Wednesday 17 July 2019

John Giles: Zidane is much more rooted in the real world than Klopp - and that will decide the final

Jurgen Klopp (left) and Zinedine Zidane (right). (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Jurgen Klopp (left) and Zinedine Zidane (right). (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

John Giles

THIS Champions League final is very hard to call, but ultimately it’s about being realistic and I think Zinedine Zidane is much more rooted in the real world than Jurgen Klopp.

Football realism is always based on knowledge and Zidane knows that he must seek a balance between defence and attack and link the two with creative midfield players.

Klopp tells his player to never take a backward glance and never be afraid to attack.

It’s pragmatism versus fantasy football so Real Madrid are my pick to win but I’m not making that prediction with great confidence because I know what Liverpool can do when Klopp’s fearless instructions are matched by the kind of football we’ve seen them play this season.

I also know that this is not the same Madrid team of the last few seasons and my great concern for them is that they don’t have any momentum going into this game.

They scraped through in the semi-final with Bayern Munich and have been poor in La Liga. I would have a question about the mental pitch they will be at compared to last year when they had just won the league title and were full of confidence taking on Juventus in the final.

In fact, I think there is a good chance this will be Zidane’s  final game as Real boss. He has always been a reluctant manager and I don’t think he will be terribly unhappy to take a step back if that’s what happens in the summer.

It would be a harsh judgement on a manager who has delivered so much in a short time but such is the way at the Bernabeu and nobody knows that better than Zidane himself who has been there a long time, first as a player, then as a coach and now as the top man.

I have no such doubts about Liverpool’s state of mind or the fact that Klopp’s job is as secure as anyone in the Premier League with the sole exception of Pep Guardiola.

Since he arrived at the club, Klopp has given the same message to the fans and the players. Before every game this season, he reinforced their trust in his vision by pushing players to back themselves. This is a great environment for them but as I’ve said, somewhat unrealistic.

After every inexplicable collapse in the last few seasons against teams like Swansea and Bournemouth, Klopp publicly backed his players and just steamrolled forward. This method has taken his team all the way to Kiev.

I have great admiration for what he has done but can’t subscribe to his way of thinking about the game. He has no interest in balance but only in forward momentum.

The problem with that approach in this or any game is that Liverpool will have no way to cope with a player like Cristiano Ronaldo if he gets on the ball.

I’ve changed my view of Ronaldo over the years and now believe he is one of the great players of all time. He is unique in that he has made a strength out of a character flaw which I used to believe denied greatness – selfishness.

Ronaldo has no interest in the team and will do nothing in a game for long spells, relying on the lads around him to do the work. But put him in the right place in possession and his flaw becomes a kind of genius.

He instinctively finds the right place to be around the penalty area where he can use his greatest skill to lethal effect but ask him to create, rely on him to come deep when things are not going so well like Lionel Messi does and you’ll get nothing.

This is the reason why I will always rate Messi above him but I accept that in terms of the final product – goals – there is little to separate them.

No other player has ever been able to back up this kind of ego-based football with season after season of goalscoring like Ronaldo and for that reason, other players will tolerate the preening and showboating.

Of course, whether he acknowledges or not, he needs the players around him to create, lads in midfield like Luka Modric, Casemiro or Toni Kroos and I believe that this is where the game could be decided.

Klopp has James Milner and Jordan Henderson who will both run all day but don’t have the skillset to compete with the likes of Modric and Kroos.

Milner has been absolutely magnificent for Liverpool all season and he will do everything he can to hunt and harry Madrid’s ball players. If he has some success, the rewards are huge.

Madrid must control midfield or Ronaldo becomes a lame duck and then the focus switches to Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Klopp’s flying squad.

It’s fair to say that when this trio are in full flow, no other team can overwhelm even very good opposition like Liverpool and between them they have given us some exhilarating football this season.

But my mind lingers on the 7-6 aggregate over the two games in Liverpool’s semi-final against Roma and how they allowed a beaten team back into the tie at Anfield and again in the Olympic Stadium simply because they didn’t know how to defend a big lead.

As I said, this is a very difficult game to read for the obvious reason that I don’t know which Liverpool will turn up.

If it’s the Liverpool that raced to a 5-0 lead against Roma, they could blow Madrid away but if it’s the side that gave away two soft goals in that game, Real will bank yet another trophy.

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