24 May Rezzil Weekly: As the Premier League’s door slams shut, the Champions League race remains wide open
After one of the greatest Premier League season’s in the league’s history was brought to a close in the typically dramatic fashion on Sunday afternoon, the Champions League final has plenty to live up to this coming weekend.
Two greats of the tournament’s history do battle in Paris to determine who will scoop the most coveted prize in club football, as six-time champions Liverpool take on Europe’s most decorated club in Real Madrid. Los Blancos will be looking to lift the trophy for the 14th time when they take on the Reds at the Stade de France, and head into the clash full of confidence following an emphatic league win in Spain – in the end finishing 13 points ahead of their fierce rivals Barcelona.
This has afforded Carlo Ancelotti with the luxury of resting some of his biggest hitters in recent outings ahead of Saturday’s star-studded clash of the titans, which could indeed give them the upper hand when the pair meet on French soil. Liverpool, meanwhile, took Man City right to the wire in the race for the Premier League title, but missed out on silverware by a single point after the Sky Blues’ miraculous late turnaround at home to Aston Villa, where they overturned a two-goal deficit to run out 3-2 winners at the Etihad.
Furthermore, Liverpool played 120 minutes against Chelsea in the FA Cup final just 10 days ago and have seen injury setbacks thwart key players Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk as a result. While the duo are both expected to be fit and ready for this weekend’s final, mentally as much as physically there is no doubting that it would’ve served as an unwanted distraction to Jurgen Klopp and his team ahead of what is the biggest game of their campaign.
Madrid have had time to recharge the batteries having won the title at the end of April and have no major injury concerns. While on paper you would certainly side with Liverpool in terms of man-for-man quality, the experience pulsating through Los Blancos’ squad is non-comparable to any where the Champions League is concerned – perfectly highlighted by their previous two games in the tournament, against Chelsea in the quarters and Man City in the semis, where their know-how and expertise saw them fight back from a point which looked perilous to most to secure a spot in this year’s finale.
This exact fixture took place back in 2018, when Real Madrid ran out 3-1 victors in Kiev thanks to a goalkeeping howler from Loris Karius and a sensational overhead kick goal scored by forgotten man Gareth Bale. There will be no Sergio Ramos to rattle the Liverpool cage this time out, though, and no Bale to produce a moment of pure footballing brilliance from nothing. And certainly no subpar goalkeeper to roll the ball straight into the opposing striker’s foot and gift away a bewilderingly sloppy goal.
It will be a cagey affair, where both teams sound each other out and match each other’s energy; where the extensive experience of both sides will produce a tactful game of cat and mouse and the roles of each animal change throughout. It should be a good old fashioned Champions League classic. Here’s hoping, anyway.
Elsewhere, the Europa Conference League is drawn to its conclusion on Wednesday evening, as Roma and Feyenoord clash in Albania for the competition’s inaugural final. Jose Mourinho will be searching for his first piece of silverware since scooping the Europa League whilst in charge of Manchester United back in 2016-17, while the Dutch side will be vying to spoil the party when the pair meet in this thrilling European encounter.
The Championship and League Two play-off finals also take place this weekend, as Mansfield take on Port Vale at Wembley for a spot in the third tier next season on Saturday, before Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield lock horns at the national stadium on Sunday to see who will be propelled into the promised land ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.