Quick Bit: Real Madrid’s pursuit of a 14th European title depends on their ability to beat a Liverpool team blessed with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah. Here are some key areas Los Blancos need to prevail in.

Full Story:

Even by their wrecking ball standards in the Champions League this season, Real Madrid know they need to disrupt the flow of an exceptional team if they are to halt Liverpool’s menacing form in the final and claim their 14th European Cup.

There are battles all over the pitch between two teams blessed with abundant talent, setting the steel of a Madrid team who have refused to be beaten in the knockout stages against opponents who have won all of their games on their travels in the Champions League this season.

As the anticipation builds towards the final in Paris, The Sporting News takes a look at some of the areas Madrid will be focusing on in pursuit of their first Champions League trophy since 2018.

Off to a flyer?

Madrid’s reputation for late drama has been rightfully earned during the knockout stages, yet Carlo Ancelotti – ever the wily tactician – has clearly sent his players out to spring a shock from kick-off on several occasions.

Vinicius Junior nearly scored two rapid goals thanks to the idea. Against Paris, when Madrid started the second leg at home behind, Marco Asensio almost immediately found Vinicius in front of goal following an interchange in the centre circle involving Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

The livewire nearly repeated the trick at home to Manchester City in the semi-finals, and Karim Benzema completed his hat-trick in that game within seconds of PSG taking kick-off. Madrid are always alert and ready to score: if Liverpool are not razor-sharp from the off, expect the Liga champions to pounce.

Karim Benzema vs. Virgil van Dijk

Benzema takes the spotlight for scoring reliably dramatic late goals, while Van Dijk is not being arrogant when he suggests that he is the world’s best defender. Away from the neat headlines, both have plenty of hard yards to run in the final if they are to prove themselves yet again.

While the man who was expected to score the goals for Madrid when these teams met in the 2017-18 final, Cristiano Ronaldo, is routinely derided for his lack of graft outside of the penalty area these days, Benzema’s performances have shown that the 34-year-old is more than willing to drift to the flanks.

We are used to seeing Benzema out wide combining with Madrid’s wingers, then charging into the penalty area to cause chaos when crosses arrive. Liverpool wing-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are known for their forward adventure.

It will be fascinating to see whether Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp reins in the swashbuckling tendencies of his two defenders who are as expert around their opponents’ penalty areas as they are in defence. Should they maraud forward and leave space, Van Dijk will have even more to do in terms of tracking Benzema vigilantly and knowing when to let others follow his runs so that Joel Matip is not exposed behind him.

Watch out for dead balls

Since the departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Madrid have been far less commanding than they were at defending set pieces and high balls into the penalty area.

Klopp has seen his side score the most goals – eight – from set pieces of any team in the Champions League this season, including four from corners. Targeting Madrid from dead balls will be an obvious ambition for Liverpool, and Ancelotti will be making it imperative that his players do not afford them inviting opportunities.

From deliveries, the likes of Eder Militao and Nacho will need to defend stoutly under pressure from Van Dijk – a persistent aerial threat – and his accomplices inside the penalty area. Never have Madrid needed to show more convincingly that they have the resolve to deal effectively with set pieces.

MORE: Revisiting the Liverpool vs. Real Madrid 2018 Champions League final: Salah v Ramos, Karius howler and Bale magic in Kyiv

Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Vinicius Junior

Champions League finals often surprise in terms of the crucial individual battles on the night, but it’s hard not to envisage Madrid having a significant advantage if Vinicius can give Alexander-Arnold a tough time.

Vinicius scored against City and his assists in three consecutive games on the way to the semi-finals were perhaps more eye-catching, not least the cross for Benzema to score in the 3-1 win at Chelsea in the quarter-finals. Pivotal to Madrid’s counter-attacks, his speed will require Alexander-Arnold to produce a better display than he did against Pedro Neto as Liverpool scored two late goals to beat Wolves in their final home game of the season.

Alexander-Arnold has produced more crosses than any other player in the competition this season and has had more touches than any of his team-mates. The more questions Vinicius can ask of the England wideman, combining with Modric, Kroos and Benzema, the closer Madrid will come to resisting and troubling one of Liverpool’s key threats.

Bring on the cavalry

The 90th, 91st and 95th minutes will be remembered for Madrid’s goals in their last-gasp comeback against City, yet the timings of their substitutions were also indicative of the impetus Ancelotti has tried to hand to his team through canny changes late on.

Rodrygo replaced Kroos with a quarter of normal time remaining and Modric made way for Eduardo Camavinga in the 75th minute. Lucas Vazquez featured for the final five minutes, having played most of his minutes in the knockout stages during the second legs against PSG and City, when Madrid wanted to stretch their tiring opponents.

Madrid’s La Liga triumph with four games to go has allowed Ancelotti to rest key players for weeks. Liverpool have just had an exhausting FA Cup final win on penalties over Chelsea – when Salah and Van Dijk were both withdrawn with injury worries – and a Premier League title bid that only ended in the final minutes of Sunday’s action. Extra energy in the final straight could be a punishing ploy for Madrid to use.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

Leave a Comment