With two European giants left standing, it is time they finally face off at the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League. The biggest question is: Who will come out on top? Will it be the French-Brazilian duo of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. from Real Madrid, or will it be the Egyptian-Senegalese Reds featuring Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané of Liverpool?
Fans and bettors alike have started to air out mixed takes on their favorites to earn the title. However, it cannot get harder than this to call a victor. With both teams playing at their best form yet, the real mind games will be between Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp. Both managers have been on a high note even before coming into this matchup, extinguishing their tough opponents one-by-one.
This excursion will surely be a battle of the greats, as both teams do not want to relinquish such a prestigious title. After this Sunday’s clash between the Reds and Los Blancos, football fans will know whose house stands taller and who truly conquers European football.
Marks of a true champion
Real Madrid seemed to be one of the favorites of the tournament after a strong performance during the group stage, but describing the Los Blancos’ knockout stage journey as a “tough road” may be an understatement—as the thrilling games were highlighted with improbable comebacks.
In their three knockout stage matchups, Madrid managed to slither their way past Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Chelsea, and Manchester City. Both PSG and Manchester City are champions in their domestic leagues, while Chelsea was defending champions of the Champions League—making every round a tall task for the Los Blancos. Though they were clinical with their counter attacks—which was key to all of their borderline impossible comebacks—Ancelotti’s side seemed rather shaky downfield. The backline of Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, David Alaba, and Ferland Mendy conceded a total of 11 goals in the knockout stages of the tournament—not ideal when taking into account a matchup with Liverpool’s fast-paced offense.
On the bright side, star striker Benzema has been at the forefront of Madrid’s success this season, netting 27 goals and handing out 12 assists in all competitions, while also leading the Champions League with 15 goals heading up to the final in France. But with a strong center forward comes an effective winger. After a breakout season, Vinicius Jr. has gradually earned the reputation of being a household name. The Brazilian turned heads by being a lethal winger with blistering pace who provides assists while remaining clinical in front of goal. And of course, one cannot mention Real Madrid without mentioning their heart and soul—2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić. Like fine wine, Modrić seems to be getting better with age. The Croatian has proven his impeccable form time and time again as he consistently controls the pace of the game through his unparalleled genius at distributing the ball. Though Real Madrid started looking shaky toward the latter half of the season, they proved everyone otherwise by picking themselves back up. Surely, this team would be seeking to annihilate Liverpool once more to capture their 14th European championship and cap off a tremendous season.
A quest for redemption
After conceding the English Premier League title to Manchester City by a single point in the final matchday, Liverpool was denied the chance to become the first English club in history to win the quadruple. Nevertheless, they still boast a brilliant season—claiming two trophies by overcoming Chelsea to win both the Carabao Cup and FA Cup on penalties.
Compared to their upcoming adversaries, Livepool’s Champions League journey to the final featured a cakewalk against inferior squads. The Reds comfortably swept their group and finished with 18 points. The team’s toughest matchup came in the round of 16 where they faced Italian champions Inter Milan and eventually advanced by the slimmest of margins, 2-1, in aggregate time. Following that, Klopp’s troop breezed past Portuguese club Benfica in the quarterfinals and Spanish team Villarreal in the semifinals. The six-time European champions had their attack in high gear, scoring at least five goals on aggregate in these two matchups.
Liverpool is a team stacked with depth in all areas of the pitch but no one can deny that Salah continues to be the main man for the Reds. The Egyptian King scored 30 goals and dished 14 assists in all competitions this season while also being touted as a leading candidate for the 2022 Ballon d’Or, alongside the aforementioned Benzema.
Another big factor for the Reds’ success is the brilliant fullback duo of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson with 15 and 13 assists, respectively. Although Liverpool’s high-octane attack has constantly been given the plaudits, their defense has picked up after last year’s shaky season and this is in no small part due to the return of star centerback Virgil Van Dijk. The list of stars present in the squad goes on—showing the quality that Klopp can and has to utilize in their bid to avenge their 2018 Champions League final loss and to claim their seventh European crown.
Still the kings of Europe
As Real Madrid defeated Liverpool to earn the title back in 2018, the latter looks to make a comeback and to change the tale of their legacy. However, it is hard to forget how this final matchup came to be—with Liverpool being the better team on the stat sheet, Real Madrid’s being unmatched in skill and making them survive the knockouts.
Some fans predict that the Reds are the ones to beat, mainly due to their 26-7-1 win-loss-draw record since the start of 2022. With Salah previously admitting that he looks forward to this rematch and to Mané’s sheer form, the duo will look to capitalize on Madrid’s weaker backline. Los Blancos will also have to deal with getting past world-class keeper Alisson Becker. Having 27 clean sheets just proves, once again, that he is one of the best between the sticks.
With Real Madrid being a much bigger surprise in the league, most pundits would attribute this to Benzema and Vinicius’ dynamic pairing. Even though this duo has become the lifeblood of this team, Liverpool should not forget the level of experience that exists within Real Madrid. Experienced players like Modrić, Toni Kroos, and Casemiro have had their fair share of trophies with the club and can surely aid in this monumental battle.
Getting into the nitty-gritty of football, Liverpool and Real Madrid are somehow polar opposites of each other, making it a point of contention for the upcoming game. With Liverpool playing a high backline—allowing Vinicius Jr. to be unstoppable—the speed and touch of this young star will be a notable threat However, with their aggressive style of play, they can exploit Real Madrid’s weaker backline to get more goals. Statistics alone prove this claim as, throughout the knockouts, Real Madrid conceded 11 goals in comparison to Liverpool’s seven.
On the opposite side of the field, Real Madrid’s play has always been slow during the first half before changing pace during the latter half. However, this would not fare well with Liverpool’s full 90-minutes of aggressive play. The Spanish squad’s inability to sustain pressure makes them more susceptible to the opponent’s grunt. It is easy to say that Real Madrid should be open to counterpressure and use their stronger midfield to their advantage. Los Blancos can also be expected to utilize their ability for quality long balls to match in their breakneck speeds and send the ball into the back of the net.
Predicting the outcome, Real Madrid is bound to win against Liverpool in this 2022 UEFA Champions League Final. Even though Liverpool is usually the sportsbook’s bet due to the team’s overall depth, Real Madrid has proven that their championship DNA never falters in the brightest lights and at the biggest stage of football.
The match can be viewed tomorrow, May 29, at 3 am Philippine time.