Champions League Final fever is going into overdrive as we head into the biggest match of the European football season. This weekend will see Liverpool taking on Real Madrid at the Stade de France in UEFA’s showpiece event. This is not the first time these two clubs have faced off in the battle for Ol’ Big Ears.
Incredibly, this is not even the first time they have faced each other in a final in France. All the way back in 1981, Liverpool captain Phil Thompson lifted the most coveted trophy in club football at the Parc des Princes as Liverpool defeated Real Madrid 1-0. And that was the last time Real Madrid suffered defeat in a European Cup Final.
2018 vs 2022 Squad Comparisons
Fast forward some 35 odd years and the two sides were at it again. This time contesting the final at the Kyiv Olympic Stadium. That time around, Real was looking to become the first side to complete a three-peat in the Champions League era. They would be successful, as Sergio Ramos and company would lift the trophy that night with Los Blancos defeating Liverpool 3-1.
Now, just four years later, they face each other again. And given that there has been such a short time since their last UCL final battle, I thought it’d be fun to compare each side to the sides we’ll see walk out on Saturday night.
2018 vs 2022 MIDFIELD
Much like the Liverpool defense, there are a lot of similarities between Madrid’s midfield in 2018 and 2022. If my prediction is correct, Madrid’s midfield will be almost exactly the same in terms of personnel.
In 2018, Los Blancos lined up with three central midfielders and an attacking midfielder. The three central midfielders were Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos. Just ahead of that trio was Isco. 2018 was a hugely significant year for Luka Modric. The Croatian playmaker would win the prestigious Balon d’Or that year. Casemiro and Toni Kroos were all world-class talents in 2018 as well. I considered Brazilian Casemiro the best defensive midfielder in the world. Back then, Isco was one of the best players on the planet, too.
In 2022, Isco will be let go on a free transfer. That’s how far his stock has fallen. He is a 50/50 chance of making Madrid’s 12-man substitute bench, a further damning indictment of how far his star has fallen. For the rest of the 2018 midfield, I expect them to start at the Stade de France.
They may be a little slower, but otherwise, they have aged like a fine wine. I expect the midfield trio of Kroos, Modric, and Casemiro to give Liverpool plenty of headaches on Saturday night.
This is what Jamie Carragher had to say about the Madrid midfield when I spoke to him recently:
“I think this is a different Real Madrid [from a few years ago]. Although their midfield is just about the same as that night. The famous Madrid that had won 2,3 maybe 4 European Cups at that stage”
Liverpool’s 2018 Champions league final midfield comprised James Milner, Jordan Henderson, and Gini Wijnaldum. Henderson played the number 6 role, which was common in the pre-Fabinho era, whilst Milner and Wijnaldum played ahead of him. Wijnaldum has since left the club, whilst Milner and Henderson remain at Anfield, albeit in different capacities these days.
The 2022 Liverpool midfield vintage is talented when all options are fit. A player that has emerged recently as their most important midfielder, Thiago Alcantara, is unlikely to start in Paris on Saturday.
Will has predicted Fabinho will return from injury to play the number 6 role for the Reds. In some quarters, we believe he has usurped his countryman Casemiro as the best in the world in this role. Ahead of Fabinho, captain Jordan Henderson starts, with Guinean midfielder Naby Keita playing alongside him in Thiago’s absence.
Without Thiago, Liverpool’s midfield lacks a certain dynamism and creativity, which is a concern for fans and backroom staff alike heading into this weekend’s match.
ADVANTAGE: REAL MADRID
I think that Real Madrid’s midfield is just a smidge better than Liverpool’s midfield. Even if Liverpool is at full strength. With Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, they have two of the best passers of a football to grace the pitch this millennium. In Casemiro they have one of the world’s pre-eminent defensive midfielders, even if Fabinho has overtaken him in recent times.
Advantage Real Madrid.
Stuart Kavanagh is a sports journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Along with being the owner of the sports and entertainment website thepyrrhic.com, he is the co-host of the ‘After Extra Time’ podcast. Football mad, he is always down for debate and discussion at @stueyissickofit on Twitter.Follow paulmbanks