The UEFA Champions League final at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine; promised to be a very entertaining and an attacking minded match due to Real Madrid and Liverpool European campaigns, both teams having scored more goals than any other, the top-four leading scorers (Cristiano Ronaldo, Salah, Firmino and Mané) of the 2017-18 Champions League season were part of the starting line-ups, the top-two leaders for assists (Milner and Firmino) also on the pitch. The Reds have scored 134 goals this season (all competitions) in 55 matches and Real Madrid have scored in each of their last 29 European matches.
Liverpool’s main attacking threat has been Salah during this season playing on the right side of The Reds attacking trio and how the Egyptian was going to exploit spaces left by Marcelo attacking movements was going to be crucial for the outcome of the final in Kyiv but Zidane had a defensive plan to cover the Brazilian’s back, especially during the quick defending – attacking transitions by Klopp’s players, without stopping him to play his attacking football.
Another threat from the English team has been their pressing to regain possession and how quick they break to counter-attack. The Reds started the match pressing high and in less than 25 minutes they had regained possession on Real Madrid’s half 8 times (Firmino 2, Henderson 2, Mané 1, Alexander-Arnold 1, Robertson 1, van Dijk 1).
In the next sequence, we can notice how Mané, Firmino and Salah were pressing high (just outside the box) forcing Navas to play a long ball to Marcelo on the left side of the pitch.
On the following pictures, we can see Sergio Ramos in possession while Wijnaldum and Milner were pressing high to deny spaces for Modrić and Kroos to receive, forcing the Real Madrid skipper to switch the play to Dani Carvajal on the right side who was marked tight by Robertson.
When Real Madrid were in possession, Kroos’ positioning created a defensive balance to allow Marcelo to move forward and support their attacking phases as seen on the following pictures.
Real Madrid’s defensive balance had another shape when they were in possession in Liverpool’s half, where Marcelo and Carvajal (then Nacho) were supporting the attack in wide areas so Casemiro and Kroos were going to stay deep in front of Sergio Ramos and Varane as shown in the pictures below.
When Sergio Ramos or Varane were trying to play out from the back, Casemiro and Kross (mainly) dropped deep to receive the ball and create different combinations to move forward or to drag Milner and Wijnaldum centrally on the pitch to create space in wide areas, especially, on Real Madrid’s left side so Isco or Marcelo could receive with enough space and time.
Notice in the following sequence of 3 pictures when Sergio Ramos was in possession, Kroos dropped deep to receive dragging Wijnaldum to press high on the pitch, Kroos was going to set back to Sergio Ramos to play forward to Marcelo on the left side to receive with plenty of space and time breaking Liverpool’s first defensive line.
Sergio Ramos again in possession (picture below), Kroos dropped to receive to drag Milner to press him creating space on the left side for Isco to receive from Sergio Ramos.
Undoubtedly, Salah’s injury and his substitution on the 30th minute by Lallana changed Klopp’s plan and his first adjustment was to move Mané to the right side and Lallana was going to play on the left side but Lallana’s contribution to Liverpool did not have a major impact. Lallana only received 9 passes during the match (less than Salah and Karius), only one touch inside the box and one blocked shot on the 91st minute. His lack of form, just 59 minutes played since 10th of March, was going to cost The Reds massively.
Firmino’s performance dropped heavily after Salah’s substitution. He did not make any more recoveries during the game and his combination with Mané or Lallana was null. Firmino linked up with Salah 8 times in 25 minutes but only 4 times with Mané and Lallana in 60 plus minutes.
When The Reds played out from the back, Marcelo was going to press Alexander-Arnold high on the pitch to force Liverpool to play long balls, by Marcelo pressing high on the pitch, Sergio Ramos needed to move wide to mark Salah and Casemiro was going to drop deep to keep a back line of four defenders to avoid any overloads by The Reds in attack.
Lovren, in possession (picture below) and Marcelo pressing high to force the Croatian to play long.
Sergio Ramos moved wide to mark Salah and Casemiro dropped as centre back to keep a back line of 4 defenders to avoid an overload by Liverpool attackers.
Alexander-Arnold played forward while Marcelo was pressing him, Sergio Ramos moved wide to mark Salah and Casemiro, again, as centre back forming a back line of four defenders.
When Real Madrid were out of possession in their defensive third, their shape was going to change to a 1-5-3-2 or 1-5-2-3 by Casemiro dropping deep as a third centre back which worked really well for the Spanish team because they blocked 7 Liverpool shots out of 12 shots they made during the match (only 2 on target) and Zidane’s players denied spaces to Klopp’s side to penetrate.
Due to Real Madrid great defensive organisation, Liverpool looked more dangerous in attacking corners which was the way to score the temporary equaliser on the 55th minute by Mané; the Senegalese had another chance to equalise the match for a second time on the 70th minute but this time his shot hit Navas’ post.
On the 61st minute, Bale came on for Isco and the Welsh was going to make a massive impact on the final by scoring two goals to seal the 13th Champions League title for Real Madrid and their 3rd tile in a row.
The UEFA Champions League final in Kyiv was defined by 4 key situations:
- Salah’s injury; Liverpool lost their season talisman and main threat in attack which affected massively the Reds attacking power.
- Karius’ mistakes in the 1st and 3rd Real Madrid goals.
- Bale’s “galactic” goal.