On Saturday evening, the Champions League final from 2018 between Real Madrid and Liverpool will be repeated. Four years ago, all the key moments played into the hands of the Madrilenians. Ramos fouled Salah out of the game, Karius made a double mistake and Bale was even more successful on the soccer field than on the golf course. This year, however, neither Bale, Ramos nor Karius will decide about weal and woe. The cards have been reshuffled and the bookies are making Liverpool FC the slight favourites. Whether it will be something with the revenge should depend in particular on the outcome of the following five key duels.
The duel between the Madrilenian wing rocket and perhaps the best right-back in the world could be the secret key duel in the CL final. Although Karim Benzema is the untouchable star of the Madrilenians, he can hardly score the goals and even prepare them himself. With Los Blancos’ right attacking side faltering at times, a lot will depend on Vinícius Júnior getting into his pace dribbles and winning them.
The Brazilian had a lot of problems with PSG star Achraf Hakimi in a direct encounter because his speed didn’t let the Madrilenians escape. Alexander-Arnold is also one of the fastest full-backs in the world and could therefore have good cards against the Brazilian youngster. However, the Liverpool star also likes to be very offensive, which could create space for Vinícius Júnior. If he gets this and the associated opportunity to dribble towards central defense alone, it will be difficult for van Dijk and Matip. Despite everything, the match-up for the FCL is not the worst.
Which team will be able to dominate the center of the field depends to a large extent on the two midfield geniuses Luka Modrić and Thiago Alcantara. Both players are able to take over a game and steer it in the desired direction. Thiago and Modrić are technically ingenious, extremely creative, intelligent and have enormous experience in big matches. But both also know how to act against the ball and can also hurt each other in duels.
If either of them catches a gala day, it can absolutely be the key to victory. Neither the now 36-year-old Modrić nor his opponent, who is five years his junior, are completely constant. Accordingly, they can also cause a lot of damage with a rather weaker performance. With the Croatian, you know that he is actually always there in the really big games, whereas Thiago was often criticized in his career for diving into them. However, he freed himself from this reputation at the latest with his grandiose final game in 2020 with Bayern.
Both have had big matches this season. An electrifying duel!
Who is to stop this mercilessly good and effective Karim Benzema? The Madrid forward is the competition’s top scorer with 15 goals and has netted ten goals against Paris, Chelsea and Manchester City alone.
A complete striker with finishing power, technique and body control, Benzema has plenty of experience at 34 years of age. In the ongoing competition, defenders like Marquinhos, Rúben Dias or Antonio Rüdiger couldn’t stop him.
The question now is whether Liverpool’s defense giant Virgil van Dijk can stop the French. Taking Benzema out of the game should be difficult even for the Dutchman. The top scorer is the target player in the system and is always sought after. In addition, he is also able to assert himself in a confined space and to come to an end.
Nevertheless, van Dijk will make it extremely difficult for his opponent. The 30-year-old is even more difficult to crack in a direct duel or header duel than the central defenders already mentioned. If van Dijk makes it his mission to make life hell for Benzema, he will have a heavy shadow hanging over him.
It will be a tough task for Benzema to snap against van Dijk. But of course it is still possible.
Mohamed Salah is probably the Reds’ most dangerous offensive weapon. The right winger, who sees himself as the best player in the world at his position, probably is too. Salah combines speed, technique, dribbling and final strength. He has everything a world-class winger needs. Salah has scored 31 goals across all competitions, making him easily the Reds’ top scorer.
With Ferland Mendy, his opponent is one of the less prominent Real players, but that doesn’t change the fact that he still belongs to the extended circle of top left-backs. The 26-year-old has matured enormously in recent years and now also knows how to avoid risks when it is necessary. Mendy will likely be mostly defensively tied against the Reds and will keep a close eye on Salah. Basically, Mendy is a good one-on-one defender because he’s quick and always skillfully puts his body in front of his opponents. Of course, he doesn’t play against an exceptional player like Salah every day.
The Egyptian will certainly be able to set his accents, but he also has to overcome his personal final trauma this year. With the Egyptian national team, he failed both in the Africa Cup of Nations final and in the World Cup qualifier on penalties. If it gets tight at the back, that could definitely play a role.
It’s not yet entirely certain whether Sadio Mané will come over the left side like he has done over the years, or whether he will act more as a “false nine”. In any case, it is clear that you always have to have the Senegalese on the list, but especially in big matches. With his low center of gravity, explosive acceleration and superior one-on-one skills, Mané is one of the most difficult defenders in the world.
Dani Carvajal has lost a bit of speed after many injuries in recent years, but he is by no means slow. The Spaniard has always been one of the best defenders in his career when it comes to killing fast wingers. It suits him that with his 1.73 he is quite agile himself.
The fact that he doesn’t have such a massive body shouldn’t matter that much against Mané. With his experience and stinginess, he will make things difficult for the Liverpool star. However, a lack of attention is enough and the Senegalese can no longer be stopped. Mané may also be extra motivated if he is actually to be on the pitch for the last time.
In principle, both teams have good antidotes against the opponent’s most dangerous weapons. It will probably be most critical for the Madrilenians’ full-backs to get Mané and Salah under control for the entire duration of the game. As the season progresses, it will become increasingly difficult against the Reds’ wingers.
At first glance, there is no match-up for Liverpool FC that really needs to cause major concerns. In the last few weeks, however, the Reds have had a lot of trouble with defensively compact opponents. Real will probably take on the more passive part and want to do a lot with fast counterattacks. No team understands this game as well as Real and is also extremely effective at it. You can never write off Los Blancos from this angle. Ultimately, we can expect a 50:50 game in which the little things will be decisive.