Real Madrid will meet Liverpool for the second time in a European Cup / Champions League final when they clash in Kiev on Saturday night. Both sides have impressed en route to the final, although unlike the two-legged ties that they have played in during the knockout stages this match is a one-off on neutral ground and it's winner takes all.
Head to Head Odds
In terms of betting, all the money is with Madrid, although they are not huge favourites and started at around 2:1 odds (-101). Liverpool entered as outsiders at +204, while the draw is at long odds, priced at +338. In the head to head market, the odds are based on the 90 minute final score, and there's certainly a chance that this match will go into extra time. If that's the case, the draw would be the winning wager.
Road to the Final
It's hard to split the teams based on form so far, although each side have faced different challenges in the competition to date. Liverpool saw off FC Porto, Manchester City and AS Roma in the knockout stages, scoring 17 of their 40 tournament goals and dominating at home, while Real knocked off the champions from France (PSG), Italy (Juventus) and Germany (Bayern Munich) and will have truly earned the title of European champions if they are successful in this match.
Notable Injuries / Suspensions
Real Madrid have no worries on the injury or suspension fronts, while Liverpool will definitely be without central midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and defenders Joel Matip and Joe Gomez. In good news for the Reds, James Milner has been declared fit to play, and Emre Can has also recovered from a back injury. Whether or not he makes the starting lineup though is another story.
While it is certainly clear that Real Madrid have two key advantages (experience and a better team on paper), the biggest challenge for Zinedine Zidane (and us) is to determine which side will play on Saturday night. Liverpool on the other hand have a few injury concerns, meaning their likely lineup is slighty clearer.
Madrid will need to be cautious of the threat that Liverpool's pacey forwards pose on the counter-attack, and they have shown twice already (away to PSG and away to Bayern) how they could potentially take the field.
Against Bayern, Zidane employed a 4-1-4-1 formation that saw Ronaldo up front on his own without Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale on the team sheet. The four midfielders were Isco, Modric, Kroos and Vasquez, while Casimero dropped in front of the defenders to add protection. This could be useful particularly as Marcelo, one of the more attacking defenders in world football, will be up against Mo Salah, who will constantly look to get in behind.
Not playing Benzema is a huge risk though, particularly as he was on the scoresheet in Real's last match and has scored three in two games against Liverpool. Perhaps then we will see a 4-4-2 formation like the one deployed against PSG, featuring Kovacic and Casimero in defensive central midfield roles. This setup leaves out Kroos and Modric, so it won't be an easy decision for the former French international.
Given that Zidane has changed it up in almost every match in the competition so far, we're betting there will be a surprise on Saturday. Our predicted lineup below is similar to the 4-4-2, although more of a 4-2-2-2 formation.
Real Madrid Projected Lineup (4-2-2-2)
- Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo
- Casemiro, Kovacic
- Kroos, Modric
- Ronaldo, Benzema
Liverpool by contrast are more or less locked in due to a combination of injuries and a 'if it's not broken don't fix it' ideology likely to be employed by Jurgen Klopp. They will start in a 4-3-3 formation, and the only question really is whether or not Emre Can will start or come off the bench. There's really no place for both Can and Jordan Henderson in the same lineup anyway, and Gigi Wijnaldum has been in good form, so we think it will be the latter.
We saw Liverpool trial a 4-2-3-1 formation in the last couple of Premier League matches with Dominic Solanke up front, although we're certain the standard 4-3-3 will be on show
Liverpool Projected Lineup (4-3-3)
- Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson
- Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum
- Salah, Firmino, Mane
Real Madrid vs Liverpool Analysis
Liverpool will go into this match with an entire squad that has not experienced a Champions League final, while Real Madrid have been there and done it three times in the last four years and most of the likely starters were a feature. Yet Liverpool have not been overawed in any of their matches so far, and while Klopp's record in finals is not as good as his opposite number, you just get the feeling that they can cause an upset here.
The key to this match is how well Real Madrid can shut down Liverpool's front three, and the blueprint was provided by Chelsea in the Premier League not too long ago. Chelsea's defenders suffocated Salah and gave him nothing, while also managing to keep enough possession to make the Reds unusually wasteful when they regained the ball. One goal is all it took on that occasion, and Madrid's best chance of a victory could be to stay compact.
On the other hand, neither of these sides have displayed any sort of defensive resolve in this year's competition. Games involving the two sides have almost all featured three or more goals (21-3) and we could see a shootout between two very potent attacking sides who have netted 70 between them in the UCL (24 games).
Mo Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo are the standout performers, and they will likely target Marcelo and Alexander-Arnold respectively given the former's tendency to move high up the pitch and the latter's inexperience. Sergio Ramos is usually infallible at the back for Madrid but will not be able to cope with the pace of Mane/Salah if they get him 1 on 1. If Ronaldo is on (and he usually is), none of Liverpool's other defenders will have a hope.
In our view, this game could be decided in the first half-hour when the nerves are at their peak. Liverpool and Madrid were both sloppy in the opening stages of their respective semi-final second leg matches, before steadying the ship and getting the job done. There's much less margin for error on Saturday, and a mistake from either team could and should prove fatal.
We're predicting that both teams will score in the first half and the match will be poised at 1-1. The overs, which is unsurprisingly the favourite in the over/under market, should be met as both sides score again in the second half, with our predicted 90 minute scoreline to be 2-2. This means that the draw @ +338 is our pick in the head to head market.
As for the final result... well it's not an easy decision but we are predicting that Liverpool will win the match in extra time and the game will not go to penalties. Can Salah be the hero? Potentially, although we're tipping an unlikely protagonist in the form of a bench player to score the winner - maybe Emre Can in what could be his final match for the club.
Final Score Prediction - Real Madrid 2 - 3 Liverpool (AET).