By Mike Banks.
To quote the late, great Bill Shankly: “Pressure is not the European Cup or the Championship or the Cup Final. That’s the reward.”
This Saturday’s Champions League Final is the biggest game any of the Liverpool players would have played in before. With that comes pressure, but Liverpool should go into Saturday’s final unencumbered by this pressure.
Yes, this is an important game. In fact, the importance of this game cannot be understated, but Liverpool deserve to be in the Champions League final.
On route to the final they have scored 46 goals – a Champions League record. They also knocked out the early favourites Manchester City, with relative ease. Bar a tense 45-minute spell of City dominance, Liverpool controlled the tie and could have scored more than the 5 goals they managed.
This final is the reward for the fantastic performances Liverpool have put together in Europe so far this season. The pressure that comes with it should be embraced and used as extra motivation to win.
In order to win on Saturday, Liverpool have to play with the chutzpah that is befitting of their form in the Champions League this season. I get the feeling that if Liverpool win on Saturday in Kiev, they will do so in emphatic fashion, it is the only way they know.
The most frustrating thing about Liverpool’s defeat in the Europa League Final two years ago is that the performance was so limp and anaemic. Liverpool, having played such brilliant football in the rounds prior to the final, appeared overawed by the occasion. Liverpool can ill afford a repeat of that performance, especially against a side that boast the experience, class and poise that Real Madrid do.
If Real Madrid prevail on Saturday, it is very unlikely that they will do so having outplayed Liverpool. Real Madrid, unlike Barcelona, are less defined by a specific style of play but instead by a player, a ‘Galáctico’.
Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a spectacular bicycle kick goal against Juventus (Source: Getty)
Cristiano Ronaldo embodies everything that is good about Real Madrid. He lives for the big moments; he thrives when the spotlight is on him. When his team need him the most, he usually delivers. The biggest strength this Real Madrid side possess is that they do not have to outplay you to beat you. They are happy to play in moments, rely on their experience and ride their luck. They did so against PSG, they did so against Bayern Munich too. If they want to win an unprecedented 3rd Champions League in a row, they will have to do so again against Liverpool.
Zinedine Zidane and his players will be well aware that an open, end-to-end game will play into the hands of Liverpool, so it is likely that Real will sit deep and pick their moments to spring into attack. The onus will be on Liverpool to remain calm and move the ball quickly from side to side in the final third in order to force openings. And if Liverpool manage to create openings like Bayern Munich did against Madrid, it is hard to imagine they will be as profligate given the quality of their front 3.
Perhaps the most intriguing subplot going into Saturday’s showpiece final is the battle that will take place between Mo Salah and Marcelo. Marcelo is arguably the best attacking full-back of all-time, but question marks remain about his ability to defend. Should Marcelo attack with his usual verve; it is likely that at some stage of the game Salah will exploit the space he leaves behind.
Liverpool’s scintillating front 3 (Source: Getty)
One of the main reasons Salah has scored as many goals as he has this season is because he plays so high up the pitch for Liverpool. He is often relieved of defensive duties in order to pose a threat on the break. But he could feel inclined to drop deep and protect young right-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, should Marcelo and Madrid decide to target him.
A win for Liverpool on Saturday would be cathartic for their fans, as they have seen the club come within touching distance of silverware under Jürgen Klopp. A win would also serve as the perfect platform for the Reds to challenge Manchester City next season for their first league title for almost 3 decades.
The stage is set, history beckons. Come on you Reds.
Mike is a Politics PhD student and takes a keen interest in social issues, all things British politics and Liverpool FC.