After a phenomenal season Liverpool will tonight cap it off by taking on Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Plenty of questions are abound tactically ahead of this game: Ronaldo or Salah? Defence or offense? Klopp or Zidane? There are many factors going into this game that could determine the outcome. One thing is certain however, all of a red persuasion are in for one hell of a night tonight, whether in Kyiv, Liverpool or anywhere else in the world. This is the game all players want to play in and all fans want to be at. This is what our season, for the past couple of months at least, has been building towards. This is it.
With Liverpool fans flocking to the Ukrainian capital in their thousands throughout the week the team actually only made the trip themselves on Thursday. After being greeted at Zukanyi Airport in Kyiv by dignitaries and members of the Ukrainian armed guard (complete with face paint), the squad made their way to their hotel to rest for the night. Yesterday they held their final training session ahead of the game before Jurgen Klopp, Jordan Henderson and Virgil Van Dijk attended a press conference at the NSC Olympiskyi Stadium.
All three were noted as showing a very relaxed manner and enjoying the press conference. Still, there was a job to be done as the worlds media fielded questions. Most of the queries centred around the man of the moment, Mohamed Salah. There were obvious comparisons which Klopp batted away, as he has done all week. “Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo deserve all the praise and all the things they won in the past because they were constantly, over years, on that level. “Now they are 30-something and still in fantastic shape, both still scoring an unbelievable number of goals. Now everybody is waiting for the next one,” said the gaffer. “If Mo can go there, we will see in the next years. He has fantastic potential; this season was exceptional, unbelievable so far with one more game to go. The season was outstanding. The next few years will show if he can do something similar. It’s not that easy because otherwise a lot more players would have done it.”
Klopp was also able to tell the assembled press that Liverpool had a fully fit squad to choose from for the game, with the exception of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That meant that Emre Can, who had been out since March, is ready for a comeback and is likely to make the bench. Whether this is the German’s last act in a Liverpool shirt remains to be seen. It also means that Adam Lallana is ready to play following an unfortunate time with injuries this season.
Across the dugout from Klopp tomorrow with be his counterpart, Zinedine Zidane. He is a man who is in charge of the club that has won this competition for three of the past four years, two of those coming under his stewardship. He also has a certain pedigree himself in the Champions League having won it previously with Juventus and his current club, scoring the an iconic winner for Real Madrid in the 2002 final at Hampden Park. Quite simply, he is Mr Champions League for Real Madrid. While they haven’t had the best season domestically finishing third in La Liga with their lowest points tally since the turn of the Millennium, a win tonight, and the claiming of ‘la decimotercera’ would excuse all of that.
Journalists close to this club have remarked at how this is the most relaxed they have looked going into a final and how confident they are that they have more quality than Liverpool. Zidane showed his composure yesterday in his press conference, along with Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. One thing he was asked about was the favourites tag attached to his side, which was something he appeared to disagree with. “There’s a lot of things that are said, but we know very well that it’s not the case,” the Frenchman said. “Neither side is the favourite. It’s a final and we’ve both got a 50% chance of winning. We’ll have to put in a big performance to try and win the game. Within the dressing room, we know that we’re not the favourites at all”. Similar to ourselves, Zidane has the luxury of being able to call upon any of his first team players for this game and has chosen to name all of them in the squad.
This game tonight is undeniably the biggest of some of our lives. Real Madrid, the holders and twelve time champions, were rightly seen as the team to beat at the beginning of this season and have stood up to that label. They possess one of the greatest players to ever play the game and the player this season to come close to Mo Salah in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, and this is a bad season for him. They have never face anything like this Liverpool side though, on and off the pitch. You can guarantee that the stadium tonight will be three quarters full with Liverpool fans and there will be over thirty thousand at Anfield (myself included) watching on big screens. This is it fellas, so enjoy because they don’t come around often.