KEIR RADNEDGE in KIEV —- Projections for the Champions League Final here in Kiev – goal-hungry attacks and sieve-like defences – raise a particular question about the meeting of Liverpool and holders Real Madrid: If both teams are so badly unbalanced how did they manage to reach the Olympic Stadium*?
The answer must be that they are not as miscast as popular theory would suggest and that expectations of a dramatically entertaining, high-scoring extravaganza may be misplaced.
Madrid are in search of a record-extending 13th European crown and the honour of becoming the first club since Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s to claim ‘Old Big Ears’ three years in succession. Liverpool, despite nearly three decades without an English league title, are chasing senior European glory for a sixth time.
Hence, paradoxically for a competition labelled as a league the two finalists fulfil the specific qualifications to be designated as ‘cup teams’ and, on that basis, anything may happen.
If Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid are slight favourites on the basis of Champions-occasion experience and an almost surreal self-belief in European competition, then Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool can point to three victories over the Premier League’s all-conquering Manchester City and an attacking trident with 90 goals to their credit in all competitions.
In the Champions League Liverpool have scored a competition-best 40 goals followed by Madrid’s 30.
Klopp’s men have scored seven goals in a game twice in their 14 Champions League outings, scored five twice and three or more a further six times. Only once have they failed to score and that was at home to Porto when they had already won 5-0 away. Defensively, Madrid have managed only three clean sheets and two of those were against the modest Cypriots of APOEL Nicosia.
Madrid will look to Cristiano Ronaldo. At 33 he rations his energy but still boasts a top-scoring 15 goals in the Champions League and 44 in all competitions. That is the same total as Liverpool’s Egyptian hero Mohamed Salah whose sensational goals have brought him English player of the season awards from both media and fellow players.
In defence captain Sergio Ramos remains Madrid’s bulwark as well as a scorer of occasional game-saving goals. Liverpool ramped up their defence in midseason with the record £75m acquisition of Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.
The final may not, after all, be goal-packed but fans of both clubs should have their hearts in their mouths from the first whistle.
** Kiev’s venue bears the ‘Olympic’ title because it hosted football matches in the Moscow 1980 Games.