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Champions League final : can Real contain Liverpool's serial strikers?

Salah, Mané and Firmino have outscored the MSN 29-27 goals; Key stats speak in Reds favour: Liverpool have scored 40 goals, 10 more than Real Madrid's 30.

Saido Mané celebrates scoring for Liverpool. Will it be all smiles for the Reds on Saturday night?
Saido Mané celebrates scoring for Liverpool. Will it be all smiles for the Reds on Saturday night?

Mohamed Salah (10), Roberto Firmino (10) and Mane (9) have scored 29 goals between them in the Champions League so far this season, making them the most prolific trio at a club in a single campaign in the competition. They have scored more than the MSN’s – Messi, Suarez & Neymar – 27 goals when Barcelona won the competition in the 2014-15 season.

Ronaldo on Liverpool : “they look like Real several years ago”

The main threat for Real will be Mo Salah who has been in imperial form since the start of the season. The 25-year-old Egypt international has scored 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool with one game to play on Saturday, and in the process he broke the Premier League record for most goals scored with 32.

He is joint-second with Ronaldo and only one goal behind Leo Messi with 45 goals. He has exactly what it takes to upset Real Madrid's dreams and together with Sané and Firmino, the formidable trio have the quality to destroy Real in Kiev on Saturday.

Liverpool have the team and the passion to win the competition and they have shown that they can score goals and that they can also defend. One concern may be the last 20 minutes of certain games where they have tended to lose their concentration and balance. We saw that against Roma in the semis, where the Italian side scored 2 goals in the closing stages of both legs.

44 goals : Salah and Ronaldo have both scored the same number of goals for their respective clubs in all competitions this season.
44 goals : Salah and Ronaldo have both scored the same number of goals for their respective clubs in all competitions this season.

Real Madrid, or Los Blancos, are now going for a record third straight win in the Champions League – but they won the first 5 editions of the European Cup from 1955-56 to 1959-60. The reigning European Champions will be looking to add the 13th title in a record 16 appearances in the Final. Real Madrid have the experience in the final but as Klopp says, that is not everything.

Klopp on Real : “Liverpool can overcome Real's experience”

Liverpool, who are 5-time holders, won the European title twice in a row in their first couple of appearances in the final. Liverpool won the competition three times in 5 years, 1976-77, 1977-78 and 1980-81 – with Nottingham Forest winning the other two titles and Aston Villa once in 6 years European domination by English clubs.

In 1980-81 season, the Reds beat Real Madrid in the Final of the European Cup by 1-0 in Paris and they will be hoping that history repeats itself in this year’s final in Kiev on the 26th May. Liverpool last won the competition in 2004-05 when they beat AC Milan in Istanbul.

Ruthless Real of last season winning with fortune

Real Madrid is a team that in15 minutes can completely blow you away - they have a gear some other teams don't have.
Real Madrid is a team that in15 minutes can completely blow you away - they have a gear some other teams don't have.

Real Madrid won the semi-final with some good fortune and they were not the better side but they managed to get the job done. Our opinion of Real Madrid is that they are still a formidable force especially in the Champions League but they are not the powerhouse and as ruthless as they were last season.

Real are winning but with disciplined and pragmatic performances rather than with the flamboyant football that we have seen in the last two seasons – managing narrow wins against both Juventus and Bayern Munich. They have gone through the rounds without looking particularly at ease and were largely dominated by Bayern in both their semi-final games but still managed to reach the final.

Zidane vs Klopp : close call

Zidane : expertly able to adjust his team

Zidane realizes that Real may not be as good as last season and he has been very good to adjust that during the last three ties. He has been bold with his choices and has played with youngster’s such as Vazquez and Asensio leaving out some of the senior players, most notably Gareth Bale, who featured only for 20 minutes in both semi-final legs.

It will be interesting to see if they contain the best “strike force” in the competition and we may see them being stretched by the Reds potent attack. Zidane has the weapons at his disposal to score but can he counter Liverpool. His decisions are going to be key for Real, and the French Legend’s future at the club could depend on the result of this game.

Real finished 3rd in Spain's La Liga this season, 16 points behind Champions Barcelona and their domestic form has been poor in comparison to last season. Their flaws have been exposed in Spain's top-flight this season though Zidane has found ways to navigate them through to the Champions League final - without them being particularly brilliant - thanks to his excellent coaching. But, question is, will that be enough against Liverpool?

Real's Zidane and Liverpool's Klopp have been full of praise for the each other's good work in the competition this season. — by Tony Elotu
Real's Zidane and Liverpool's Klopp have been full of praise for the each other's good work in the competition this season. — by Tony Elotu

Klopp : the true European Cup style

Liverpool are playing with the true European Cup style in this season's Champions League, where we expect teams to play with attacking flair, pace and intensity and to defend heroically. And that’s exactly what the German coach has brought to the Red’s this season. Thanks to his work, Liverpool are arguably the best team in the competition.

Julien Laurens Football writer: “I think Liverpool have been the best team in the competition this year - they've been outstanding from start to finish.”

