Liverpool will take on Spanish champions Real Madrid in the final of the UEFA Champions League 2021/22 at the Stade de France in Paris on May 29. 41 years after their inaugural meeting in the beautiful city of Paris, the two European heavyweights will clash once again north of the French capital in Saint-Denis to contest the biggest prize in Europe’s premier competition.
Liverpool will be hoping to recover from the disappointment of missing out on the Premier League title to Manchester City and will instead, have a seventh trophy in Europe’s primary competition in their sights this weekend. Meanwhile, Spanish champions and continental veterans Real Madrid are aiming to get their hands on the trophy for a record-extending 14th time, with no other club even coming close to their tally in the history of European football.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have dispatched with Inter Milan, Benfica and Villarreal en route to the Stade de France. Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have dumped out a trio of European heavyweights in Chelsea, Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City with Real Madrid making near impossible comebacks in all three ties. That is perhaps, going to be the narrative that decides the final on Sunday – Liverpool’s dominance against Real Madrid’s resilience.
Following the turn of the year, Liverpool had hopes and dreams of winning a historic and unprecedented quadruple. While they did manage to win the League Cup as well as the FA Cup, they could not overturn Manchester City’s lead in the Premier League even as the battle went on until the final 30 minutes of the last matchday and finished in second place.
True to its hype and billing, the final matchday in the English top-flight presented several twists and turns and nerve-wracking moments. Manchester City were busy getting played out of the park by Aston Villa whose manager Steven Gerrard was expecting to do the club of his life Liverpool a favour by helping them win another Premier League, something he never managed to do in the famous Red shirt. Villa eventually took a two-goal lead with them to the break which seemed to have done the job.
Meanwhile, at Anfield, a plucky Wolverhampton Wanderers side did well to frustrate Liverpool and their disgruntled supporters for much of the first half. The double cup winners in England ultimately did manage to take the lead in the contest and did what they needed to do with a 3-1 win. However, the champions-elect confirmed their status as Premier League winners in a deserving fashion by turning the tie around with three goals against Aston Villa in the space of eight and a half minutes. The Premier League crown remained in Manchester, leaving Liverpool to rue chances of what could have been.
Ending a dominant and promising campaign with only two domestic cups in the cabinet will not be enough to satisfy the traveling Liverpool supporters. They did survive a scare when they were up against European specialist Unai Emery and his giant-killing Villarreal side in the semi-finals. However, the Reds remained unfazed and got the job done both home and away, winning on a 5-2 aggregate score.
The encounter with Real Madrid on Sunday will mark the 10th time that Liverpool have appeared in the final of the Champions League, which was earlier known as the European Cup. While some people may argue that they have enjoyed a relatively fortunate run to the final of the showpiece event this time around, manager Jurgen Klopp will surely point out that there are no easy fixtures in this competition.
While Inter Milan did well to restrict the free-flowing Liverpool frontline in a 1-0 win at Anfield that eventually proved to be inconsequential, Klopp’s men have found the back of the net at least twice in the rest of their fixtures in the Champions League this season – which is no easy business given the unrelenting and uncompromising packed schedule that they had to work with, as Klopp keeps reminding.
Furthermore, that defeat to Inter Milan was an odd blip on the radar as it was their last defeat across all competitions. Jurgen Klopp has gone on to oversee an 18-match unbeaten streak in all tournaments since that loss to the Nerazzurri on March 8. That run includes 10 wins in their last 11 matches.
The meeting with Real Madrid in the Champions League final will not exactly be a happy memory to rekindle, as several members of the current Liverpool crop collected runners-up medals after a fateful night in Kyiv. Now infamous blunders from Loris Karius and a wonder goal from a bicycle kick by Gareth Bale saw Liverpool being on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat and revenge will firmly be on the agenda list for many of the players – none more so than Mohamed Salah who had to come off the pitch in tears after half an hour following a widely debated tackle from Sergio Ramos.
Jurgen Klopp has affirmed time and time again that the need for vengeance will not be playing on the minds of his players. However, Jurgen Klopp has a 33% win percentage against Real Madrid, which is the worst against a single opponent in his illustrious career. Ending that jinx on Sunday will certainly help him make up for the quadruple dream turning into reality by landing Europe’s most coveted trophy.
