Real Madrid will play Liverpool in Kiev in the 2018 Champions League final on May 26th with the game being show live in The Local. Both teams came through torturous semi-finals. The Spanish team has reached a third consecutive Champions League final – but only just, after they clung on against Bayern Munich in the semi-finals. Zinedine Zidane’s side drew 2-2 at the Bernabeu, winning 4-3 on aggregate, but would have gone out on away goals had they conceded one more to the German club. There are accusations that Real’s progress to the final was down to good luck. In a BBC interview former Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard said Real “relied on luck”. There is no doubt that Real benefited from a couple of fortuitous moments, especially in the second leg game against the Germans. Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich’s mistake gifted Karim Benzema goal just moments into the second half before Corentin Tolisso and Thomas Muller’s efforts were well saved by Keylor Navas. Mats Hummels also headed wide and Robert Lewandowski missed a number of key chances as Bayern recorded 22 shots on goal, including 10 on target throughout the game. In contrast, Real produced two goals from three shots on target, compared with Bayern’s 10 efforts on goal.
Real Madrid had only had 40% of the overall possession and made more than 150 fewer passes than their opponents – but it was still enough to reach their record-breaking 16th European Cup final. Luck may have been a factor in the semi-final, however, Real had to get there via a hard road. They beat the French champions in the last 16, the Italian champions in the last 8 and the German ones in the last 4. Granted they did not play well against Bayern; however, they have still managed to score four goals over the two legs. It could be argued that Real Madrid made their own luck
Real Madrid did not shine in the group stage and came through as runners-up, taking just one point from Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who topped the group. But the Spanish side overcame Cyprian opponents Apoel Nicosia and German side Borussia Dortmund. Real Madrid won both legs against French champions Paris St-Germain – picking up a 5-2 aggregate win – and set up a tie with Italian league leaders Juventus. Ronaldo’s 97th-minute was needed to prevent Juventus recording a remarkable comeback at the Bernabeu before Real Madrid survived that patchy display against Bayern Munich in the semi-final.
Liverpool reached the Champions League final for the first time since 2007, advancing 7-6 on aggregate despite losing a dramatic second leg to Roma in the semi-final. A journey that started on 15 August 2017 in Germany against Hoffenheim in the play-off round will end on when Jurgen Klopp’s men face 12-time winners Real Madrid in Kiev. Liverpool topped Group E with 3 wins and 3 draws against Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Maribor, they then beat Porto 5-0 on aggregate, before two dominant performances in the quarter-final against Manchester City winning 5- 1.
Liverpool dominated the first leg at Anfield against Roma winning 5-2 before conceding three times in the second half in Rome to lose for the first time in the competition this season, but Klopp and his players celebrated wildly in front of 5,000 travelling fans after the final whistle at the Stadio Olimpico. Liverpool’s form in both the Premier and Champions Leagues has been slightly “gung-ho”. The “reds” have been wonderful in going forward and that has tended to mask a suspect defense; or so the experts would have us believe. In the Premier League Liverpool have only lost five games at the time of writing, the least behind champions Manchester City; however, 12 drawn games is a telling statistic, the most in the league. There seems to be a philosophy in Liverpool that says, if we concede a goal then we will score two, let in two and score three. Heady times indeed for Liverpool supporters
Liverpool just about kept the Italian team at bay in the semi-final to become the first Premier League club to reach the Champions League final since Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in 2012. The final whistle was greeted with roars from the travelling fans as Liverpool reached their eighth final in Europe’s most prestigious club knockout competition. Liverpool are on their way to a third Champions League final in 13 years despite losing for the first time in this season’s competition. The Stadio Olimpico evokes powerful memories for Reds fans. It was the scene of their first European Cup triumph back in 1977 and they returned seven years later to break Roma hearts in the final.
Klopp will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky when Liverpool head for Kiev later this month. The 50-year-old German has yet to win a trophy since taking charge in October 2015 – his side lost the 2016 League Cup to Manchester City on penalties at Wembley before going down to Sevilla in the Europa League final three months later. Klopp has a chance to write his name in Liverpool’s history book by becoming the fourth manager to lead them to a European Cup/Champions League triumph after Bob Paisley (1977, 1978 and 1981), Joe Fagan (1984) and Rafael Benitez (2005). Yet the former Borussia Dortmund boss has struggled since winning the 2012 German Cup final. His past five finals have all ended in defeat, a statistic that he is desperate to change if Liverpool are to be crowned champions of Europe for a sixth time.
Liverpool’s five European Cup wins from seven appearances mean they are the most successful English team in the competition’s history, but current holders and 12-time winners Real have been victorious in their past six Champions League finals. Surprisingly, for all their success, these two teams have only played each other five times. Liverpool fans focus naturally on that 1981 victory over Real when Alan Kennedy scored the only goal, however, in addition to that 1981 final win, victories have also come in the Champions League knockout stages in 2008-09 with a 5-0 aggregate, although there were two group-stage defeats in 2014-15 when Real got revenge 4-0. This will be the third final to have been played featuring the same two teams in both the European Cup (1956 to 1992) and Champions League (1993 onwards), after Ajax v Juventus and Ajax v Milan.
So what about this year’s final? Let’s start with the respective managers. Since winning the German Cup with Borussia Dortmund in 2012, Jurgen Klopp has lost two German Cups, a 2013 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, and the 2016 League Cup and Europa League finals with Liverpool. By contrast, Real boss Zinedine Zidane has won all six major finals his team have contested – two Champions League finals (2016 and 2017), two Uefa Super Cups and two Fifa Club World Cups.
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo is the leading scorer in this season’s Champions League with 15, but Liverpool have shared the goal scoring load in the Champions League, with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane chipping in with 29 goals combined. That makes them the highest scoring trio for a club in a single season, overtaking Madrid’s Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, who managed 28 between them in 2013-14. Liverpool have scored 40 goals from 189 total shots with 47% on target in this year’s champions League compared to Real’s 30, 208 and 41%. At the time of writing Salah, Firmino and Mane have been in destructive form this season, scoring and assisting 127 goals between them in all competitions. That compares favourably to Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema, who have managed 91 goals and assists this term. So what about the two main strikers? Salah, who joined Liverpool from Roma for £34m last summer, has been a revelation this season scoring 43 goals in all competitions, with some commentators suggesting he should be up there with Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in the reckoning for this year’s Ballon d’Or. But the 25-year-old Egyptian has plenty of catching up to do to reach Ronaldo’s formidable Champions League total of 120, which makes him the competition’s leading scorer.
No doubt the final will be a close affair and no doubt both defences will have their hands full dealing with such potent strikers. If Liverpool can go some way to nullifying the threat posed by Ronaldo then they could just take it. If Real’s focus is on containing Salah then gaps could be opened up for Firmino and Mane to exploit. Whatever the result it is sure to be a great occasion. Where else would you be than at The Local? We hope that our usual fanatical group of Real Madrid spectators will be in attendance and we hope that their jerseys are matched by red ones.