Opposition Analysis: Getting the inside track on Liverpool ahead of the Champions League final

Football Espana spoke with Liverpool expert John O’Sullivan ahead of tomorrow evening’s Champions League final to get the lowdown on The Reds ahead of their clash with Real Madrid.

Which player should Real Madrid worry about the most?

The player Real Madrid should worry about the most is Mohamed Salah. True, the Egyptian’s form has dipped of late, no doubt because of the punishing amount of games he’s played this season — with the winter African Cup of Nations energy and emotionally draining after taking his nation to a final penalty shoot out loss — but if there was ever a game he would be motivated for, it’s this.

We all know what happened between him and Sergio Ramos in 2018, so he will have an additional chip on his shoulder to rewrite his personal history against Madrid. Salah was truly phenomenal between August and January of this season, and despite a drop off in the second half of the campaign for the reasons mentioned above, he still claimed most Premier League assists and shared the league’s Golden Boot.

If he can go to the well one more time and eke additional energy from within himself, he could make the difference.

How are Liverpool playing at the moment?

In terms of results, Liverpool are motoring along nicely and they have rarely been defeated, which is especially impressive given they will, after Saturday, have played every possible game in the season.

However, their performances — which is likely linked to their slog of a schedule — haven’t always matched up to the results and they have gotten into a habit of conceding first quite a lot recently.

The context, though, many may argue, is that they have rotated extensively in recent weeks so they were never going to play with fluency and rhythm. The fact that they have managed to still claim wins, even while playing below their usual level and with so many changes — nine during their win at Southampton, for example — can be seen as an indicator of their strong mentality and the admirable depth of their squad.

What will Liverpool’s starting lineup look like?

This is a tough one to predict, especially because of injury doubts to Thiago, and the choice between Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konaté.

But, assuming everyone is fit, I would pick the young Frenchman, whose recovery pace could really help the Reds deal with Vinicius Junior’s threat, at centre half.

My team would be:

Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Diaz.

What’s the final result of the tie going to be?

As much as you can never, ever rule Real Madrid out in the Champions League — that has been shown to us time and time again, not only this season but in several of their past European Cup matches — I think Liverpool will shade it.

If Fabinho, who can sometimes, worryingly from a Liverpool fan perspective, take a while to find his flow after an injury, can play at his normal levels and Thiago — who is a defensive and offensive totem for the team — is able to play for the majority of the game, the Reds can turn the tables in midfield, an area they were outclassed in during the 2018 final.

In their last meeting, during the COVID impacted 2020-2021 season, Real Madrid bypassed the Liverpool press with accurate long passes over the top of their patched together defence — the likes of Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips, players below the standard required — and the Reds, with Fabinho and Thiago their best pressers and tactically intelligent midfielders will be hoping to avoid a repeat of this.

The Madrid defence, with David Alaba at centre half, is not the most physically domineering, so if Liverpool can keep it defensively tight and cut the supply line to Karim Benzema and Vinicius, they can edge a tight game with set pieces — an area they are very proficient in.

Tags Champions League La Liga Liverpool Real Madrid
La Liga - Club News