Nobody is quite sure how Real Madrid have reached the Champions League final save for a combination of destiny, good fortune and supreme individual ability.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been comprehensively outplayed at every stage of this year’s competition, but somehow scrambled through to meet a fearsome Liverpool side in Paris.
Liverpool play at a higher tempo, have better defenders and a broader range of attacking threats but must avoid falling into an all-too-familiar Real Madrid trap.
Four years ago, a slightly callow Liverpool were undone by errors and Gareth Bale’s overhead kick and once again they need to be wary of Real Madrid’s magic.
Here we look at how Jurgen Klopp’s team can avoid a fate that has befallen Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City this season.
Despite the vehement protestations of Liverpool partisans, Trent Alexander-Arnold is a defensive vulnerability. One only needs to look at the areas Liverpool’s opponents funnel attacks to see that he is highlighted as a pinch point.
When Alexander-Arnold is isolated in one-against-one situations he struggles, and he is also susceptible to diagonal passes over his head when his body shape can be closed.
The defining match-up of the final could be Alexander-Arnold against Vinicius Junior, although Liverpool will hope their right-back can influence the game offensively to render his defensive problems academic.
Madrid’s winger is their main link to Karim Benzema, and is allowed by Ancelotti to ‘cheat’ and remain high, poised for the counter-attack. The Brazilian winger has completed more dribbles than any player in this season’s Champions League with 78. Man City were so concerned with stopping him they fielded Kyle Walker with one healthy ankle.
Liverpool have to support Alexander-Arnold and offer him safety in numbers, principally through Jordan Henderson who spends much of his game in areas more familiar to a right-winger or right wing-back. Shuffling over and giving Alexander-Arnold support inside will be critical.
Another tactic Klopp could employ is to build attacks down his left flank - if Liverpool lose possession they can squeeze Madrid against the touchline and make it difficult to escape to Vinicius on the opposite side.
Madrid possess one of the most dangerous forwards in Europe in Benzema, but there is so much more to his game than penalty box threat. Benzema is adept at dropping between the lines, and either buying a foul or linking with his team-mates.
His wide-ranging touch map in the quarter-final first leg against Chelsea demonstrates the challenge Liverpool will face against a player who is comfortable dropping into both left and right half-spaces.
Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate are more than a match for Benzema in a physical contest, so they can afford to get tight and squeeze the space between defence and midfield.
It is critical that Fabinho is fit and firing too, to block passing lanes into Benzema and make Madrid’s midfielders turn away from finding their striker. A one in front, one behind approach is the order of the day.
Madrid’s defensive midfielder Casemiro has committed 17 fouls in the Champions League this season but collected just three yellow cards, and is a master of the dark arts.
One of the tactical discoveries of Liverpool’s season post-Christmas has been Sadio Mane playing in the role previously reserved for Roberto Firmino. Mane is not associated with one-touch play and wall passes like Firmino, but can receive the ball in dangerous areas and dribble straight through the gut of the opposition.
Mane drops into No 10 positions and makes Liverpool’s midfield shape into a diamond which could outnumber Madrid’s four to three.
Mane is also all too aware of where his elbows are in the challenges, and in addition to his dribbling ability he could get Casemiro a booking early in the match. Get the upper hand against Casemiro and Liverpool’s midfield will enjoy more time on the ball.
Ancelotti is not associated with tactical dogma or any particular scheme of play, but has played his in-game cards to perfection during this run to the final.
Madrid’s midfield of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos is packed with technical quality but ageing, so Madrid have used Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and forward Rodrygo to give them fresh impetus off the bench.
Camavinga has been especially effective late in games, shuttling the ball up-field through a mixture of passing and dribbling. The Frenchman is also defensively active.
With Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara suffering recent injuries, it is imperative that Klopp makes sure Liverpool sustain intensity in the middle third of the pitch. In-game chances are a strength of his though, and Liverpool could have players such as Naby Keita and Harvey Elliott in reserve.
Telegraph Media Group Limited