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Champions League final: Spotlight on down-to-earth Mohamed Salah's clash against larger-than-life Cristiano Ronaldo

Two of European football’s most decorated clubs come face to face in the 2018 UEFA Champions League final at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex in Kiev in one of the most engrossing storylines of the season. While Real Madrid will etch their names into history book if Zinedine Zidane manages to guide them towards a third consecutive Champions League triumph, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have come out straight from the left field to capture Europe’s attention.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah of Liverpool. AFP

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah of Liverpool. AFP

This season’s Champions League final is an intriguing amalgamation of two clubs – one who is trying to establish their supremacy in a season filled with conundrums and other who is trying to redeem itself after a decade of mediocrity. And at the centre of it all will be two of Europe’s finest inside forwards – Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah.

The Real Madrid star is a freak of nature, his innate talent for scoring goals enhanced by his superhuman athletic abilities. The Egyptian, on the contrary, has only experienced such a meteoric rise for the last one year. Both Ronaldo and Salah may have had humble beginnings with their own shares of accomplishments and failures, but on Saturday, fans of their clubs will pin their hopes on these two forwards just like they have done on innumerable occasions in the past season.

With 45 goals in 52 appearances, Salah not only took the Premier League by storm, but has already achieved the status of a cult hero among Kopites. Showcasing an assorted portfolio of goals across competitions, Salah dispelled myth after myth ever since he came to Merseyside. From being called simply ‘a speed merchant’ to handling scepticism about his capabilities against well-accomplished defensive units, Salah has wheezed past every hurdle like he usually does with the ball at his feet, leaving the defenders in his wake. In the process, Salah reinvented one of the most pioneering positions in modern football succoured by Klopp’s vision.

Old-fashioned wingers have become an unusual commodity these days with most teams preferring to deploy width in their attacks through full-backs. Inverted wingers are in vogue, deployed on the opposite flank of their dominant foot – cutting inside with the ball to either shoot or find a teammate in a more advanced position. Permutations of minimalist orders to this dictum give birth to explosive inside forwards like Mohamed Salah.

On one end of the spectrum, he has scored absolute screamers from long range, on the other, he has tapped in poacher’s goals simply on instinct all the while showcasing mazy runs through a sea of opposition defenders. Against a different opposition, Salah’s red-hot streak of form combined with Klopp’s English version of gegenpressing bundled with unbridled passion will make Liverpool the favorites. But on Saturday, Liverpool will come up against the man who made the position of ‘an inside forward’ his own and then some more.

Having started his career as a lanky winger from Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo is the epitome of modern footballing greatness – the Portuguese may boast of God-gifted talent but only through sheer hard work, has he managed to stay consequential in today’s times.  Dismantling every convention there has been, the 33-year-old Galactico has refused to slow down even in face of injuries and increasing age, taking up more advanced positions as his career progresses.

Ronaldo, with 44 goals in 43 appearances for his club, has a better goal-to-minutes ratio than Salah. The Real Madrid luminary has also registered 6.6 shots per game in Europe to that of Salah’s 3.4 shots per game. Although Salah tends to provide more key passes to his teammates and has a greater knack for dribbling, Ronaldo’s temperament and his all-round ability to carry the team on his shoulders make the La Liga club favourites in spite of Klopp’s attacking triumvirate’s flamboyance.

The Portuguese’s pace and his nose for the goal has always been the hallmarks for his game, his maverick celebrations and overbearing attitude often taking the light away from the confidence which underlines Ronaldo’s playing style – be it leaping miles above everyone to head a cross into the far corner or curl a free-kick from thirty yards into the top corner. Yet it is Ronaldo’s contributions to Zidane’s tactical schemes and not merely his heroics on the pitch which makes Real Madrid such a dangerous opposition.

Operating alongside Karim Benzema, Ronaldo may take up the central role or float across the width of the pitch, bringing in the likes of Isco and Toni Kroos through the centre and Marcelo on the flanks to form a devastating set-up for the Spanish club.

Real Madrid may stand at the doors of an unprecedented third Champions League title, but they have not enjoyed an innocuous season by any means. Falling miles behind Barcelona in the league, sharks have circled Zidane’s side at every step in the Champions League. And Zidane’s wards have consistently played out of their skin to eliminate clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. With Madrid’s defence in tatters in most ties, the onus fell upon Ronaldo to help navigate the Madridistas and he did it with sheer aplomb – scoring fifteen goals in twelve UEFA Champions League appearances and creating three more.

Liverpool’s Egyptian icon and his down-to-earth persona is a stark contrast to the larger-than-life appeal of Cristiano Ronaldo, symbolic to Liverpool’s current status in Europe. At Kiev, it won’t simply be down to these two inside forwards – one the best of his generation and other showcasing the solitary best seasonal performance of this generation – as the collective prowess of their teams will come into play, but one can rest assured that either of these players can walk away with the pedestal anointed for the ‘best’ in the world.


Updated Date: May 26, 2018 09:46 AM

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