It’s finally here! The Champions League Final will be played on Saturday, March 25th at the 70,050-seat Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine. Spain’s Real Madrid and Liverpool FC of England, two teams who have historically found success in the esteemed tournament, will fight for the trophy.
It’s been a fairly routine season in the competition for Real Madrid who will be playing in the Final for a third consecutive year. For Liverpool, it’s been an amazing run, made possible mostly by the outstanding performances of Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah.
One thing should be clear to all parties concerned: Liverpool is the underdog. They don’t have a single player on their roster who has reached this stage of the Champions League in their career. For perspective, Cristiano Ronaldo, who will lead the line for Madrid on Saturday, will be playing in his sixth Champions League Final. Although both teams have had mediocre seasons in their domestic leagues (Liverpool finishing fourth in England and Madrid finishing third in Spain) their performances in the Champions League have been dazzling. In the knockout stage of the competition, Liverpool took down FC Porto, Manchester City and AS Roma, all with relative ease. Madrid had to get through Paris Saint Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich, which they barely managed to do.
Liverpool’s fast-attacking soccer and beautiful understanding between the front three of Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino has yielded a remarkable 40 goals in the competition. Madrid has scored 30. Cristiano Ronaldo has accounted for 15 of those goals himself and leads the scoring chart for the whole competition but behind him it goes Salah with 10, Firmino with 10 and Mané with nine. It won’t be easy to score in the final though. Madrid has a stern defense marshaled by Sergio Ramos, arguably the best defender in the world alongside a host of experienced players who are all ready for a final.
We have to go back to the “experience” factor that was mentioned above, as it’s such an enormous leg up for Madrid. Having won the competition two years running, Madrid must certainly feel that they have the advantage. Of the starting 11 players who will take the field for Madrid on Saturday, 10 will be going to the World Cup this summer. For Liverpool’s starting 11, only six. Liverpool’s starting right defender is 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold. He has been fantastic this season and it seems harsh to say that he isn’t mature enough to play in such a massive game—because he is—but let’s just say it’s a big responsibility for such a young kid to play against some of the most dangerous attackers in the world.
The midfield is where Madrid should run riot. The class that they possess in players like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Isco should be overwhelming for the likes of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. In 2005, Liverpool won what is widely considered to be the best Champions League Final of all-time. Losing 3-0 at halftime to AC Milan, they fought back with three second-half goals and went on to win in a shootout. The difference is that that the legendary Steven Gerrard captained the team: a great leader who was capable of the amazing.
Lastly, Mohamed Salah, the man who seems capable of winning a game single-handedly, will be fasting all day on Saturday for Ramadan. A devout Muslim, he must abstain from food or drink during daylight hours. The sun will set 30 minutes before kickoff on Saturday so we will see what effect it has on his performance.
Of course history isn’t always a perfect guide for the future, but it shouldn’t be ignored. If we trust it 100%, Real Madrid should go on to win a third consecutive title, and Ronaldo will likely score a goal. It’s not always so simple in soccer though, and no matter what, Liverpool FC versus Real Madrid in the Champions League Final of 2018 will be a game you won’t want to miss.