On Saturday, Real Madrid will be bidding for their third straight UEFA Champions League title on the bounce. This would also be Real’s fourth Champions League trophy in five years, to reinforce what has been true for them over the past five years: that they are the best side in Europe, even when they aren’t quite delivering at home.
Real Madrid, of course, have the most Champions League/European Cup trophies in their cabinet of any side: 12. The fact that their 2014 win was their first in 12 years – during which they didn’t even make a final – and the fact that they’ve dominated the competition since then, signifies that Real Madrid are adding to a new era of dominance in the UEFA Champions League.
Standing in the way of all that are a Liverpool side that are playing the Champions League final for the first time since 2007. They are, in fact, the first English side to reach the final since Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in 2012.
It was Liverpool’s heroic 2005 win in Istanbul that actually kick-started a run of success for English teams in the competition. They were similar underdogs against AC Milan, who were then the most dominant side in Europe. Can Liverpool pull off a similar epoch-defining win to put English clubs back on the map in Europe?
Of course, the future of English football would be the last thing on Liverpool’s mind right now. For them, it’s an opportunity to reinforce that of all the English clubs, they look the likeliest to do damage in Europe – which they have done this season. They are the most successful English club in the competition having won it five times.
But the reason why a Liverpool win would be significant for the English teams is because of the sheer dominance of Spain in continental competitions. Of the nine Champions League and Europa League competitions since 2014, Spanish sides have won eight – including last week’s Europa League win for Atletico Madrid. Manchester United’s 2017 Europa League win is the only anomaly.
Even so, during those 90 minutes – or more – none of this would matter, or penetrate the minds of those vying to create history in Kiev. The only thing everyone would want out there is to get their hands on the most coveted piece of silverware in all of football.
Real Madrid would start as favourites, having won the previous two competitions, and having reached the final with a much trickier route: Paris Saint Germaine, Juventus, Bayern Munich – the champions of France, Italy and Spain.
Liverpool’s path to the final has been relatively easier – Porto, Manchester City, AS Roma – although the City quarterfinal stands out, and put JurgenKlopp’s side on the map.
It is also a matchup between two of the three best players in the world right now – Mohammed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom are in hot goal-scoring form. With Salah being the first player in a decade to challenge the duopoly of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a Champions League win for Liverpool could further substantiate the claims that the Egyptian, in fact, is the best player in the world as things stand.
What Salah also has is Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane alongside him, forming the most explosive trio in all of Europe. Liverpool are the top-scorers in the Champions League this season, and it’s evident that they’ll continue their gung-ho approach and take the game to the defending champions.
While Real Madrid have overcome tougher opposition, they haven’t quite been as convincing in their wins. While Cristiano Ronaldo was largely anonymous against Munich, after having scored in every single Champions League match before that, he knows the significance of the Champions League win – both for him and his team.
In addition to the hat-trick, which hasn’t been achieved since Bayern Munich in the 70s – Real Madrid were the first side to successfully defend a Champions League title last season, since the competition transforming into its latest format – Madrid would also be making up for a horrid season domestically, where they sit third ahead of the final round of fixtures, 15 points behind champions Barcelona, having been knocked out of the Copa Del Rey at the quarterfinals stage.
For Ronaldo, personally, that means that any chance of winning the next Ballon D’Or would hinge on winning the Champions League, not only because failure to do so would mean Salah would’ve won the tournament, but also because Messi has been dominant in Spain and is the likeliest to go the farthest at the World Cup.
The Champions League is a faceoff between two European giants, with weak defences, who would be going on all-out attack to outdo their opponents in scoring, which means it could be an absolute belter of a match.
Real Madrid remain favourites, but only just. For, this could just as easily be the day Messi and Ronaldo are jointly dethroned by Mohammed Salah.