The 2018 UEFA Champions League final in Kiev will see two of Europe’s most eminent clubs take on each other in a battle of wits, grit and aptitude. The fates of the two clubs rest on the collective performances of the entire squad, yet in a game of this magnitude, it is a display of individual brilliance which could swing the destination of ‘Big Eared Trophy’.
Here are some key battles which could decide one of the most anticipated UEFA Champions League finals of recent years:
Sergio Ramos vs Roberto Firmino
Sergio Ramos is a ‘potent’ attacking threat is a statement not many would agree upon, but come UEFA Champions League finals, the Spanish centre-half is a different beast. From his stoppage-time goal in the 2014 Champions League final which pulled off the carpet from below Atletico Madrid’s feet to his opening goal against the same opposition in the 2016 final, Ramos has developed a knack of scoring goals at crucial junctures. On Saturday, however, it will be his defensive leadership which will be critical.
Roberto Firmino hasn’t been showered with effusive praise as much as Mohamed Salah, but the Brazilian striker, an embodiment of a modern centre-forward lies at the heart of the astounding success Jurgen Klopp’s Kops have achieved in Europe this season. Flamboyant in celebrations but gracious in outlook, Firmino is terribly underrated but the former Hoffenheim striker lives for moments like Saturday night.
From finding the back of the net himself to creating goals for his teammates, Firmino excels under pressure and it would be down to Ramos and his centre-back partner (likely to be Rafael Varane) to keep him quiet and check his movement between the channels.
Isco vs Jordan Henderson
Jordan Henderson doesn’t fit the mould of a typical Liverpool central midfielder that the Anfield regulars are used to. But the former-Sunderland player has discovered a different side to his own game under Klopp's tutelage — not merely as a strong-willed leader, but also as the focal point of Liverpool’s midfield triumvirate.
On Saturday, Henderson's tackles must be precise and his interceptions timely should he wish to stop Isco who has wreaked havoc against Real Madrid's previous knockout opponents.
In many ways, Henderson and Isco have had similar beginnings to their careers at their present clubs, winning over scores of sceptical fans with superlative performances. The Englishman won’t match up to the Los Blancos' Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in terms of creativity or dynamism, but his tenacity can provide Klopp the foundations necessary to topple Real Madrid.
Marcelo vs Mohamed Salah
In the lead-up to the Champions League final, a video which took the social media universe by storm was Marcelo’s young son performing the ‘head bin challenge’ with the Real Madrid squad, prompting Enzo’s father to complete the challenge with Enzo’s teammates as well. Mohamed Salah, on the other hand, has been in news for his plans to break his Ramadan fast on the day of the UEFA Champions League final.
Putting the social news cycle aside, it will be the contest between these two which can decide whether Klopp lifts his first ever European trophy. Marcelo is infamous for his marauding runs down Real Madrid’s left flank, but on Saturday, such moves could afford Salah the space he needs to devastate the La Liga club’s backline.
There aren’t many fullbacks in Europe better enabled than Marcelo to negate Salah’s expertise and how the Egyptian adapts to this latest challenge after such a phenomenal season makes for a captivating watch.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk has undoubtedly been one of Liverpool’s most influential players in this European campaign, his arrival in January marking the commencement of the upward trajectory the English club has been on in the final six months of the season. The Dutch international will face the biggest test of his career when he comes up against Real Madrid.
Although Ronaldo’s positioning in the Real Madrid first-team suggests the role of containing him will fall upon the young fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Portuguese’s tendency to drift inside and create goalscoring chances by finding the sweet spot between the two opposition centre-halves means van Dijk will not only have to keep an eye on Benzema (who scored two important goals against Bayern Munich in the semi-finals), but also on the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Ronaldo loves to be the man of the occasion, consistently showcasing the best of his abilities in pressure situations and van Dijk must not only play out of his skin, but also commandeer an errorless defensive showing from his teammates to stop the 33-year-old forward.
Zinedine Zidane vs Jurgen Klopp
“I’m not the best coach tactically, and I’ll always say that,” Zinedine Zidane offered an amusing opinion with a chuckle — regarding his whirlwind tenure at Real Madrid where he took over a demoralised, sometimes unruly squad and converted them into serial winners. What many count as fortune when it comes to Zidane, is actually his understated “brilliance” according to Klopp, who is a complete antithesis to the former French international.
Sprouting tactics at every instance, Klopp has turned his vision for Liverpool into a reality. “The team with the most goals in the run to the final? It’s us. I can’t believe it, but it’s true. We have scored the most goals and had exceptional performances,” Klopp told reporters ahead of the game.
The most substantial battle of the night will be between the two managers, bringing in their own sets of ideologies and experiences to achieve the ultimate dream.
“The experience they (Madrid) have is an advantage, 100%, but experience does not help you all the time. We need to make it as difficult as we can for them. We cannot try to fight on their level but tactics in football are there to bring a better opponent to your level and when they are on your level you can beat them,” Klopp's words underline the profound tactical duel which will ensue at Kiev.
Updated Date: May 26, 2018 11:05:44 IST