Just four years on from the memorable 3-1 Real Madrid win over Liverpool in Kyiv, the two will reconvene in Paris for this season’s Champions League final.
Los Blancos and the Reds are the most successful clubs in this competition from their respective leagues. Madrid has hoisted the UCL trophy a record 13 times, while Liverpool is third on the all-time list with six UEFA Champions League titles.
With a repeat meeting between two of world football’s most celebrated teams, let’s have a closer look at the final.
This preview will review their respective seasons – both in this competition and domestically – list their European achievements and then make a case for who will lift the trophy at the Stade de France on Saturday night.
The Champions League finalists
Road to Champions League Final: Group Stage, 1st (6-0-0 versus Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and AC Milan), Internazionale (2-1), Benfica (6-4), Villarreal (5-2)
Previous UEFA Competition Titles:
6 European Cup/Champions Leagues (1976-77, 1977-78, 1980-81, 1983-84, 2004-05, 2018-19)
3 UEFA Cups (1972-73, 1975-76, 2000-01)
4 UEFA Super Cups (1977, 2001, 2005, 2019)
How the Reds look
A 12th European Cup/Champions League final awaits Jurgen Klopp’s Reds. This is their third trip to club football’s biggest showpiece in the last five seasons. In what has already been an incredible season for Liverpool, they are looking to end it with a third trophy while adding a seventh UCL trophy to their cabinet.
By and large, the Merseysiders have steamrolled through this competition. Only a second leg defeat to Inter in the Round of 16 and a stalemate versus Benfica in their quarterfinal return leg have gotten in the way of perfection.
It was six wins from six in the group stage, with Atletico Madrid, Porto and Milan unable to avoid defeat against Klopp’s men. After seven wins on the trot in the tournament, it was defeat to Inter in the Round of 16 second leg at Anfield, their only home loss all season. It still was not enough to oust the six-time winners.
Benfica was the next to fall in the quarterfinals despite also avoiding defeat away from home. Villarreal provided the most recent challenge, and although the Yellow Submarine made the tie more entertaining heading into the second half of the return leg, Liverpool showed their quality with a trio of goals to progress.
Domestically, it was nearly a clean sweep for the Reds. A five-minute Manchester City comeback against Aston Villa last Sunday denied Pool a domestic treble and the chance to play for an elusive quadruple on Saturday. Along with the second place Premier League finish, Liverpool swept the cups, defeating Chelsea on penalties in both the FA Cup and EFL Cup finals.
Divock Origi will play no part in Saturday’s final due to injury, while Fabinho, Joe Gomez and Thiago all nurse injuries but have a chance to feature. No suspensions to report in the squad.
Possible Starting XI: Alisson – Robertson, Konate, van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold – Thiago, Fabinho, Henderson – Diaz, Mane, Salah
Road to Champions League Final: Group Stage, 1st (5-0-1 versus Internazionale, Sheriff Tiraspol and Shakhtar Donetsk), PSG (3-2), Chelsea (5-4, AET), Manchester City (6-5, AET)
Previous UEFA Competition Titles:
13 European Cups/UEFA Champions Leagues (1955-56, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1958-59, 1959-60, 1965-66, 1997-98, 1999-2000, 2001-02, 2013-14, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18)
2 UEFA Cups (1984-85, 1985-86)
4 UEFA Super Cups (2002, 2014, 2016, 2017)
How Madrid looks
What a dramatic Champions League campaign for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. In many respects they can count themselves lucky to be in this season’s final. Yet, as Los Blancos always do, they found a way through, and as a result, they find themselves one game away from a record-extending 14th title in this tournament.
Bar a shock defeat at the Bernabeu to Moldova’s Sheriff, there was little trouble in the group stage for Madrid, who beat Inter and Shakhtar both times as part of their five wins. From there things went wild. After going 2-0 down on aggregate to PSG in the Round of 16, they turned things around in the space of 20 minutes courtesy of a Karim Benzema hat trick.
Winning at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in the quarterfinal opening leg had many thinking that they would coast through. Yet it took a stunning Luka Modrić assist to force extra time at home as they nearly gave away the tie. In the end they progressed once again thanks to a Benzema winner. Their semifinal matches had a whopping 11 goals across 210 minutes of action. A pair of Rodrygo goals in the dying moments of their second leg forced extra time, where a Benzema penalty broke the tie.
Things were much more straightforward in LaLiga, as Los Merengues were crowned winners for a 35th time with four games to spare. Leading the way in 33 of the 38 matchdays and never lower than third following a round of games, it was easy pickings for Madrid. Sevilla were the challengers for a chunk of the action, but a series of draws helped Real pull away from them, while neither Barcelona nor outgoing champions Atletico Madrid were able to reel them in. Save for a humbling defeat at the hands of the former in the most recent El Clasico, it was a smooth ride for Ancelotti and Co.
It is a full squad at the Italian’s disposal as there are no injuries nor suspensions to report.
Possible Starting XI: Courtois – Mendy, Alaba, Militão, Carvajal – Modrić, Casemiro, Kroos – Vinicius Jr, Benzema, Valverde
What to expect
This promises to be an intense and high-quality matchup. One side has been nearly unstoppable in this tournament and across all competitions faces one that has shown vulnerability yet incredible resolve and poise. Whoever does end up lifting the trophy in Paris will definitely have to earn it, that is for sure.
The most intriguing battle for me in this final is between Benzema and van Dijk. This season’s top Champions League scorer has been responsible for over half of his side’s goals in the competition. With most of the central midfielders expected on the pitch already in their 30s, it will also be interesting to see how they hold up following such a grueling season.
Liverpool is coming off heartbreak in the final Premier League weekend while Madrid was able to rest up for multiple games. How much this will affect the two teams remains to be seen, but I would not be surprised if this has an impact.
Finally, a historical tidbit here. The last time Real Madrid lost a Champions League/European Cup final was back in the 1980-81 season. The team that beat them? Liverpool. Will history repeat itself this weekend?
I do not foresee a replay of that game 41 years ago (which incidentally was also played in France, 15 kilometers from the site of Saturday’s match – at the Parc de Princes in Paris).
Real Madrid just have a way of stepping up when it matters the most. Have they been the best team in this year’s Champions League? Not at all. Yet they have been the most lethal and brought their best when absolutely necessary. Liverpool was rarely tested throughout the tournament, while Madrid has shown they are properly battle-tested.
I can easily see both teams scoring again in the final, just like four years ago. Like many finals nowadays, however, I would not be surprised if no goals are scored before the interval as both sides will likely feel each other out.
I do not sense a penalty shootout coming, something we have not seen in the competition this season. In the end, it would not shock me to see Benzema or another attack-minded Real player make the difference here, either via a counter attack or a set piece.
Whatever happens on Saturday, the Champions League final promises to be a spectacle. Two teams who are already claimed silverware domestically, will put it all out on the field one more time. This time, only one will be able to call themselves ‘The Champions.’