All eyes will be on Kiev this weekend as Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have powered their way to the final with their powerful attack, but they face their biggest challenge against a Real side that have shown time and again that they know exactly how to win matches and titles in Europe.
Ahead of the showdown in Ukraine, there are a number of big questions for both sides to consider, as Real chase their fourth Champions League title in five years and Liverpool look to win the trophy for the sixth time in their illustrious history.
Can Jurgen Klopp overcome his cup final hoodoo?
Jurgen Klopp entered Anfield in October 2015 with a wave of optimism, and by the end of that season, he had led the side to two cup finals. Unfortunately, he lost both. Saturday is the third final he has reached with Liverpool, but his track record at this stage is not the best.
Since hammering Bayern Munich 5-2 in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final, Klopp has managed in five finals but failed to win any of them. This includes the 2013 Champions League final in which his Dortmund side lost out to Bayern at Wembley.
Saturday’s final gives the German to get that monkey off his back in the biggest stage possible.
Can the Real Madrid defence contain Mo Salah?
Manchester City and Roma talked a good game before coming up against Mo Salah in previous – but by the end of their encounters, Liverpool’s Egyptian king had bludgeoned them both into submission. Not to say that Salah single-handedly dragged Liverpool to the final, but the former Chelsea man has been phenomenal throughout the Reds’ campaign.
44 goals in all competitions, against a side that has been criticised for defensive lapses in concentration in the latter stages of the tournament, Sergio Ramos and co. will have to be at the top of their game to stop Salah from adding to his tally.
Can Liverpool combat Real Madrid’s Champions League ruthlessness?
Real Madrid, above all else, simply know how to get results in this competition. They could have had no complaints had they gone out against any of Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus or Bayern Munich and yet, for all of their faults throughout those matches, they showed the required tenacity, luck and composure to steel their way to yet another final.
Zinedine Zidane’s side may not be the best to look at in terms of playing style, but there is absolutely no doubting their ability – even if they are outplayed in Kiev, that won’t dull their confidence of winning in the slightest.
How will Liverpool’s defence hold up under pressure?
Liverpool’s defence has provided a big narrative throughout this campaign (both at home and in Europe), but it’s much more than a black and white issue. Indeed, the Reds’ backline is stronger than it is often given credit for, with game management arguably a bigger problem for them.
For example, if the 4-1 hammering vs. Tottenham in October can be considered a watershed, it seems to be the precise moment when Klopp realised something drastic had to be done. Since that afternoon at Wembley, Liverpool had the best defensive record in the Premier League until the end of the season, kept 17 clean sheets overall and introduced the brilliant Virgil van Dijk, revelation Andy Robertson and a much more confident Loris Karius to the fold.
Not to suggest the defence is impenetrable by any means, but the second half against Man City at Anfield in particular showed that the backline can defend admirably when they put their minds to it.
How will Real Madrid line up?
Cristiano Ronaldo gave Zidane a bit of an injury scare recently, but his run-out against Villarreal last weekend suggests that he is fit and healthy for Saturday’s final. Now that the Portuguese forward is virtually guaranteed to start, how Zidane utilises him will also be interesting to see.
Zidane has tended to mix things up this season, switching between 4-4-2 (both diamond and flat) and 4-3-3. Against Liverpool, it seems likely that he will operate with the latter in order to combat the Reds’ obvious threat down the flanks to a greater degree.
While 4-4-2 would mean that Ronaldo and Karim Benzema start up front, 4-3-3 would allow for the dimension of a third forward, be that Gareth Bale or Lucas Vazquez or whomever Zidane chooses. Bale had looked a certainty to start on the bench but his strong form in the last few weeks has given his manager a headache.
In any event, it will be one of the greatest tests of Zidane’s ability as a tactician.