When Real Madrid overturned a two-goal deficit against PSG, who have built up a reputation of imploding on the biggest stage in the Champions League, many people were thought that it was a fluke. However, dumping out the reigning European champions Chelsea after going 3-0 down at the Santiago Bernabeu as well as overcoming a formidable opponent in Manchester City after conceding four goals at the Etihad Stadium just goes to prove that Real Madrid have an uncanny pedigree hardly matched by any other club in European competitions.
The lethal Karim Benzema is in the form of his life and has been at the heart and soul of several inexplicable Real Madrid comebacks this season. Vinicius Junior has been reigning fire on opposition fullbacks from the left-wing and is finally on course to fulfill the bags of potential he promised. However, that’s far from being the only important contributor in the offense for Los Blancos this season.
Seemingly down and out after 90 minutes against Manchester City, who had secured a firm 5-3 aggregate lead in the semi-final thanks to Riyad Mahrez’s cool and smart finish at the near post, the Spanish champions were once again staring down the barrel and had to go to their deepest reserves in order to find inspiration. That is when Brazilian sensation Rodrygo scored two goals in the space of two minutes to force extra time, which left the home supporters who exited the match early with an egg on their faces.
Their attempts to return to their seats for the final 30 minutes of the contest proved fruitless, but Real Madrid’s efforts to reach the final did not. Karim Benzema slotted in another calm and collected penalty – not a Panenka this time around – to ensure that the champions of Spain would book their tickets to Paris to keep their continental fight going until the final whistle for what could be another monumental night in the history of this reputed and illustrious club.
Real Madrid will also enjoy the advantage of getting more rest and rotation compared to their English opponents. Having wrapped up the La Liga title by the end of April with a hammering of Espanyol, Real Madrid understandably took their foot off the gas in the final few weeks of the Spanish top flight.
Although they managed to win just one of their four final league matches this season, there isn’t too much to read into it as their primary focus was on the Champions League and allowing their players some much-needed rest. They ended their 2021-22 La Liga campaign on matchday 38 with a dull and drab goalless stalemate with Real Betis in the Spanish capital.
One cannot afford to take Real Madrid’s recent results at face value, with head coach Carlo Ancelotti not afraid to rest and give game time to those players who haven’t seen too many minutes this season. This also means that the Italian manager will have plenty of resources in his arsenal as the most successful team in European history will be aiming to lift the prestigious trophy for the 14th time to end a four-year title drought in the UEFA Champions League.
Los Blancos have suffered from concerns this season, most notably when they seemed to implode against Xavi’s Barcelona and suffered a 0-4 hammering in their own backyard at the Santiago Bernabeu. However, they have made light work of Europe’s premier competition and besides, the odd defeat to FC Sheriff in the group stage which seems to have occurred ages ago now, their European pedigree is certainly not up for debate.
Since going down 1-0 to Liverpool in 1981, Real Madrid have won each of their last seven European Cup and Champions League finals, which could end up being a good omen for the team from Merseyside.
Carlo Ancelotti will also be aware of the fact that Real Madrid have failed to keep a single clean sheet in this season’s Champions League playoff matches. Although they have scored 14 goals themselves in the last five continental matches, the Italian boss will be hoping to shore up his rearguard in the Champions League final against Liverpool in Saint-Denis. He will be hoping to complete his own quadruple at the expense of Liverpool on Saturday.
Carlo Ancelotti is just 90 minutes away from becoming the most successful manager in the history of the Champions League with a fourth success on the horizon – leaving Zinedine Zidane and Bob Paisley in his wake. He had also commandeered Real Madrid’s famous La Decima win in the final against Atletico Madrid nearly eight years ago. However, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool could well be a menace and the German intends to take a leaf out of the latter’s book in his hunt for a second Champions League title since taking charge and revolutionising Liverpool’s fortunes.
Liverpool Champions League form:
Liverpool form (all competitions):
Real Madrid Champions League form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):
Liverpool wins: 3
Real Madrid wins: 4
Liverpool Team News: Just while he was building up his fitness levels with a consistent run of matches, midfield maestro Thiago Alcantara, who has been quite unfortunate with injuries in his career, had to come off against Wolves and head down the tunnel with an Achilles injury. The Spaniard had proven to be the star for Bayern Munich in the final in 2020 and he’s expected to be a crucial component in Jurgen Klopp’s plans of quieting down the chaos of Real Madrid’s midfield.
