Sunday 22 September 2019

How Real Madrid and the Spanish press rate Liverpool's chances in Champions League final

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and talisman Mo Salah
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and talisman Mo Salah

Mark Critchley

A certain assurance comes with winning back-to-back Champions League titles, not to mention three in four years, and when those recent triumphs come at a club that was already the most successful in the history of the competition, there is no room left for insecurities. There never has been at Real Madrid.

As outlined in these pages, Madrid’s unerring belief that the European Cup is their trophy and theirs only is a significant factor in their success. It could be characterised as ‘arrogance’, and ahead of Saturday’s final in Kiev, amid all the lip service about paying due respect to their opponents, that ‘arrogance’ has slipped out in drips and drabs.

“It’s a great achievement for Liverpool to reach a Champions League final,” the often even-handed Toni Kroos said at Madrid’s media open day, practically patting his forthcoming opponents on the head, before applying another thick layer of condescension. “It’s very difficult to play in one final,” he added. “Two is very hard. Three is just craziness.”

Kroos at least gave Liverpool their dues in the majority of his media dealings on Tuesday, as any current Madrid player typically would. Those no longer actively connected to the club but still loyal Madridistas, meanwhile, have seen little to worry about.

“Real Madrid has a great squad. They are the best club in Europe at the moment and must show that on Saturday,” Vicente del Bosque told Spanish radio station COPE, predicting a 4-1 win for his former club in Kiev. “I cannot find a single Liverpool player that improves Real Madrid, [not even] Salah.”

Jose Antonio Camacho, another man to both play for and manage Madrid, has also predicted a comfortable three-goal victory. Francisco Gento, veteran of the all-conquering 1950s teams and now the club’s honorary president, rounded off a ballot for tickets to the Kiev final by describing Madrid’s task as “está chupado” – in other words, a piece of cake.

El Pais journalist Diego Torres, known best in this country for his illuminating account of Jose Mourinho’s time in Madrid, offered an insight into Madrid’s thinking while speaking to Bleacher Report earlier this week.

“There isn’t any sensation of fear in Madrid about Liverpool – among the directors, among the players,” he said. “They’ve never been so calm and confident in the club before a final than now. This final is the easiest final they have in front of them, all of them – [Madrid’s president] Florentino Perez, the captains. Everyone.”

Torres himself would seem to share the view that Liverpool are an eminently beatable team. After the semi-final in Rome, he described Jürgen Klopp’s side as “a super-competitive team with a second-rate defence and a limited midfield made up of serious, professional players but with no class and little invention”.

His opinion has not changed much in the weeks since, either. Torres’s dispatch from Anfield on Monday describes a team of players who – outside of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané – depend on hard work, desire and belief. Klopp’s midfield comes in for particular criticism.

Emre Can is injury-prone, Georginio Wijnaldum inconsistent and Jordan Henderson “self-sacrificing”, and not in a positive sense. A single adjective is saved for James Milner – “old”. Under the intimidating headline “press or die”, Torres concludes that though Klopp might laugh away any worries about his team, he “would like to have more sophisticated players.”

This grim evaluation of Liverpool’s prospects tallies with El Mundo’s Julian Ruiz, who concluded after the Rome semi-final that despite his great affection for Klopp’s side, they would be “crushed by Madrid’s legend”.

However, in the same newspaper, Guille Uzquiano can find reasons for optimism in Liverpool’s ranks – highlighting the improvement Virgil van Dijk has brought to the defence as well as Milner’s productivity and experience, the Yorkshireman “hardened in a thousand battles”.

Those Spaniards familiar with Liverpool as a club are also willing to give them more of a chance. Josemi, Rafael Benitez’s first signing as Liverpool manager back in the summer of 2005, backs his former club to prevail in Kiev. “In a one-off game, I see the favourite as Liverpool,” he told Diario AS. “It is more competitive, especially after the last matches of Madrid,” referencing the recent defeat to Sevilla and draw with Villarreal in La Liga.

Fernando Morientes, meanwhile, strikes a different tone to many of his fellow Madridistas, believing Liverpool’s support and the sense of destiny mean they will be just as confident as Madrid. “In Kiev, Madrid have to be prepared for the burden of red support, which I fear will be the majority,” the former Madrid and Liverpool striker wrote in El Mundo on Monday. “Madrid have more quality, but in passion for the great cup, it is very even.”

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