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ANALYSED: 4 things that could determine the outcome of the Champions League final

We take a look at four things that could ultimately determine the destination of the Champions League trophy this weekend when Liverpool and Real Madrid meet in Paris.

Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool - Premier League

We take a look at four things that could ultimately determine the destination of the Champions League trophy this weekend when Liverpool and Real Madrid meet in Paris.

Champions League Final

The curtain will come done on the European club season this weekend in Paris where Liverpool and Real Madrid clash in the Champions League final. Much has changed since 2018’s final where Real Madrid ultimately ran out 3-1 winners against the Reds courtesy of two goalkeeping howlers.

Much has changed since that final. Liverpool have improved in every department through excellent recruitment. They come into this tie as the bookies’ favourites, and rightly so. 

However, you can’t write this Real Madrid team off. They’ve had to face PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City en route to the final. What’s more, they’ve overturned massive deficits in each of these ties. This is worth breaking down below:

  • They were 2-0 down on aggregate in the 2nd leg of their Ro16 match against PSG with 30 minutes to play. Up stepped Karim Benzema who netted in the 61st, 76th and 78th minute as Real progressed 3-2 on aggregate. 
  • Madrid won the first leg of their quarter-final against Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. They would be rocked in the second leg, going down 3-0 on the night. An 80th-minute goal from Rodrygo would force the game to extra time, where Benzema would rifle a header past Edouard Mendy to send Los Blancos into the semis.
  • They’d lose the first leg against Manchester City at the Etihad 4-3. They’d fall further behind in the 73rd minute of the return leg with Riyad Mahrez finding the back of the net. Astonishingly, Rodrygo would score in the 90th and 91st minute to level the tie at 5-5 on aggregate. Benzema would go on to convert an extra-time penalty to send Madrid through to the final. 

They’ve faced and overcome plenty of adversity en route to the final, but won’t want to be forced to do things the hard way against Liverpool in a single-legged tie. Here we look at four things that could potentially decide whose cabinet the trophy affectionately known as “Big Ears” will adorn this year. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Vinicicius Junior

Much has been made about the battle between Vinicius Junior and Trent Alexander-Arnold on Liverpool’s right and Real Madrid’s left side. The Liverpool fullback had a bit of a shocker when these two sides met in last season’s quarter-final. 

It was through his and Nat Phillip’s channel that Vinicius opened the scoring for Real (see that goal below). He was at fault just over 10 minutes later when his awful attempt at a header back to goalkeeper, Alisson, landed at the feet of Marco Asensio who delicately lifted the ball over the Liverpool stopper.

Vinicius and Alexander-Arnold will renew hostilities this weekend, but it’s worth noting that the Englishman’s form for large parts of last season was dire. He was routinely found out wanting defensively and even experienced a notable dip in attacking output, scoring twice and providing nine assists across all competitions.

To put this into perspective, this season he has scored twice and registered 19 assists across all competitions, having played just one game more. Last season he was also the subject of much media hullabaloo in the lead up to England’s squad selection for Euro 2020.

Still, this battle could prove pivotal. Real Madrid fans will hope that the attacking threat posed by the Brazilian will pen the Liverpool fullback into his own half. Liverpool, meanwhile, will hope the Brazillian neglects his defensive duties allowing Alexander-Arnold to deliver balls into the box at will.

Benzema Brilliance

Karim Benzema has been sublime this season both domestically and in Europe. The mercurial Frenchman tops the scoring charts in both the Champions League (15) and LaLiga (27).

What’s more, he’s spectacularly overperforming if you take into account his expected goals (xG). FBref defines xG as “the probability that a shot will result in a goal based on the characteristics of that shot and the events leading up to it.” Learn more about xG here at FBref.

Across both LaLiga and the Champions League, Benzema’s xG return sits at 32.1. He has found the back of the net 42 times across these competitions. This means he is scoring 30% more goals than the quality of his chances warrant. This is unreal. Keep in mind that this stat does take penalties into account.

Benzema has repeatedly got himself into strange scoring positions and shooting toward areas of the goal where ‘keepers simply stand no chance. The best example of this is probably his 33rd minute goal against Manchester City in the semi-final first leg. He had no business scoring from that position. Click here to see that goal.

He essentially hooks the ball across his body with his instep while under massive pressure from Zinchenko. All of this happens around 13 yards out with his back almost to goal. Never mind that the finish is executed on the full following a pacey cross from Mendy. Mad.

What I’m getting at is this: Benzema doesn’t necessarily get into positions that defenders would expect him to. He’s also really good at improvising with his finishing from these unusual positions. This makes him incredibly hard to defend against.  Over to you, Virgil.

Liverpool’s high line and Alisson’s 1v1 prowess

Liverpool tend to play a really high line, compressing all of the play in one half of the pitch. This leaves them vulnerable to runs in behind. We saw plenty of examples of this in Liverpool’s final league game of the season against Wolves. Hee-Chan Hwang’s chance in the first half a perfect example of this.

You can bet that Carlo Ancelotti will try to exploit this on Saturday. In Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, he has two of football’s most surgical operators. 

These two will almost certainly try and play Vinicius in behind the Liverpool defence whenever they can. Benzema will likely drop short and try to pull one of the Liverpool centre-halves with him, leaving the space in behind for the Brazillian to exploit.

If they can successfully pull this off, Vinicius will have the unenviable task of trying to beat Alisson in a 1v1 situation. The below graphic indicates just how good he is in these situations, making 8.21 more saves than he would ordinarily be expected to in 1v1 situations in the Premier League this season.

John Harrison 1v1 Alisson
Analysis done by John Harrison of the Athletic. Check him out on Twitter @Jhdharrison1.

Liverpool’s injury concerns

Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of two of their most important players – Fabinho and Thiago. Fabinho limped off in the win against Aston Villa with a hamstring problem. News coming out of Anfield indicates that he is likely to be ready for Saturday.

The prognosis is not so great for Thiago, though. The Spaniard is believed to have an achilles problem, and we’ll only know closer to Friday whether he will be available for selection. His absence will be a massive miss if he can’t feature on Saturday.

With the bulk of Liverpool’s creative output coming from their fullbacks, having Thiago on the pitch lessens the burden on Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

The Spaniard is able to pick apart even the most stubborn of defences, whether pinging a long ball or with a more delicate approach – see his delicious assist for Sadio Mane in Saturday’s 3-1 against Wolves.

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