As Jurgen Klopp walked into the cavernous Soviet-style press room at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium, he was suddenly innocently struck by the huge number of people filling it. “Oh wow,” the Liverpool manager let out, with a smile and then a laugh.
There was none of that with the Real Madrid party. Zinedine Zidane, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos walked in like this is all completely normal to them, which of course it is. They are preparing for their fourth Champions League victory in five years, let alone their fourth final, as well as the challenge of becoming just the fourth team in 63 years to achieve the gold-standard feat of three European Cups in a row.
Amid such a rarefied atmosphere, these were little moments that don’t mean all that much, but do reflect one of a few differences between the clubs that could yet make the difference on the day in Kyiv.
Liverpool are endearingly excited about getting back to this stage – their eighth final but first in 11 years – and know that they are inferior to Madrid. They also know that such excitement – or, rather, the electrical charge that Klopp infuses his team with – is the core of their best quality and the ability to regularly best such sides. They have all the belief that comes from that.
sides. They have all the belief that comes from that.
Liverpool’s route to the Champions League final
This Madrid are meanwhile steadfast in their determination to stay on that stage, and know they are inherently better than Liverpool, as they also know victory here would make them the most successful side in the competition’s history other than their own 1955-60 predecessors. They have all the confidence – or, really, utter arrogance, that comes from that.
Indeed, sources say that key figures at the club believe it might well be the easiest big game they’ve had in this era. It was something partway revealed by former manager Vicente Del Bosque’s prediction that Madrid would win 4-1, even if Ramos, Marcelo and Zidane obviously spoke of “respect” and “taking nothing for granted”.
That genuinely isn’t the case for many around Madrid.
The Liverpool squad, however, are said to be “tuned in” to that. Klopp has his team ready to undercut any Real overconfidence, to fatally challenge any complacency.
The German spoke of how Liverpool will “adjust” to what Madrid do, and therein might lie the winning of this game.
It is not just Liverpool that have adjusted, after all. The Champions League itself has changed in the last few years, and gradually evolved to a point where we are seeing more goals – 3.42 per game in the knock-out stages this season – than at any stage since Real first dominated. These two free-scoring sides have been central to that, and set to take it to a conclusion. And, if the Kyiv showpiece is to follow the sensationalist trend of the season, then, we could well be set up for something we haven’t seen since Liverpool’s last victory: a high-scoring, high-octane final where both sides score more than once. That last happened in 2005, when Liverpool defied all expectation to produce the exhilaration of a 3-3 draw with AC Milan before then producing a victory on penalties.
It really is something to get excited about, and could well be exacting.
Liverpool are said to have “a 2004-05 belief” about the squad, but the utter arrogance that emanates from Real’s quality and experience means that, if the game does become the kind of free-for-all shoot-out that has characterised this campaign, they would always fully back themselves to win it. It is why, all things being equal, they should of course be backed to win this final.
It wouldn’t take too much for this match to proceed exactly as Vicente Del Bosque predicted, and to end up as a 4-1 Madrid win.
That justified arrogance is just another positive of possessing the quality of Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, as well as the recent experience and longer history of so many European Cups.
One potential negative is that such arrogance can almost blind them to possible problems. It brought Real right to the brink against both Juventus and Bayern Munich, in a way it never had before in the last half-decade.
Zidane’s side still came through those games, though, doing so on a knife-edge to further bolster their self-belief. That could mean that – as against Juventus and Bayern – they are too sure of themselves to specifically come up with a plan for what Liverpool can do to them, and the danger is that Klopp’s side pose a threat that will cause Zidane’s defence far greater problems before.
Back in the 2015-16 season at Roma, Mohamed Salah repeatedly found the gap between Sergio Ramos and Marcelo in their last-16 match and ferociously exploited it with his pace like no one else before to create multiple chances – but this was at a stage when he wasn’t yet taking such chances; when he wasn’t the relentless finisher he now is.
He should have had about six goals. He instead had a nightmare, and everyone else seemed to have proof that he would always be a frustrating player.
That alone is how things can change, and it can change Saturday’s final.
Klopp spotted something extra in Salah and enhanced it. If he is in anything like this season’s form, Liverpool could actually make this Real’s most difficult final, especially since their wider attacking qualities seem almost designed to specifically hurt the Spanish side.
That form is another decisive factor, though, arguably much more so than with any other final.