By Aristo Dotse
Liverpool’s charismatic German manager Jurgen Klopp, a one-time Uefa Champions League finalist, has told and urged his enterprising Liverpool side to come brave against Real Madrid in his second Champions League final in the Ukrainian capital on Kiev on Saturday.
Like his Borrussia Dortmund side that played some great football, including brushing aside Real Madrid in the semi-final, before losing to fellow German side Bayern Munich in the final at Wembley Stadium in 2013, this his Liverpool-coached side have played superb football beyond expectation into the final and have come face to face to with a top class opposition in Real Madrid to decide the champions of Europe for 2018.
Being the masters and aristocrats of the prestigious European Cup and champions of the last two seasons, when they became the first club in the current Champions League era and since AC Milan in 1990 to win the competition back-to-back, Real are seen to be a bit too much for Liverpool this time. Thus, Zinedine Zidane’s team are considered big favourites by many to make a further Champions League record of three consecutive wins at the Kiev National Olympic Stadium on Saturday, despite Liverpool’s very remarkable, rich and superior performance in this season’s campaign.
It’s therefore no surprise for Klopp, in his first final news conference at Liverpool’s home of Anfield on Monday, to make a rallying call to his players to be “brave” and courageous against Madrid on Saturday. “Real Madrid are more experienced. Experience is important in life but it is not the only thing,” said Klopp.”We will try in a very positive way to show the boys why it makes so much sense to be really brave,” he added. “It was not easy to be brave against Manchester City, it was not easy to be brave against Roma. But the boys did it.”
Truly, in perfect agreement with the Liverpool manager, the only thing Liverpool – who can take some inspiration from Tottenham’s draw and win against Madrid at the group stage- need to do to stand a good chance of beating them to repeat their victory in the 1981 European Cup final in Paris, is to be brave and believe they can win against this strong, experience Real side put together by Zidane – who will become the third coach (after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti) to win the competition three times and also join Liverpool’s Paisley as the second to win all three with one club if his side triumph in Kiev.
Liverpool, in topping their group and putting up some record-making performances in the Champions League this season, have blown teams apart, right from the qualifying stage against German side Hoffeinham to the semi-final against AS Roma. They can and are capable of doing the same against Madrid but they must first believe they can do it, as Klopp has pointed out.
“Liverpool, in topping their group and putting up some record-making performances in the Champions League this season, have blown teams apart, right from the qualifying stage to the semi-final. They can and are capable of doing the same against Madrid but they must first believe they can do it, as Klopp has pointed out”.
Their strong performance and other favorables should be enough reasons for them not to fear Madrid. Similarly, the same reasons should be enough for Madrid to respect Liverpool and for fans or followers to take Liverpool serious.
People, including Madrid, should be aware that the Liverpool side Madrid will be facing in the final is not the Liverpool that placed fourth in the Premier League, (they could have fared better in finishing second or at least third if not because of the Champions League distractions), but the devastating, ruthless Liverpool side that have overwhelmed all thus far in the Champions League.
Total team performance
From a humble beginning from the preliminary point through the group stage, Liverpool have produced a total team performance, laced with some remarkable feats, up to this stage, where they are only a game away from becoming the champions of Europe for a sixth time.
Liverpool have scored a total of 40 goals (46 if you add the six over two legs against Hoffeinham at the preliminary stage) in the Champions League this season – the highest by any club in a single season in history – and this is 10 more than Real Madrid have managed this term.
Unlike Madrid who have heavily relied on one player, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 15 to be the leading scorer in the campaign, Liverpool’s goals have come from across their forward line. Together, the trio of Mohamed Salah (10), Roberto Firmino (10) and Sadio Mane (9) have netted 29 (31 if you include one each for Salah and Firmino from the qualifier against Hoffeinham) of Liverpool’s goals, to become the most or best attacking unit in the competitions history. They beat the previous record of 28 goals set by Madrid’s BBC trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo in the 2013/14 season.
Two of those 40 goals came against Roma in the second leg of the semi-final, to make Liverpool the only side this season to score against Roma at their Rome home, a feat even Barcelona and Chelsea couldn’t achieve.
In that match which Roma won 4-2, Liverpool thus lost for the first time in the Champions League this season, making the Reds the least beaten team in this season’s campaign.
There is also the small matter of their experience player and assistant captain James Milner being the top assist maker this season. He is followed by another Liverpool player, Firmino who has produced eight assists, one less than Milner.
‘Miracle of Istanbul’ inspiration plus Gerrard call
So aside Liverpool’s strong case this season, they can also take massive inspiration from their last European Cup triumph in 2005.
In what has become known as the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ in the greatest comeback in the history of the European Cup, Liverpool miraculously recovered from a 3-0 first half deficit within that “6 minutes of madness”, as Milan coach Ancelotti described it, in the second half to eventually win on penalties after extra time.
Liverpool will not only be taking inspiration from the great comeback but also from the fact that their opponents that night, AC Milan, had a truly legendary side, a team full of great, legendary players.
From Dida in goal, through Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Jaap Stam, Allesandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Genera Gattuso, Kaka, Clarence Seedorf, Hernan Crespo and Andriy Schevchenko, and substitutes like Allesandro Costacurta, Rui Costa and Serginho, Milan possessed a team that was far superior to Liverpool’s in terms of talent, class and experience. And that Milan team, comparatively, had more gurus than this current Madrid team. But Rafael Benitez’s side, led by the indefatigable Steven Gerrard, who was named the man-of-the-match, never gave up and did the unthinkable. And in a telling observation, this current Liverpool side is better than the 2005 team, as have been admitted by both Benitez and Gerrard, the two men who inspired that ‘Rafalution’.
Thus, very correctly, Gerrard who scored the first of Liverpool’s comeback goals has issued a message to the current Liverpool side to emulate their very remarkable feat in the Miracle of Istanbul against Madrid on Saturday.
“My message to the players would be: go and grasp it, go and seize the moment you have worked so hard for. Go and reward yourselves for the journey you have taken this club on,” the former Liverpool captain and now Glasgow Rangers manager said. He added: “You’ve got to go in with the belief and confidence; you have come this far. You’ve got to handle the responsibility of being a Liverpool player and you’ve got to go and deliver.”
3-2 against Madrid
Liverpool and Madrid have met each other 5 times in the European Cup, including the 1981 final which Liverpool won 1-0 in Paris with a symbolic 81st minute goal.
Liverpool have the edge 3-2, with the 1981 final triumph being the difference and big inspiration for any Liverpool faithful.
Thus, there is this head-to-head and other history also to give Liverpool some hope against Madrid on Saturday.
All Liverpool’s European Cup triumphs have come against opponents in white, and Real, the home team in Saturday’s encounter, will be in their all-white attire. This will be some hope for Liverpool, although their last final appearance in 2007 was defeat against an all-white wearing AC Milan.
There is also this talk of Liverpool winning the European Cup in years that have seen royal wedding taking place. 1978, 1981 and 2005 saw royal weddings and Liverpool triumphs. The latest royal wedding has taken place only last Saturday. Will Liverpool win the Champions League a week on to complete the cycle?
Also in 2005, a London side (Arsenal) won the FA Cup against Manchester United and Liverpool won the Champions League. This year has seen another London side (Chelsea) beating Man United in the FA Cup final. Will Liverpool win the Champions League a week later to complete the cycle?
Very remarkable also, Liverpool beat English and Italian opposition on the way to winning in 2005. They have done the same this season. Will they win the Champions League to complete the cycle?
Credit: Soccernet Newspaper