Beautiful, reckless Liverpool give us a dream final

We have the final European football needed: a game to give one last fizzle and pop before club world is snuffed out for three months.

The predictability of the continent’s top leagues has been in another tier in 2017-2018, breeding stagnation and boredom. Barcelona, Manchester City, PSG and Bayern Munich for practical purposes all had their respective leagues in a bow by January at the latest. Ironically, it’s been only Italy, so long a serial monopolist, that has offered us an elite, capricious title race.

Kiev will host the antidote. Real Madrid vs Liverpool. Two historical titans of the competition. Seventeen European Cups between them. You’re safer picking a roulette number than predicting this score. It’s exactly that volatility that will, if we’re lucky, give us one of the most entertaining finals in years.

Zinedine Zidane wasn’t supposed to be here. Nor was Jürgen Klopp, really. They lead sides that staggered and floundered out of the opening curtain. But here they are imperfect, flawed, exciting and audacious.

Throughout the pitch there are battles that induce anticipation for thrill, and others should provide alluring doses of tactical warfare.


Ruthlessness has taken Madrid to their third final in a row. Whether Cristiano Ronaldo is flanked by Isco, Lucas Vázquez or Marco Asensio, or partnered by Karim Benzema, a shred of space is all he needs in the box to apply a deadly finish. That’s the catch-22 of stopping the Portuguese: focus the defence inwards, suffocate him in the box, but risk your wings being marauded by Marcelo Vieira and Dani Carvajal.

Klopp will rue the absence of Joël Matip, out for the season with a thigh injury. Dejan Lovren, against Roma in both semifinal legs, once again exposed his ability to compromise a game with his lack of concentration. The performances were reminiscent of his circus display back in October at the 4-1 Tottenham Hotspur humbling. His bird-watching while the ball floated over his head and into Harry Kane’s path has likely been used at many a defence seminar.

On the other end, Mohamed Salah’s performances have seen him compared to Ronaldo: he could rival the galactico and Lionel Messi for the Ballon d’Or. The Egyptian and his cohorts, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, have ripped many a defence apart this season with their pace and barbarous counterattacking efficiency. In Sergio Ramos and Rafaël Varane, Real have two centre-backs capable of keeping pace with the trident, while equally capable of losing shape. Keylor Navas has a front-seat view for what could devolve into fast-paced, all-out havoc.

Both sets of attack have their midfields to credit for their proficiency. Casemiro is a grafter adept at snapping at heels and capitalising on the subsequent destruction. Toni Kroos and the silky Luka Modric spray the ball intelligently into attack. Klopp will likely line up with Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner in midfield. All three are non-flashy grinders who will try to disrupt the Real flow. It’s in their ability to distribute that Liverpool will sorely miss some of their injury-laden creative midfielders.

The midfield battle is the less flashy, though no less important, ingredient. Real has the indisputable Champions League final experience, but can that drown out the walking frenzy that is Liverpool? Zidane has nothing to prove, but Klopp has nothing to lose. One thing’s for certain — it’s going to be a cracker. 

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

Related stories

The Premier League returns: Strange times, stranger football

English football is set for (another) defiant return, bringing with it several bizarre subplots

Klopp and his Beatles move on from ‘Yesterday’

The wait was long and painful, from the endless jokes to that Steven Gerrard slip. But after 30 years Liverpool are finally Premier League champions of England

The secret behind the Josef Zinnbauer magic

The Orlando Pirates coach has masterminded a dramatic turnaround at the struggling club he joined just over four months ago. Now, they are league contenders

Red Devils have found their superstar

In Bruno Fernandes the club have finally found that talismanic midfield playmaker to build a team around

Saudi splurges on sports PR

The kingdom seeks to boost its economy – and reputation – by offering high rewards’ events

Can Guardiola salvage Man City’s season?

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola conceded the Premier League title to Liverpool long ago, but his side's profligate attack and porous defence are becoming...
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…