Saturday, July 2, 2022

Liverpool vs. Real Madrid: Three ways each team changed since their 2018 Champions League final meeting

Out of all the recent UEFA Champions League finals, the 2018 one is probably the most hectic we’ve seen. In a game that is frequently a careful a cautious affair, Liverpool and Real Madrid played out a memorable helter-skelter match in Kyiv that resulted in Los Blancos’ 13th crown, a record that nobody is even close to matching. The game is remembered largely for three reasons — Gareth Bale’s performance, Mohamed Salah’s unfortunate injury caused by Sergio Ramos, and an absolutely horrendous performance in goal by Reds’ goalkeeper Loris Karius. Bale finished the match with two goals, won man of the match, and capped off his performance with an incredible bicycle kick. But it was Karius’ two blunders took away any chance Liverpool had of winning the game, gifting goals to Karim Benzema as well as Bale.

Four years on from that night in Ukraine, much has changed with both teams as the prepare to take field Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+. It’s not really a surprise to see Liverpool here as they are recent winners of the competition, taking home the title in 2019, but Real Madrid have finally returned to the biggest stage after some inconsistency following that last final win in 2018. 

Both teams have changed plenty since then, so ahead of Saturday’s final, here’s three ways each team has changed:

Liverpool

1. An incredible amount of depth in attack

The headline of Liverpool’s attack remains very much the same with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, but there is far more depth than there was before. While Roberto Firmino is still around, there is no Dominic Solanke, and even 2019 final goal scorer Divock Origi is rarely used.

Manager Jurgen Klopp has bolstered his attack and now has Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz to call on. In Jota, Klopp has a talented, versatile attacker who doesn’t always start yet has 21 goals to his name. Diaz, a Colombian international who joined from Porto in January, has been absolutely exceptional with six goals scored already, frequently forcing his way into the starting lineup over Jota and Firmino.

This means that regardless of who starts, Liverpool will have some awesome options off the bench if they need them, and it won’t surprise anybody if Jota or Diaz produce the moment to carry this team to glory. 

2. One of the world’s very best goalkeepers

Going from Karius to Alisson is like going from high school soccer to the UEFA Champions League. You just cannot compare the two because they aren’t even in the same stratosphere. After that gut-wrenching, self-inflicted loss to Real in the 2018 final, the Reds went out and invested big time, paying £67 million for the former AS Roma man. The deal, at the time, made him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. 

Since then, he’s become one of the world’s very best goalkeepers with his big frame, instinctive saves, and he’s even scored a goal in the Premier League.

Having a guy like him in goal won’t cause any Liverpool defender to worry in the slightest. 

3. A more competent central defense

Virgil van Dijk is, for many, the best defender in the world. He remains the lynchpin of Liverpool’s back line, but similarly to moving on from Karius, the other center-back spot is in much better shape. Liverpool upgraded from mistake-prone Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan to the likes of Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate. Each compliment van Dijk quite well, they relieve some of the pressure he faces, and all have the ability to help this defense record a clean sheet in any match. While their qualities may be different, they are all good in the air and quick to close down when needed.

Craving even more coverage of the world’s game? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.  

Real Madrid

1. A different yet familiar face in charge

Gone and then returned and then gone again is manager Zinedine Zidane, and after two stints at the club he’s only been replaced by the legendary Carlo Ancelotti, who also happens to be in his second go around in the job. The 62-year-old Italian has won three Champions League titles, two with AC Milan and one with Real, and he’s also the only manager to win the top flight in England, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. 

After a poor run at Everton, his return to Real Madrid was a bit surprising, but the results haven’t been. He cruised to La Liga success, winning the domestic title by 13 points over Barcelona, and his calm presence is evident in how Real approach matches.  They are never out of it, they don’t lose their composure, and in the end they are usually in a fantastic spot to win.

2. No Ronaldo but much more speed

This will be the team’s first final since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure after 2018. It took them a while to get back to this spot, especially since their acquisition of Eden Hazard from Chelsea, a move that was supposed to help replace Ronaldo, has been an absolute disaster. But they have made it to the semifinals in 10 of the last 12 seasons. With Ronaldo gone, they now feature two speedy Brazilian wingers on either side of Benzema in Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo. Both scored against Manchester City in the semifinals, with the latter getting an added-time brace to force extra time in the second leg. The attack looks different without Ronaldo, not always having somebody staying high centrally, but boy has it been effective.

Across two legs, the attack has scored three on PSG, five on Chelsea and six on Manchester City, and the speedy Brazilians are a big reason why. 

3. The best version of Karim Benzema

Benzema is, without a doubt, the world’s best player right now. He’s probably wrapped up the Ballon d’Or, and he has come to life when needed in the knockout stage. His 2021-22 season has been absolutely historic. In his first 12 seasons with Real Madrid, he averaged 23 goals per campaign. He’s got 44 already this season, 12 more than any other of his previous years. He’s taken on a bigger role since Ronaldo left, he is doing it a variety of ways, and he has a highlight reel from recent matches that will make your jaw drop. 

He followed up a hat trick against PSG in the round of 16 with one against Chelsea in the quarterfinals, and his decisive penalty against City has the capital club in the final. Oh, he also scored in the first leg as well. Twice. 

How to watch 2022 final

Date: Saturday, May 28 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: CBS and Paramount+

Location: Stade de France in Paris, France

Studio coverage: Kate Abdo, Thierry Henry, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards

Commentators: Clive Tyldesley and Rob Green

On-site reporters: Peter Schmeichel, Jules Breach, Jenny Chiu and Guillem Balagué

Rules expert: Christina Unkel

Odds: Liverpool +105; Draw +270; Real Madrid +240 (via Caesars Sportsbook) 

Featured Game | Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

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