While Jurgen Klopp was initially quite pessimistic about Thiago’s chances of making it to the final, he has since changed his mind and there’s renewed optimism over the midfielder’s availability for the all-important contest. Whether he is fit enough to start from the first minute and play the entire 90 or not, is another question.
On a more positive note, Fabinho, who played a single match with the Real Madrid first team in 2013, is expected to return to the fold after recovering from a hamstring injury. He participated in the latest team training session and Joe Gomez could also end up being a part of the matchday squad after bouncing back quickly from an ankle injury.
Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, who had both suffered knocks in the final of the FA Cup to cause fear in the minds of Liverpool supporters, were fit enough to make it to the bench against Wolves on the final matchday. With a week gone by, they will be expected to return to the starting XI.
Mo Salah, who shared the Premier League Golden Boot, has spoken often about the score he has to settle after missing the bulk of the 2018 Champions League final due to a shoulder injury he suffered following Sergio Ramos’ dangerous challenge. Salah will be expected to displace Diogo Jota from the starting lineup.
Ibrahima Konate, who was largely at fault for Wolves’ early opener this weekend, will be expected to hold down his starting spot in the Champions League even though Joel Matip is another contender.
Cult hero Divock Origi who scored the decisive goal in the final against Tottenham Hotspur in 2019 has played his last match for the club after suffering a muscular problem in training. This means that there will be no big farewell 2019 moment for the much appreciated Belgian ahead of an anticipated free transfer to AC Milan.
Real Madrid Team News: In complete contrast, Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti will be counting on having everyone fit and in shape as they make the charge to make it their 14th trophy on their 17th appearance in the final of a European Cup/Champions League. David Alaba has also made his return to training after missing several of the previous Champions League matches due to an adductor issue.
He was also absent from the squad to face Real Betis, but barring any last-minute surprises, should take the starting spot along with Eder Militao in the heart of the Real Madrid defense, which should relegate Nacho down to the bench.
A veteran and hero of several Champions League victories for Real Madrid, Marcelo has also shaken off injury issues to recover full fitness but he’s likely to be on the bench once again with French full-back Ferland Mendy getting the nod over him.
Eduardo Camavinga has been extremely impressive after coming off the bench for Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout fixtures this season and one can expect him to play a similar role and capitalize on tired Liverpool legs. The trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos will be gunning for yet another Champions League title with Los Blancos.
The Liverpool high line will also be wary of the runs that Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo are capable of making behind. However, much like Camavinga, Rodrygo has also had a maximum impact when coming off the bench and this might force Ancelotti to persist with Fede Valverde in a more offensive role once again.
Another hat-trick for Benzema in the showpiece event would see him break the record for the most Champions League goals in a single campaign – currently held by Cristiano Ronaldo’s 17 in 2013-14 – while he only needs to make the net ripple once to become the outright third-highest goalscorer in the competition as he sits level with Robert Lewandowski on 86.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Diaz
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
Liverpool and Real Madrid have met each other on eight occasions in European competition before this. Los Blancos hold the upper hand with four wins while the Reds from Merseyside have won three fixtures. This might be a tough fixture to call with both sides having shown plenty of credentials to make it to the final.
Goals are expected given that the likes of Karim Benzema, Vinicius Jr, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane will be involved over the course of 90 minutes. The Liverpool frontline should feel confident about grabbing a few goals as the Real Madrid backline can be carved open with tempo and pace, as shown by Manchester City in the first leg of the semis.
However, given the form Benzema has been in, he only needs a quarter of a chance to restore parity and breathe life back into the contest. Luka Modric, one of the finest midfielders of this generation, will also be hard to keep quiet and then there are the two Brazilian star boys on the wing who will be hoping to do Ancelotti’s bidding.
Having Thiago and Fabinho since the start of the contest will be a massive boost for the Reds. Expect goals aplenty in this contest that might just go right down to the wire. Will penalties be involved? It’s hard to say, but it won’t certainly be the least bit surprising if it is required to separate the two European giants.