On the red side on May 26th in Kyiv, Ukraine, will be the intense synchronized raging Liverpool led by the German Jurgen Klopp. The five-time European champions have mastered the art of taking to the contest with such hostility that it effectively disrupts and dismantles oppositions with ease.
On the other end of the spectrum, it is all about painting the canvas white – to standout irrespective of the circumstances. Real Madrid under the stewardship of Zinedine Zidane has either left teams in awe with their work of art or with the sheer ability escape tight situations.
The UEFA Champions League final represents a clash of styles as both Liverpool and Real Madrid are on the cusp of history that would eventually help shape or define their respective eras.
The Red Stadium of Trotsky, as the Olympic Stadium was once called will be the scene for what is undoubtedly going to a fascinating battle of tactics and nerves. Madrid, who this year felt more at home in Europe will be in for a rude shock as if the Red Stadium lives up to its name.
Once Real and Zidane realised the importance of the competition in terms of what it meant to their season, the emphasis shifted and they engineered wins by concentrating on where to land the killer blow one round at a time. Madrid, 12-time winners of the competition, notwithstanding their struggles they made hay while the sun shone.
Liverpool though is in the midst of an absolute adventure courtesy their 44 goal hero Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian has netted 11 in a record breaking tally of 46 for the Kop in Europe. Standing alongside with him is the duo of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane and the troika is undoubtedly a scary prospect for any defensive unit.
Keeping them quiet will be quite a task, and as Klopp has rightly picked on, Madrid’s defensive frailties and penchant for playing the opponents half would lay the perfect foundation for them to do their thing – find the back of the net with aplomb. There is nothing that suggests Sergio Ramos will have a comfortable time or Marcelo can saunter about at will and entertain with his bag of tricks.
Attacking football is by a mile the state of the art in contemporary football, and no one in this fixture epitomises it better than Cristiano Ronaldo. Though not his robust and rampant self as compared to previous years, Ronaldo, for whom, the overarching theme has been more about effectiveness is no more blessed with the qualities his opponents posses, but in his zone, he is as accurate as Robin Hood.
On the brink of a record fifth winners’ medal, Ronaldo’s hunger will be unbridled and when placed alongside the likes Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Isco and Marco Asensio, it would send the alarm bells ringing in Klopp’s head, while his defenders would be pardoned for being scared to say the least.
The Virgil van Dijk-led defense has shown more than a few cracks over the season, and like their attacking teammates the opposition is more than adept carving open a side.
The headline act is without an iota of doubt the duel between Salah and Ronaldo, though neither is likely to literally come face to face, it is difficult to compare the two.
Primarily both players are vastly different in their style of play, and even though the Egyptian’s power running and quick foot are similar to the Portuguese’s days in England, the latter's evolution changes the balance of power in his favour. Mostly because Ronaldo has been doing it season after season, while Salah, among the pantheon of greats is a newbie.
The German tactician will of course depend on the ‘heavy metal’ approach, a method that is synonymous with him. But once you get through the maze there is the kind of space Liverpool won’t want to afford their fancied opponents who are more than capable of flicking the switch in the blink of an eye. Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren must bring their best game to the fore and hope the midfield led by Jordan Henderson is their usual destructive self as Kroos and Modric rarely need an invitation. Klopp has lost his last five major finals as a coach, including the 2013 Champions League with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich, and the 2016 Europa League with Liverpool against Sevilla, but on his day, Real Madrid are aware, that his shrewd and passionate ways are as dangerous as any.
If Real Madrid complete the hat-trick and emulate the Bayern Munich side of the mid 1970s, it would mean Spain have won the last five titles, while Zizou makes it three on the bounce. The Frenchman has had his back to the wall for almost all of the season and returning to Madrid empty handed could be dangerous. Casemiro will have to do a big job for Zizou, be the Claude Makelele to this current crop of Los Blancos, while reuniting the BBC, considering Gareth Bale’s return to form will be an exciting prospect. There is possibly a need for adding a layer of cover in the middle as Marcelo is unlikely to hold back. A Champions League winner himself with the help of an iconic goal in Glasgow, Zizou has to choose between the usual free flowing ways and throwing caution to the wind.
Come Saturday, Liverpool will take the field a day after the thirteenth anniversary of their famous triumph against AC Milan in Istanbul. The Olympic Stadium can expect a thriller between two sides who have shown the aptitude to ace the knockout blows this season. Liverpool and Klopp have a score to settle with, once again against the odds, while Real Madrid and history is a mysterious couple.