This year's Champions League final promises to be a cracker. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action.
"Real have superior options on the bench, and I think they could snatch the win in the latter stages"
Real Madrid v Liverpool
Saturday 19:45, BT Sport 1.
Match Odds: Real Madrid [2.3], Liverpool [3.2], The Draw [3.9].
Liverpool start Saturday's Champions League final as underdogs, with Real Madrid hoping to make it three European Cups in a row. But Liverpool have consistently shown their quality in Europe this season, and will be looking for a fast start here.
Injuries force Klopp's hand
Jurgen Klopp's tactical options are somewhat limited because of injuries to the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez, but they're long-term problems Liverpool have become accustomed to. Emre Can may be available, as is Adam Lallana, although their lack of match fitness means they'll surely be no more than substitutes at best. There's a slight doubt over James Milner's fitness, although he should be fit to play.
Klopp's starting XI will almost certainly be comprised of Loris Karius in goal, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson at the back. Jordan Henderson will play the holding role with Milner to the left and Georginio Wijnaldum to the right. Upfront, it will be the familiar trio of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah either side of Roberto Firmino.
Plenty of options for Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane has no injuries, no suspensions, and plenty of options. We can be fairly sure about the first eight players on the teamsheet. It will be Keylor Navas in goal, with a backline of Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. Casemiro will play the holding role with Toni Kroos to the left and Luka Modric to the right. Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, will carry the greatest goal threat.
But Zidane has two options. He can play a 4-3-1-2, which would mean Isco floating between the lines, and Karim Benzema partnering Ronaldo. Alternatively, he can select 4-3-3, which opens up all kinds of possibilities. Lucas Vazque, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio could all play out wide, as could Isco. Ronaldo could be fielded wide-left, or upfront.
The 4-3-1-2 would be designed to dominate the centre of the pitch, but might invite Liverpool's press - they'd be able to press in a small area without Real being able to stretch the play to get around it. The 4-3-3 would mean Real matching Liverpool's system, and creating very obvious individual battles across the pitch.
The key battle seems to be Marcelo's clash against Salah. Marcelo remains excellent going forward but has constantly looked vulnerable in a defensive sense this year. Salah is likely to let Marcelo go free on the overlap before seeking to break into space, and that battle could define this tie.
Early goal key for Reds
I think the pattern of the game seems fairly clear. Liverpool will press intensively in the opening stages, hoping to get their noses in front. If they do, they'll happily sit back and play on the counter-attack, which is where they're at their best. If not, Real will generally come into the game, dominate possession in a conservative manner to guard against breaks, and Liverpool will find it hard to press them because it's so physically draining.
I'd expect a second wave of Liverpool pressing just after the break - if they're not already ahead - but I fear this could leave them vulnerable later on. Real have superior options on the bench, and I think they could pinch the game in the latter stages courtesy of superior substitutes.
I also think Real would have the advantage in extra-time, for the same reasons, and that's what I will back here. Real to win at [12.0] in extra time seems good value for me.
The Betfair Trader's Verdict - Alan Thompson
This has all the makings of a cracking final, Real Madrid are looking to lift the trophy for the 13th time and the third season in a row. While Liverpool haven’t played on this stage for 11 years they are no strangers to winning this and victory here would see them win their sixth European cup.
This is a repeat of the 1981 European Cup final which was won 1-0 by Liverpool in Paris, that was also Real Madrid’s last defeat in the final of this competition and the last time they clashed was in the 2014/15 group stages when Madrid won both games.
The market has Madrid, rightly, as the [2.3] favourites. Madrid’s record in this season’s competition is W8 D2 L2 but they have only kept three clean sheets in those games. However, their strengths are at the other end of the pitch where they have scored 30, and it's now 27 Champions League games in which they have scored.
The Reds suffered their first defeat in the competition when they lost 4-2 in the semi-final second leg at Roma, but of course they progressed to this stage winning 7-6 on aggregate. Their overall record in this season’s competition is W7 D4 L1 and they have scored 40 times in the competiion.
There simply must be goals in this game!
Both teams have scored in the last seven Champions League finals, I can’t see that trend ending with these two, but unfortunately neither can the goals markets. As expected the both teams to score market is trading as low as [1.47] and over 2.5 goals is down at [1.54]. However, I wouldn’t put anyone off playing in either of these markets and anyone who wants to take a 47% ROI in 90 minutes should surely be rewarded.
I will be a bit more adventurous though and back Zidane’s charges to win in the Match Odds and Both Teams to Score market, backing Real Madrid/Yes at [3.7].