As mentioned by Ronaldo, the Reds look more like Real Madrid's winning side of 2014 and the many who doubted in Liverpool’s chances are now starting to believe that they really are the outfit and with their direct, fast-paced football, they can destroy any team on their day.

The Red’s “serial striker’s” of Salah, Firmino and Mané have been exceptional under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp. Klopp has used his three forwards to great effect and they have grown in maturity during the competition. He has greatly improved his defence, which was their weakness at the start of the season, and his midfield is solid as well.

Klopp's major problem, other than the obvious, Ronaldo, is that he does not really have a “Plan B” like does Zidane at Real and that causes the real danger. As we mentioned earlier, it is essential that Klopp keeps the equilibrium until the end of the game if he wants to beat Real.

Raphael Honigstein German Football writer : “There is very little they can do to change the flow halfway through the game if they're not on top. Real Madrid are the exact opposite. They have Gareth Bale in reserve, probably Isco and Marco Asensio too.”

As seen here against City in the quarters, Liverpool's Salah (bottom right) and Mané (top right) are ideally placed to receive the ball with space behind them when the defense recovers the ball and then they deadly on the counter. — by Tony Elotu
As seen here against City in the quarters, Liverpool's Salah (bottom right) and Mané (top right) are ideally placed to receive the ball with space behind them when the defense recovers the ball and then they deadly on the counter. — by Tony Elotu

For example in the last game against Roma, Klopp subbed Mané with 20 minutes to go and Liverpool totally lost their shape and balance. Mané, in tandem with Salah, acted like an outlet for the defence or the link from defence to attack with his placement, exceptional ball carrying skills and the superb distribution forward or through midfield.

However as soon as he left the field, the Reds lost that outlet and suddenly had problems playing out of defence, which they had done expertly until then. Liverpool looked dangerously unbalanced. The game switched in an instant and Roma then took advantage and scored two goals that Liverpool could maybe have avoided.

Liverpool's Mané pressing high against City. Though when they attack he is in a similar position and he relay's the ball forward or across midfield - as above with the red line. — by Tony Elotu
Liverpool's Mané pressing high against City. Though when they attack he is in a similar position and he relay's the ball forward or across midfield - as above with the red line. — by Tony Elotu

The issue for Liverpool is that Real are the specialists at that game and that's exactly how Real negotiated last year's final against Juventus. At 1-1, Real scored two goals on 61 and 64 minutes that put the game out of reach and they finished off the work with another late goal to make it 4-1.

Liverpool cannot afford to collapse late in the game like they did against Roma - though they had a good advantage from the first leg they almost suffered the same fate as Barcelona did in the previous round.

Looking closer at the stats below, the teams look very balanced, though the key for Liverpool is their scoring rate in the Champions League, and this is where they are way ahead of even Real. Their goal-scoring ability will play in their favour and we believe it will eventually win them the Cup if they can stay tight at the back and well organized until the end of the game.

The key stats speak in Liverpool’s favour

Liverpool have scored the most goals in the competition with 40, ahead of Real’s 30. The Reds also became the third team to score 40 goals within a single season in the Champions League, after Barcelona (45 in 1999-00) and Real Madrid (41 in 2013-14).

The Reds scoring rate is 3.3 goals per game compared to Real’s 2.5. Liverpool have conceded 13 goals compared to Real’s 15. In 12 games Liverpool have won 7 and lost only 1 whereas Real Madrid have won 8 and lost 2 games.

Los Blancos, with 209, have had the second most attempts behind Bayern with 219, and ahead of Liverpool with 189 attempts on goal – an average of 17.33 for Real verses 15.75 attempts per game for Klopp's men. However, Liverpool narrowly lead the Spanish giants in terms of attempts on target with 89 compared to Real’s 86.

Real have been frail defensively in the Spanish league this season and both Bayern and Juve also exposed this. Real, with the 6th best defence, conceded 44 goals in the league this season, double that of Atlético Madrid, La Liga's best defence. Real have only won two of their last 5 league games - though they were long out of the title race. However, they scored a massive 94 goals, only second to Barça's 99.

Liverpool scored an impressive 84 goals in the Premier League, second to Champions City on 106 but conceded 38 goals, 6 fewer than Real in the same number of games - City had the best defence conceding only 27 goals, Reds were joint 4th best. The Reds have also only won two of their last five games in the Premier League.

Key stats :

  • Under Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid have never been knocked out in the Champions League, progressing in all nine of their two-legged Champions League ties as well as winning the two finals they have appeared in.
  • Zidane is the first manager to reach three consecutive Champions League finals since Marcello Lippi between 1996 and 1998.
  • Real Madrid have reached their 16th European Cup/Champions League final – more than any other side.
  • Liverpool have scored 20 away goals in the Champions League this season, equaling the record for a single campaign in the competition (level with Real Madrid 2013-14).
  • Sadio Mane’s strike was his ninth in the Champions League in just his 10th appearance – no player has scored more in their opening 10 games in the competition (level with Harry Kane and Simone Inzaghi).
This article was originally published on sports