Liverpool gunning for third trophy

Liverpool midfielder James Milner (centre) with his teammates in training ahead of the Champions League final against Real. — AFP

WHEN Liverpool take to the field against Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Paris early Sunday morning, there will be more than enough incentive to beat the Spanish champions and take the title for a seventh time.

Liverpool had their bid for an unprecedented Quadruple snatched from their grasp last weekend when Manchester City won the English league title, and now they have an opportunity to make a Treble – one that would be a massive achievement in its own right.

The League Cup and FA Cup are already stationed in the trophy cabinet at Anfield.

Liverpool will be as prepared as they can be against probably the most dangerous side in Europe’s elite club competition that there has ever been.

A victory today would be the Madrid club’s 14th.

Perhaps the two greatest threats to Real Madrid at the Stade de France today will be Mohamed Salah and his long-time strike partner Sadio Mane, along with Luiz Dias.

Should Jurgen Klopp, this week named Premier League Manager of the Season, start with this combination, the Spanish side could well find themselves in trouble early on and fail to recover from it.

Of course, those with an allegiance to Real will hasten to point out that Man City know exactly how the Spaniards “can come back from the dead” to win (a reference to Carlo Ancelotti’s side’s famous escape in the semi-finals last month).

And truth be told, if there is a team that can do stuff like that, then it’s Real Madrid.

But Liverpool, one suspects, will not be swayed so easily. Not with the manner they have played all season and with Jurgen Klopp at the helm. This team has been ranked as one of the top-two clubs in the world.

Triumph today would put an end to any doubt and rightfully have them installed as the best, without debate. Klopp will be pleased to have Fabinho back in the side. The Brazilian midfield dynamo missed the last couple of matches through injury, including the FA Cup win over Chelsea, but trained with the squad ahead of the trip to Paris this week.

His inclusion would be a big plus for Liverpool as they set about trying to avenge the defeat they suffered at the hands of Real in the 2018 final.

On that occasion, the injury to Salah not long after kick-off proved pivotal to the outcome.

The Egyptian, no doubt, will be driven to try and get his own back and spearhead the Reds to victory, as he has done countless times since his arrival at Anfield five seasons ago.

Mane, who said this week that he would discuss his future after the final, could also weigh-in heavily on where the “Big Ears” trophy goes this year. The Senegal star has a knack of coming up with crucial goals on the big stage, and only a few would bet against him doing so.

Maybe not as popular as some of the other lads when it comes to publicity, Mane remains an integral part of Liverpool’s successes over the past few seasons. Real Madrid might yet find that out for themselves.

But the Spaniards will not be overwhelmed by the English side. Indeed, no team has better pedigree on this particular stage than Ancelotti’s outfit. This is the club that this tournament seems to have been made for.

And in Karim Benzema they have probably the most lethal striker in the world at the moment. It was he who put paid to Man City’s aspirations of a first Champions League title, and Atletico Madrid before them, and Paris St Germain before them.

There is little doubt that Klopp will be assigning Virgil van Dijk special duties of trying to keep the Spanish striker quiet.

That would be something akin to David Alaba and Company keeping tabs on Salah and Mane.

But despite all this, it could yet come down to the goalkeepers, who may emerge as the stars.

In Alisson Becker and Thibaut Courtois, Liverpool and Real Madrid respectively have among them the best goalkeepers in the game...more so Liverpool.

This final may not even need to go to a penalty shootout for either of these two players to leave their imprint on it.

But Alisson, we know, will be driven by a greater desire to win, just as the rest of his team will be.

Indeed, Liverpool do have a bit more to prove than Real Madrid.

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