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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Liverpool and Real should provide a thrilling Champions League showdown

Awesome attacks are full of goals

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool
1 of 1

Champions League final
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Saturday

This Champions League final is not one that many would have predicted at the start of the knockout phase but Real Madrid and Liverpool should serve up a fitting ending to a competition which has been goal crazy. 

Real head to Kiev looking to lift the trophy for a third straight year and a 13th time overall, while Liverpool are aiming to claim their sixth European Cup. 

But neither of these grand clubs with their illustrious pasts will have been involved in many tournaments as topsy-turvy as this season's utterly bonkers Champions League.

The 124 matches have produced 397 goals at 3.2 per game, easily surpassing the previous best of 380, and the thrills may not be finished yet.

These two chaotic clubs seem to know only one way of playing and despite the enormity of what is at stake it could pay to back both both teams to score in a final featuring at least three goals.

Underdogs Liverpool, who were still 16-1 shots to win the Champions League in February, have a decent chance of upsetting the odds with Jurgen Klopp's men presumably determined to stick to the full-throttle football which has dazzled their opponents in Europe this season.

Liverpool have scored 40 goals with the front three of Mohamed Salah (ten), Roberto Firmino (ten) and Sadio Mane (nine) combining for 29 of them. They will get opportunities against a Madrid defence which was breached 44 times in La Liga this term as they headed for a disappointing third-place finish.

Real have managed only four clean sheets in their last 26 Champions League matches and two of those came against minnows Apoel. Full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal have often been exposed as Zinedine Zidane seemingly struggles to find the right balance in his team.

Zidane's helter-skelter outfit were well beaten by Tottenham in the group stages and were out to 9-1 for a threepeat following a difficult last-16 draw with Paris St-Germain. 

They were outplayed for spells by PSG but still won 5-2 on aggregate. It was the same story against Juventus and Bayern Munich and still Real Madrid found a way to win, overcoming a much more difficult path to the final than Liverpool.

So often it is Cristiano Ronaldo who comes up big when it matters most for Real Madrid. He has scored 15 goals of their 30 goals in this season's Champions League and barring a miracle will finish as at least the joint-leading marksman for the sixth straight season.

Virgil van Dijk has improved Liverpool's defence since arriving from Southampton in January but the Reds' rearguard remains prone to moments of disaster, particularly away from Anfield.

In this season's Premier League they have conceded five at Manchester City, four at Tottenham, three at Arsenal and two at Manchester United and in the Champions League the Reds shipped four at Roma and three in Seville.

Real Madrid have scored in each of their last 27 Champions League matches and there is not much evidence to suggest Liverpool will end that run.

Indeed, in six knockout matches against PSG, Bayern and Juve - all champions domestically - Real scored at least twice and from a variety of sources.

Marcelo notched three from his nominal position of left-back and his match-up with 44-goal Salah will be fascinating.

If Liverpool can counter quickly there will be acres of space for the speedy Egyptian to roam in, but if Madrid control midfield Salah will end up doing more defensive work than is normally the case.

In terms of the midfield reputations Real Madrid win hands down and if Isco is selected ahead of Lucas Vazquez or Gareth Bale it could be that Zidane uses exactly the same starting 11 who comprehensively destroyed Juventus 4-1 in last season's final.

On that Cardiff night 12 months ago Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco dominated the second half but what Liverpool lack in names they make up for in terms of energy and teamwork in their engine-room with Jordan Henderson set to line up alongside James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum or Emre Can. 

Liverpool get about the pitch much faster than Juve - or PSG and Bayern for that matter - and they successfully snuffed out Manchester City's galaxy of midfield stars in the quarter-finals.

Beating the runaway Premier League champions was impressive stuff from Liverpool seeing as City are the best team in Europe, however, the remainder of their conquests hint at an element of luck with the draw.

Sevilla were their strongest group opponents while Porto and Roma are below the standard of Real Madrid, flaws and all.

Not that it matters now. It is a one-off game and the death or glory nature of the showdown could lead to a thrilling showdown.

Both teams to score & over 2.5 goals
2pts 4-6 Coral, Sky Bet

La Liga standings

Premier League standings

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Team news
Real Madrid
Real will be at full-strength. Zinedine Zidane needs to choose from Gareth Bale, Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio for their final midfield position.

Emre Can has returned to full training and is available for the first time since March. Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are out. Joel Matip is sidelined.

Key stat
Both teams have scored in 11 of the last 13 Champions League finals, including each of the last seven.

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Both teams have scored in 11 of the last 13 Champions League finals, including each of the last seven
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