PARIS: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are seeking to cap a remarkable season by avenging their 2018 defeat against Real Madrid when the sides meet again in the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday, but the Spanish giants have their sights on a 14th European Cup triumph.
It is Liverpool’s third Champions League final in five seasons, after they followed their 3-1 loss to Real in Kiev by beating Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid a year later, and they are widely seen as slight favourites at the Stade de France to become kings of Europe for a seventh time.
That would put them level with AC Milan, with only Saturday’s opponents having won the trophy more often, and it would allow the Anfield club to finish the campaign with a treble after they lifted the English League Cup and FA Cup.
For a long time an unprecedented quadruple was on, but Klopp’s side fell just short in the Premier League, finishing a point behind Manchester City.
But it has already been a memorable few years for Klopp’s side following their loss in Kiev, when Mohamed Salah was forced off injured in the first half, Lorius Karius endured a nightmare in goal, and Gareth Bale’s brilliance won the trophy for Real.
Klopp believes his team have “grown” since then and that match will have no bearing on Saturday’s game.
“We delivered that night and circumstances hit us. We couldn’t react and arrived on three wheels. Key players came back from injured. Mo [Salah] got injured. Our goalie had a concussion,” Klopp told reporters on Friday.
“Things happened. You have to learn to win. The boys developed in the last few years enormously. We are part of a massive club. What happened in 2018 was important but [winning the title in] 2019 was more important.”
Liverpool appear well placed given how much they have strengthened since 2018, chiefly in goal with the arrival of Alisson, while Thiago Alcantara has been a standout in midfield.
The problem is that you could be forgiven for thinking that Real’s name is on the cup, as it has literally been so many times before.
While Liverpool saw off Inter Milan, Benfica and Villarreal in the knockout rounds, it is easy to forget now that Carlo Ancelotti’s Real side lost at home to Sheriff Tiraspol in the group stage, such has been their extraordinary run since.
They were 2-0 down on aggregate to Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 before a Karim Benzema hat-trick in 17 second-half minutes in the second leg took them through.
Against Chelsea in the quarter-finals they scored late at home in the return leg to force extra time before Benzema got their winner.
The best was saved for the semi-final against Manchester City when they went into the 90th minute of the second leg needing two goals just to force extra time. They duly got them, and Benzema then struck the winner.
“If you look at the way Real Madrid celebrate those comebacks then I would say they are the favourites,” Klopp said. “I want us to be on the same level in these kind of things. I want us to be completely ourselves in this game — if we are on the top of our game we are difficult to play. My main concern is for us to be ourselves and be confident.”
The 34-year-old Benzema now leads Real into the final in his home country after a campaign in which he has scored 44 goals, with 15 in Europe and 27 on their run to the Spanish title.
Benzema will surely be nailed on to win the Ballon d’Or if his club triumphs in Paris, where victory would also help Real supporters get over Kylian Mbappe’s decision to snub them.
Real are chasing their fifth Champions League in nine seasons, a run that began when they beat Atletico Madrid in Lisbon in 2014.
Benzema was in that team, as was Luka Modric, while Ancelotti was the coach in his first spell in charge.
The veteran Italian can now become the first coach to win the Champions League four times, having also triumphed with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007.
The latter victory came against Liverpool and was revenge for the Anfield club’s win over Ancelotti’s Milan in Istanbul in 2005.
“Playing a final with them is something special. They have won six Champions Leagues, and if they reach seven they would go level with Milan, so I have extra motivation to win this final,” smiled Ancelotti, who had a spell as boss of Liverpool’s local rivals Everton before returning to Real.
This will be the third final between the clubs, who also met in Paris in 1981 — then the English side were victorious thanks to Alan Kennedy’s goal at the Parc des Princes.
This final was not supposed to be played here, but Paris stepped in after UEFA stripped St Petersburg of the game following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A crowd of 80,000 will fill the Stade de France, with 20,000 fans of each team officially in attendance.
Around 40,000 more Liverpool fans are expected to travel to Paris without tickets, however, and around seven thousand police will be on duty as part of a massive security operation.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022