Different season, similar climax.
Liverpool will face Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League final on 1 June, 370 days after a heart-breaking defeat to Real Madrid in the 2018 edition.
The Reds have come a long way since then and much has changed – but what are the biggest differences from last year’s defeat to a horror show from Loris Karius and a Gareth Bale wonder goal compared to the team that will be stepping out at the Estadio Metropolitano on Saturday?
WE’RE THE FAVOURITES
When Jurgen Klopp’s men faced Real in Kiev, the odds were – probably quite rightly – firmly in favour of the opposition.
The Spanish giants had won the competition in three of the previous four seasons while, in contrast, Liverpool were playing Champions League football for the first time since 2014 and had made a first foray into the knockout stages for nine years.
Fast forward a year and things couldn’t be more different. The experiences of the previous European campaign, added to our incredible effort in the league in 2018/19 – not to mention two victories over Spurs already – ensure that we’ll go into the game as the team to beat.
A TOUGHER PATH
Sevilla, Spartak Moscow, Maribor, Porto, Manchester City, Roma.
One week from now… pic.twitter.com/Sm3VsqIprZ
— RedsBet (@Reds_Bet) May 25, 2019
Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, Red Star Belgrade, Bayern Munich, Porto (again), Barcelona.
There’s no question that the Reds have come through a much more difficult route to the final this season as opposed to last.
The champions of France, Germany and Spain have all been defeated and Klopp has proven that reaching the 2018 final was no fluke.
Indeed, he is still yet to lose a two-legged European tie as Liverpool manager. Compare our last three opponents with Tottenham’s – Bayern, Porto and Barca against Borussia Dortmund, City and Ajax.
Much like ourselves against Real (who last year beat PSG, Bayern and Juventus), while both paths have their challenges, it’s clear one side has overcome much bigger challenges than the other.
SHARING THE LOAD
When Mo Salah left the field in tears in Kiev after a classic piece of Sergio Ramos “gamesmanship” with the game just 30 minutes in, Liverpool’s hopes looked to have been almost immediately extinguished.
The Egyptian had been the key man all season long and his absence felt like any attacking threat had been completely nullified. However, this season, things are much more balanced.
While Salah continues to find the net at an impressive rate, there are others stepping up to share the load, most notably Sadio Mane. The pair each have 26 goals in all competitions and should be joined in the starting XI by Roberto Firmino, who has chipped in with 16 of his own.
That sensational semi-final recovery against Barcelona also demonstrated the strength in depth Klopp has at his disposal – without Salah and Firmino, Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum came to the fore to hammer home the fact that this is not a team that relies on individuals.
A COMMANDING KEEPER
There’s no escaping it – a huge part of defeat to Real was down to Loris Karius’ mistakes.
After presenting Karim Benzema with an absolute gift in bizarre circumstances, Karius then fumbled Gareth Bale’s speculative long-range effort into his net to put the final nail in the coffin.
How different things might have been had the Reds been able to boast a goalkeeper who inspires confidence in his defence. Enter Alisson.
The Brazilian stopper has enjoyed a superb debut campaign and, while occasionally causing the odd heart-in-mouth moment when playing the ball out with his feet from the back, he is clearly a marked step-up from his predecessor.
He won the Premier League Golden Glove after keeping 21 clean sheets and provides much greater stability.
If it wasn’t for his incredible late stop against Napoli in the final group game, we wouldn’t even be here.
IT MEANS MORE
Few expected Liverpool to reach the final last season.
Fewer still probably foresaw repeating the feat this time around, alongside a serious league title challenge.
But here we are, and this time, it feels like it really needs winning. After the campaign we’ve had, to finish with no silverware would be a travesty.
After the drama of the European run – Alisson’s Napoli save, the stunning comeback against Barca – it feels like it’s meant to be.
The Reds have been praised and pointed out as moving in the right direction since Klopp’s arrival but it’s time to back it up with a trophy. There was no shame in losing to Real Madrid last year – this time, we need to bring it home.
*Odds are subject to change
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