Champions League final reporter chat: Tactics, key players, strengths, weaknesses, predictions
Saturday, May 28, 2022
Our UEFA Champions League final reporters compare notes ahead of Saturday's showpiece.
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UEFA.com team reporters Matthew Howarth and Joseph Walker sit down over a coffee in Paris to discuss Saturday's UEFA Champions League final.
How would you sum up your team's journey to this point?
Matthew Howarth, Liverpool reporter: A flawless group campaign followed by a comfortable path through the knockout stage. The Reds were beaten 1-0 at home by Inter in the last 16 and survived an almighty scare at Villarreal in the semi-finals, but they had already done the majority of the legwork in the first leg of those ties.
Joseph Walker, Real Madrid reporter: A rollercoaster. From the low of losing to Sheriff at home to the high of not one, not two, but three stirring comebacks when seemingly down and out in the knockout stages, it has been quite the ride for Real Madrid and their fans this season in the Champions League. Madrid have looked dead and buried on a number of occasions, but their resilience, grit and determination to win this tournament is nothing short of otherworldly.
Tell us what you know about the mood in your team's camp going into the game – is there confidence that they'll be the ones lifting the trophy on Saturday night?
MH: Very much so. Liverpool were pipped to the Premier League title by Manchester City on the final day, but their disappointment didn't last long. How can it when you've already won two domestic cups and finished on 92 points in the league? This has been a tremendous campaign for Jürgen Klopp and his players – and they're determined to finish it in style.
JW: Absolutely. This is Real Madrid's competition, after all. They have a brilliant record in finals, they have a brilliant record against Liverpool, and Carlo Ancelotti has a brilliant record against Klopp. This club does not lose big games, and they will be determined to ensure that remains the case.
You were both reporting for UEFA.com on the 2018 final between these two teams – how do the 2022 line-ups compare?
MH: Klopp said recently that this is the strongest squad he's ever had at Liverpool – and it's hard to disagree. The Reds' bench in Kyiv four years ago featured Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan and Dominic Solanke – among others – while this time the likes of club captain Jordan Henderson, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino could find themselves among the substitutes.
JW: On the one hand, Madrid's is eerily similar, not least when you consider the midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Casemiro and Toni Kroos. The players might have changed – stalwarts like Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo have moved on – but this side, much like that 2018 one, just do not know when they are beat. They have all the experience you could ever want; they know how to manage games, when to take the sting out of them and when to go for the throat. Some would argue this is not a vintage Madrid side, but you do not reach a Champions League final by chance.
Just how important is this trophy to these two clubs and their fans?
MH: Liverpool supporters would have loved to see their side crowned Premier League champions for the second time in three seasons – having waited so long to return to English football's summit – but the Reds have a long and evocative history in continental competition and a seventh European Cup would make coming second to City seem like a distant memory.
JW: When you have won the competition 13 times, the answer is pretty self-explanatory. This is the one that matters to Madrid and their fans. They, of course, like to win the Spanish Liga – just as they did this season – but the club's history and identity is built on the European Cup. This is everything to them.
Liverpool in particular have injury worries looming over key players. Regardless of personnel, can we expect either team to tweak their approach for the occasion?
MH: Unlikely. Klopp may have refined Liverpool's high-intensity pressing game in recent seasons, but there is no need to alter your team's approach when they have lost only three of 62 games in all competitions this season. Unlike Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, you know what you're getting with Liverpool – but that doesn't make it any easier to stop them.
JW: You would be a fool to suggest that Ancelotti will not have a specific game plan, especially against that Liverpool front three, but I expect Madrid to be themselves as much as they can. They will look to keep Liverpool at arm's length, sit deep and spring on the counter with the pace of Vinícius Júnior and the intelligence of Karim Benzema.
Klopp and Ancelotti have very different personas during a game. What qualities will they bring to their team's corner when it matters most?
MH: Klopp's tactile approach to man-management brings the best out of his players, but the German isn't afraid to make tough decisions when things aren't going to plan. And more often than not, they're the right decisions: Luis Díaz's impact off the bench at Villarreal is a prime example.
JW: Ancelotti is always the coolest man in the room. Things can be going crazy around him, but he has that uncanny ability to remain in his own zone. This calm, cool head transmits to his players on the pitch and ensures they also never lose their composure. His in-game substitutions have been a cornerstone of this campaign too.
Give us one player – from either team – you expect to have a decisive impact on Saturday.
MH: I wouldn't put it past Mohamed Salah to make amends for 2018 with a goal or two, but Luis Díaz has been magnificent since his January move from Porto and could play a decisive role – even if he doesn’t start the match.
JW: Vinícius Júnior. He terrorised Liverpool last season and tied Trent Alexander-Arnold up in knots with his turn of pace and skill. Simply put, if he wins that individual battle, it is highly likely Madrid win the game.
Is there a potential weak point you expect the opposition to try to exploit?
MH: Liverpool's 'weakness' in the past – if you can call it that – has been a lack of strength in depth, but these days Klopp has ready-made replacements in every position. These days, it is hard to identify a chink in the Reds' armour.
JW: It is not necessarily a weakness, per se, as Dani Carvajal is a fine defender and has plenty of experience, but I expect Luis Díaz and Andy Robertson to target the Spanish international throughout and look to get in behind him. This is why I expect Federico Valverde to start as part of the Madrid front three as he offers an extra body and an engine tracking back that does not come quite as naturally to Rodrygo.
Is there a particular quality your team possess that could get them over the line?
MH: Liverpool made a habit of fighting back from a goal down towards the end of the Premier League season, doing so on four occasions and collecting ten points in the process. If Klopp's "mentality monsters" rise to the occasion again here, it's hard to see them not ending up with the trophy.
JW: While you could list a hundred things that Madrid possess in abundance, perhaps the thing that does it most justice is the old Spanish saying 'El Madrid es el Madrid' – Madrid are Madrid. It's an expression often used when the club win despite not being at their best. They just always seem to find a way.
Last but not least, we need your score predictions…
MH: Liverpool 3-1 Real Madrid. Salah to score twice and Díaz to clinch a deserved win.
JW: I think it will be comprehensive: 3-1 to Madrid.