How Liverpool can beat Real Madrid in the Champions League final

What Klopp's boys must do if they're to lift the hallowed sixth


Reuters/VALENTYN OGIRENKO

Occasionally you need to take a breath and remind yourself that this is actually happening. 

Liverpool, in only their second season in the Champions League in the last nine years, are in the final. They take on a Real Madrid team that have won it in three of the last four years and a manager who has a 100% record in European knockout games.

It’s a mammoth task but they can do it. 

Here’s how:

  1. 1 Don't be overawed by the occasion


    Reuters/Andrew Yates

    Liverpool have been the best team in the Champions League this season, outclassing Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Manchester City by defeating them in both legs. 

    They went to Porto and inflicted a 5-0 defeat - one of only two home losses all season for the Portuguese champions. They took a five-goal lead against Roma, who had achieved the biggest European upset in years by deservedly knocking out Barcelona.

    Real Madrid only achieved a similar points tally in La Liga (76 to Liverpool's 75), finishing a distant third. They were second best to Bayern Munich and are through to the final by virtue of capitalising on ludicrous opposition errors. Juventus bettered them at the Bernabeu by taking the initiative. 

    Manchester City are a better team than Real Madrid, and Liverpool have beaten them in the last three meetings, scoring ten goals. 

    They must remember this. They have earned their place in the final, and cannot be overawed. If they treat this as they have every other European encounter this season that is a grounding to build on. Conservatism, errant passes, and nervousness will kill them against a team of Madrid's experience.

    

  2. 2 Play their usual game


    Reuters/PHIL NOBLE

    Given Madrid's recent record and the caliber of their players, tailoring a specific gameplan and showing them respect is almost always how teams should approach them. 

    But this would destroy Liverpool. Time and again, they have shown an inability to defend with their backs to the wall. If they invite pressure, Real Madrid will find a way to score. They always do. 

    Dejan Lovren cannot be trusted to mark a number nine with the supreme movement of Cristiano Ronaldo. So don't ask him to.

    Attack is the best form of defense for Liverpool. Ronaldo is brutally effective at what he does, but he has distilled his game to be a penalty box player. 

    He no longer runs at defenders and creates goals from deep. By pushing up, Liverpool can nullify Madrid's most dangerous asset - as Juventus did for over 90 minutes at the Bernabeu, and Bayern Munich did for 180 minutes. 

    This is a team with supreme confidence in their own game and ability. It's unlikely that they will play defensively or deeper to counteract Liverpool's dangerous front three. This hubris could be their undoing. 

    It will take a lot of courage, and demand a lot from midfielders who are limited in comparison to their counterparts, but it's imperative they set the tempo and be authoritative. Yes, Liverpool. Yes, against Real Madrid. 

    

    

  3. 3 Target Marcelo


    Reuters/HEINO KALIS

    Marcelo will probably define this game. The best fullback on the planet offensively, he's so technically proficient it's almost like having a number ten occupying that area. It's likely that Madrid's attack will come through him. 

    But he can be a liability defensively. This was the case against Bayern Munich on multiple occasions in the semi-final. Everybody remembers David Luiz in Brazil's 7-1 defeat to Germany, but Marcelo was equally rash. 

    Liverpool should take encouragement from Roma's Round of 16 exit to Real Madrid two years ago. A 4-0 aggregate scoreline paints a false picture, as Mohamed Salah was gifted several golden opportunities to score. 

    Now one of the absolute best players in the world and much better at finishing, don't bet against him to squander chances again. 

    Oli Stein wrote about this in greater depth.

  4. 4 Provide Trent Alexander-Arnold with cover


    Reuters/Phil Noble

    Set to start on Saturday, the Liverpudlian will follow in the footsteps of such esteemed players as Iker Casillas, Clarence Seedorf, and Johan Neeskens to be just the 11th teenager to start in a European Cup final. In 63 years of the competition. 

    A revelation in Liverpool's backline, he's largely been excellent but occasionally has been caught out this season - Marcus Rashford and Wilfried Zaha gave him a torrid time, and he struggled in the second leg against Roma. 

    With Marcelo likely running at him, this will be the biggest challenge of his short career to date. He cannot be left exposed, which means whoever is occupying that side of midfield - Georginio Wijnaldum probably - tucks in to provide cover. 

  5. 5 Resist their instincts if in the lead

    When protecting a lead - one that would win something as colossally significant as the European Cup - the natural inclination is to go deeper. Of course, the opposition will be influential in this and will play more offensively and look to box Liverpool in.

    Liverpool did this admirably against Manchester City in both legs, and their defending in the Premier League has improved massively since the signing of Virgil van Dijk, but still, questions remain. 

    Going from 5-0 up to 7-6 against Roma, no matter what the excuses are, is alarming. Other examples are further back, such as the 3-3 against Sevilla or allowing Arsenal to take a 3-2 lead after being 2-0 up, but they should play on Klopp's mind. 

    With the intensity and the occasion, there will be a temptation to make substitutions in order to reinforce defensively, adding an extra midfielder or defender. Substitutions will be necessary, but Klopp cannot look to change Liverpool's shape. 

    Substituting Salah for Klavan, as Klopp did when Liverpool squandered a 2-0 lead against West Brom, would ask for trouble. No other opponents in the world would have a belief or will to win at 1-0 or 2-0 down as Real Madrid - their mental fortitude and resilience is their greatest strength. 

    Adding an extra defender has a logic to it, but it would be counterintuitive. Making Liverpool more vulnerable, not less.

    If Madrid are pushing, this will also only increase the opportunities and space for Salah, Firmino and Mane to break.

  6. 6 Get the job done in 90 minutes


    Reuters/VALENTYN OGIRENKO

    Liverpool cannot match Real Madrid for depth. With the likes of Gareth Bale or Isco or Marco Asensio able to come off the bench, this is something that should worry Liverpool. 

    But they can only start with 11 players. Zidane's options to change the game and add extra quality and dynamism are an advantage over Klopp, and this will only be accentuated with an extra thirty minutes.

    If it's tied after ninety minutes, Real Madrid would be well-placed to take advantage of a tired Liverpool in extra time, just as they did in 2014 against Atletico, when they scored three extra goals after Sergio Ramos injury time equaliser.

    If Liverpool are to do it, they need to do it in 90. 

    They can forget about penalties against Ramos, Ronaldo and Keylor Navas, too. 

  7. 7 Limit set-pieces


    Reuters/JUAN MEDINA

    Madrid are a team of giants. Ramos, Varane, Ronaldo, Bale and Casemiro are potent from any set-piece opportunities. There need be no reminders about Ramos ability in particular to get on the end of a set piece, doing so in two of Madrid's last three Champions League finals.

    Liverpool's difficulties with corners is well established. West Brom scored two goals from set-pieces just the other week.

    Each and every one will give Liverpool fans palpitations. They need to concede as few as possible.

    Have we missed anything? Let us know below.

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