Sport360 - 5/16/2018 4:51:49 PM - GMT (+4 )
On Tuesday night, as Real Madrid kitted themselves out in special t-shirts to celebrate their progression to a fourth Champions League final in five seasons, you couldn’t help but think Liverpool – should they reach the final – would have nothing to fear in Kiev.
24 hours later, and following another crazy semi-final tie between Jurgen Klopp’s men and Roma, you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was Zinedine Zidane and his players who shouldn’t be worried.
But, after two semi-final ties that saw 20 goals scored and defensive solidity seemingly abandoned throughout by all four clubs involved, perhaps an element of trepidation is exactly what both sides need ahead of the final in Ukraine later this month.
Both must embrace the challenge and play to their obvious strengths, but a level of respect, which appeared non-existent in the semi-finals, must be evident.
Liverpool will be coming up against Europe’s dominant force over the last five seasons. With Cristiano Ronaldo the man for the big occasion, and an apparent invincibility in the Champions League, Klopp must recognise the size of the task at hand.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid have plenty of Champions League final experience
Madrid meanwhile have to stop Liverpool’s attacking trio – without question the most formidable in the world right now – when the two face off at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium on May 26. That in itself is hard enough.
Madrid and Liverpool may be in the final, but both sides appear vulnerable.
The forward movement from Bayern against Los Blancos was excellent, but too often Zidane’s side were caught out by switches of play and quick interchanges in the final third, with Keylor Navas – mocked for his failure to keep out Joshua Kimmich’s strike in the first leg – standing tall, making an impressive eight saves at the Bernabeu.
Bayern got plenty of joy down their right. Mohamed Salah, especially, will be licking his lips at the prospect of coming up against Marcelo and Madrid. The Brazilian left-back abandons his defensive duties at every opportunity, and was left brutally exposed for Kimmich’s opener in Munich a week ago.
But while Salah will look to make the most of Marcelo’s advances forward, they too could pose a problem for Liverpool defensively.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, brilliant in both legs against Manchester City in the quarter-finals, found Roma’s direct approach too tough to handle in the Stadio Olimpico. With Marcelo getting forward at every opportunity, and Ronaldo drifting out to the left, the 19-year-old will need protection – something Salah doesn’t offer.
Mohamed Salah should get space going forward, but will he leave Trent Alexander-Arnold exposed?
While the battle between Marcelo and Liverpool’s main man could be a decisive factor, an inability to defend crosses in both boxes could have just as much of an impact in Kiev.
Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos flapped every time Bayern looked to get the ball into the box from wide positions, with both Kimmich and James Rodriguez making the most of their indecisiveness in Madrid.
And while Virgil van Dijk has aided Liverpool’s defensive improvements, they too looked susceptible to balls into the penalty area, both from deep and from wide, with Edin Dzeko and Cengiz Under so nearly benefitting in the second leg in Rome.
Tactically, Zidane perhaps has more to think about than Klopp. The Liverpool boss, who has lost his last five finals as manager, will set up in his trusted 4-3-3 system. Zidane meanwhile will need to decide whether to play a flat or diamond 4-4-2.
If the Madrid boss goes with the former, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum could well dominate the middle of the park, whereas a diamond formation will present opportunities to either Isco or Marco Asensio in attacking areas, but could leave Marcelo and Dani Carvajal exposed against Salah and Sadio Mane.
The frantic semi-finals left us with more questions than answers ahead of the final, but with uncertainty and vulnerability at the back for both sides, attack may well be the best form of defence.
Those watching will be in for a treat come crunch time in Kiev – goals are guaranteed.