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
Attack Midfield Defense Goalkeeping
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.
For this exercise, I’ll be using the starting XI’s that Sportsbank Liverpool writer Will Willems & I have predicted for the upcoming matchup.
The defenses of both sides are curious when you compare them to four years ago. On one side, it is all change and on the other; it is quite familiar.
We’ll start by having a look at the Real Madrid defense. In 2018, Los Blancos had one of the most feared and experienced defenses in world football. Their fullbacks were Dani Carvajal on the right, who didn’t last the first half and Marcelo on the left. Marcelo remains a part of the squad and recently became the most decorated Madrid player of all time when Real won La Liga.
He is no longer considered a starter, however. His stock has fallen so dramatically that Liverpool would be happy if he was to line up there on Saturday night.
In 2018, the Brazilian left-back chimed in with two assists and was instrumental in Madrid, lifting their third straight Champions League title.
At the center of defense, Real sported the legendary pairing of Sérgio Ramos and Raphael Varane. Both players have since left the club with Ramos turning out for PSG now and Varane playing for Manchester United in the Premier League.
The 2022 version is less feared and doesn’t have as much experience. Not to say they have none. Dani Carvajal still starts at left back and David Alaba now starts in the center of defense. There can be no doubting those two players’ experience of playing the biggest games in football.
The inexperience comes into play at left-back and the other center-back position.
Left-back Ferland Mendy is supremely talented, but this is his first UCL final. We can say the same for the Brazilian center-back Eder Militao. Bith players will lean on their more senior counterparts to get them through the match at different stages, I am sure.
Experience is a big theme when comparing the Liverpool defenses from then and now too. Back in 2018, Liverpool lined up with Virgil van Dijk at center back, along with Trent Alexander Arnold and Abdy Robertson at right and left-back, respectively. Barring some kind of disaster, I expect those three players to line up once again in 2022. But they are different players now. We can seriously consider all three when arguing the best players in the world in their position now. That wasn’t the case in 2018.
The other center back in 2018 was Dejan Lovren.
The Croatian would pay in the World Cup final just a few weeks later as well. He would win neither trophies. This year Liverpool is likely to go with Joel Matip, a significant upgrade on the hot and cold Croatian.
Here’s what Jamie Carragher had to say about Liverpool in 2018 compared to Liverpool now:
“Even though there’s a lot of Liverpool players that are similar, I think Liverpool are now in a completely different place mentally. I think going into this game, Liverpool will not be starstruck or feel like they are in awe of Real Madrid”
I think both sides’ defenses highlight the difference between their 2018 and 2022 vintages. There has been a definite role reversal since their last final clash. I don’t think there can be any argument about the English team’s superiority in defense.
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.
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