Experience and know how may give Real Madrid the edge against Liverpool

One oddity about this Real Madrid team is that despite being the first to win back-to-back Champions Leagues, and being only 90 minutes away from a third, you don’t look at them and say here’s a style, an approach that we should emulate.

Their formula for success is in many ways difficult to put your finger on. And there’s little useful to copy.

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How do they play? Well, that depends. Zidane does apply a basic pattern, but after that, it’s down to the brains and ability of his players. For some, the Frenchman appears to do very little at all.

And yet, here they are in a third Champions League final in a row. Max Allegri, the Juventus manager, often talks about the limited impact any manager really has on his players.

There are just too many variables to contend with. Too much that can happen out of your control.

Few are claiming that Zidane is a tactical genius, but that doesn’t mean he has no impact. And perhaps Zizou’s understanding of this group, the trust he affords his stars, is what makes the difference. That is his “method.”

Liverpool will provide a fascinating test next Saturday night in a season where Los Merengues have often looked there for the taking. Indeed, they have been taken, quite often.

And yet, despite wobbles, unimpressive displays and an apparent lack of stomach for the nitty-gritty, long haul of a La Liga defence (a black mark against both manager and players), they’ve nevertheless seen off Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich in a tough run to Kiev.

Individual moments of brilliance and clinical finishing are key characteristics of this Real side – rather than cohesive, 90-minute team displays. But there’s something else too, something elemental and vital – an ingrained belief that they can shape history, win games, beat anybody, any time, regardless of how they perform as a team.

That belief and their obvious know how rightly makes them favourites to win the Champions League. It’s where they have a serious edge over Liverpool.

The Reds have the physical tools. But what about the mental. Could they freeze when faced with the enormity of the occasion? We know Real won’t.

The sides are nevertheless well matched. Neither could be considered water tight defensively. Both feature full backs who love to and are asked to bomb on. And both leave spaces that can be exploited.

In midfield, Liverpool have legs, hunger and players who know and carry out their orders to the letter. Zidane’s men won’t match their intensity, but then Toni Kroos and Luca Modric have quality and nous that Liverpool can’t match in turn – but must at least negate.

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Up front, Real are clinical. They have power, experience, cuteness. Errors are seized upon and punished. And they have an aerial prowess that may worry Liverpool.

How often do we see them attacking crosses into the spaces between full back and centre half? This is an area they like to exploit – and one, particularly on Liverpool’s right, that has been exposed a number of times this season.

Zidane’s men will surely look to expose Trent Alexander-Arnold’s erratic covering and Lovren’s rashness and propensity to find himself off balance and under the ball.

By the same token, the young Liverpool full back and more particularly Mo Salah ahead of him can make hay in the spaces Marcelo’s advanced positioning will afford them. And Liverpool’s front three can expose Real’s rear guard. No question.

Ultimately, much will depend on how well Los Merengues can withstand Liverpool’s high press and intensity in the early stages. They’ve not faced anything quite like it this season, and the two-week break should see Liverpool re-energised.

The evidence of the campaign so far suggests that Zidane’s men will be happy to invite Liverpool on and look to catch them on the counter or beat the press with long balls into the channels.

In response, Klopp may adopt a slightly more conservative approach for the final, although it’s hard not to see Liverpool taking the game to Ramos and co.

But if Real can hold it together and weather the Liverpool barrage, the longer the game goes on, the more telling their big game experience may become.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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