Real Madrid could become the first team to win three straight Champions League titles on Saturday, but they’ll first have to get past a Liverpool side that is looking for their first European championship since 2005.
While three clubs – including Real Madrid – have won three straight continental club championships before, those all came in the European Cup, before the competition was replaced by the Champions League in 1992.
Madrid Takes Nothing for Granted
On paper, Madrid looks to be the clear favorite for Saturday’s match, which is taking place at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine. While Madrid only finished third in La Liga, they have been dominant in the Champions League so far, knocking out the champions of France (Paris Saint-Germain), Italy (Juventus) and Germany (Bayren Munich) on their way to the final.
On the other hand, Liverpool finished a distant fourth in the English Premier League, and haven’t been to a Champions League final since 2007.
But despite the opinion of many Real fans and pundits who seem to think their side should easily dismiss Liverpool, Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says that he’s ready for a hard-fought final.
“People can say many things, but we know it is not like that,” Zidane said in his pregame news conference. “It is 50/50, like all finals. We must play a great game to win it. In the dressing room, we do not feel like favorites.”
Ronaldo Healthy for Final
Still, it’s hard to look at the Madrid squad without coming away with the feeling that the Spanish club has an advantage. If anything, Zidane may have trouble figuring out which star players won’t make the lineup, especially with a healthy Cristiano Ronaldo ready to play.
Ronaldo will be looking for his fifth career Champions League win, and while he missed time recently with an ankle injury, Zidane says that the 33-year-old forward is healthy following his start last week in Madrid’s final La Liga match.
“Cristiano is fine,” Zidane said. “Today is the final training session, tomorrow the last game of the season. He lives to play games like this.”
In contrast, it’s likely that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will stick with the lineup and the formation that has gotten his side this far. That means a 4-3-3 with plenty of attacking options up front. Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have each scored 10 goals in Champions League play for the Reds, while Sadio Mane has contributed nine more. The only player to score more goals than those three in the tournament is Ronaldo, who has netted 15.
For Klopp, this final is a shot at redemption after losing the Champions League final while managing Borussia Dortmund in 2013, when his team came up short against Bayern Munich.
“I’m really happy to be here with this group of players,” Klopp told reporters. “They fought so unbelievably hard for this, I really think they deserve to be here.”
Real Madrid has deservedly been installed as a favorite, but oddsmakers don’t believe this will be the walkover some Spanish fans expect. Paddy Power has Madrid as the 4/6 pick to hoist the Champions League trophy, but Liverpool is only a 6/5 underdog in the match.