If you asked anybody early this year whether they thought Liverpool would be in the UEFA Champions League final come May, they would’ve looked at you crazy. Liverpool weren’t even guaranteed a spot in the competition at the beginning of the season, as they had to face off against Bundesliga side Hoffenheim to earn their place in the group stages.
But after dispatching the German outfit, Liverpool were ready to take the Champions League by storm. The calendar years has seen the Reds defeat Porto, Manchester City, and Roma in the knockout stages, and they will be competing in their first UCL final since 2007 — and hoping to win it for the first time since 2005.
Standing in their way are repeat winners Real Madrid, keen for a three-peat.
It’s no easy task, but here’s what Liverpool will need to do to bring the Champions League trophy back to Anfield.
Return to Their Previous Defensive Form
Prior to conceding 6 goals across 2 legs against Roma, Liverpool had only conceded 7 goals throughout the competition. They have the defensive capability to hold off rapid attacks like Madrid’s (Ex. Man City), and if they can hold strong during the first 15-20 minutes, the game will even out and they’ll have the opportunity to establish their tempo.
Going back to the second leg away to City, Liverpool went down early and it led to a hectic first half. The hosts held the ball for much of the time and would’ve gone two goals in front were it not for the post and an offside call against Leroy Sane. Fortunately, Liverpool went on to win the match, but if they want to give themselves the best chance next Saturday, they’ll have to make sure they get through the first 15.
Staying compact and forcing Madrid to play through the middle will be crucial to Liverpool’s cause. Their fullback positions are the weakest of the 11, and their inexperience (looking at you Trent) is something Real will look to take advantage of.
Win the midfield battle
Probably the biggest thing Liverpool need to do to help them win this game is win the midfield. The midfield three will have to play at a high intensity and make sure they don’t hold the ball for long. Quick movement will open up space and create opportunities to play in any of Liverpool’s front three.
Jordan Henderson is the most important person in making this happen. Henderson will have to remain stout in the middle of the park so that Wijnaldum can move forward and help in the attack.
With Real more than likely to field a midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Luca Modric, it won’t be easy. All three often complete close to 90% of their passes and Kroos especially is someone who can pick out a crucial pass. With 24 key passes so far in the Champions Leagu,e it’s apparent that the German pulls the strings in Los Blancos’ midfield. Despite that, Juventus proved that winning the midfield battle against Madrid will put them on the back foot.
Capitalize on Their Chances
There’s no doubt that both teams are attack-minded. Whoever wins this game will come down to who capitalizes on their chances. If you narrow it down to statistics, Real Madrid creates more marginally more offense — 18 big chances to Liverpool’s 17, 208 total attempts to Liverpool’s 189, and 678 attacks to Liverpool’s 603. However, Liverpool are the team that have capitalized the most, with 46 goals this campaign compared to Madrid’s 30.
Also, Liverpool’s distribution of goals scored is wider than Madrid’s — Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino both have 11 goals, while Sadio Mané has 9.
Madrid’s top scorer is, unsurprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo, who leads the entire competition with 15 goals. But Madrid’s next highest scorer is Karim Benzema, who only has 4 goals in the Champions League this season.
Continue the narrative
Liverpool have defied all odds to get to this point. With massive defensive improvement, barring the Roma tie, a blistering attack throughout the entire competition, and the stellar form of Salah, Liverpool have turned themselves into a side to be feared. They have a higher chance of winning than most think and with Jürgen Klopp’s men hungrier than ever, we very well could see the Reds lifting the trophy come May 26th.