sergio Ramos (center back), Marcelo (left back); Casemiro (midfield), Toni Kroos (midfield), Luka Modric (midfield), Isco (midfield); Cristiano Ronaldo (forward), Karim Benzema (striker)
Loris Karius (goalkeeper); Trent Alexander-Arnold (right back), Virgil Van Dijk (center back), Dejan Lovren (center back), Andy Robertson (left back); Jordan Henderson (midfield), James Milner (midfield), Georginio Wijnaldum (midfield); Sadio Mane (forward), Roberto Firmino (forward), Mohamed Salah (forward)
Real Madrid 3, Liverpool 1
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