This Champions League has been shaped by history but new chaos means Real Madrid vs Liverpool could make its own

With 17 European Cups between them and as two of the four most successful clubs in the competition’s annals it's set to be a fitting climax to a chaotic competition

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 03 May 2018 16:09
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If this season’s Champions League has so often offered games that will be remembered for years, some of that has undeniably been conditioned by memories going back years. These have been the twin themes of this season, that have now left us with two clubs as grandiose and greatly attacking as Liverpool and Real Madrid.

As to why, consider a very conspicuous comment from back in the uncertainty of March, before the rest of the pieces gradually fell and the path to Kyiv was cleared, that did end up summing up much of this campaign.

It was after Juventus had eliminated Tottenham Hotspur, and Giorgio Chiellini was discussing the reasons for the result.

“We believe in history,” the centre-half said. “Also yesterday in the game between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, the history and the experience is important.”

Real are gunning for a 13th crown

As abstract and self-serving as some of this talk may be, Chiellini was correct. The intangibles of knowing your club and your team have been here before did repeatedly have a tangible effect on this campaign. It was often as if it gave players that extra assurance, that lack of hesitation, because the knowledge of the past brought poise.

Other than Roma’s now utterly freakish-looking comeback against Barcelona and Sevilla’s elimination of Manchester United, this was borne out at almost every step and stage of the knock-outs.

Chiellini and Juventus were then subjected it to themselves by Real Madrid, who had done the same to Paris Saint-Germain, and then would do it to Bayern Munich. On the other side of the draw, much of the mockery about the mythical effect of Anfield turned to marvel, as a Liverpool side electrically charged by so many of these elements ultimately knocked out a superior Manchester City there and a more supine Roma.

It has led us to Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium, and this entirely appropriate showdown. If the effect of history has been one of the themes of this Champions League season, Real Madrid and Liverpool - with 17 European Cups between them, and as two of the four most successful clubs in the competition’s annals - are fitting clubs to bring it to a climax.

Liverpool are in the final after a relentless run

It can’t go overlooked here that Real Madrid have 12 of those European Cups to Liverpool’s five, with three of them coming in the last four years as they now look to complete the historic gold-standard feat of three-in-a-row.

Jurgen Klopp certainly wasn’t going to overlook it, as he sat - smiling so widely - in the Stadio Olimpico media room. Liverpool may have that history, as he alluded to when talking of how “they don’t hang up silver medals in Melwood”, but they don’t have that recent experience.

“We will be ready then but this is Real Madrid,” Klopp said. “You cannot be more experienced in this competition than Real Madrid… they are four times in the final in the last five years and still together. They are experienced, we are not, but we will be really on fire.”

Those last six words would fit the other theme of this Champions League season, because it has so often been enflamed by the most intense attacking abandon the modern era has ever seen. You only have to go back through so many genuinely eye-popping games.

Real have been here so many times before 

If history has been a theme of the season, it is only after the type of football and goalscoring that really hasn’t been seen for decades. This is the other theme.

Consider the figures alone. At 3.2 goals per game, this is already the highest scoring Champions League season since 1990-91 (3.22), and the second highest since 1975-76 (3.31). Given how the 2016-17 season was also the first since 1990-91 and only second since 1975-76 to even breach three goals per game, it does feel like an evolution has been taking place.

This season’s knock-out stages alone - when all of the financially weaker sides like Maribor have been knocked out - has a goals-per-game average of 3.46. So it actually went up without the regularly thrashed minnows, and by quite a distance.

That is worthy of a far greater discussion concerning coaching and prevailing tactical ideas, but the net effect has been so many grossly entertaining games.

No points for second best in Champions League final, says Klopp

It is not just about the number of goals, after all, but the nature of when those goals went in.

One of the most common and important traits in European football over the last few decades - something that was supposed to really elevate it - was the ability of the top teams to “kill” games. Once they’d gone 2-0 up in a first leg, for example, the fair expectation was that they would just smother the relative non-event of a second leg. They would always seem to have the opposition at sufficient distance.

It is what would have been the obvious no-brainer of a bet for this season’s semi-final second legs in the past, especially given the positions of comfort that the leads of Real Madrid and Liverpool had put them in. The same applied to their second legs against Juventus and City, too, not to mention Barcelona’s against Roma.

Liverpool survived against Rome to make it to Kiev 

That didn’t happen. We didn’t see the “polished” second legs of the past. That trait of the competition is no more, overtaken by a new chaos. The football played at this level is now too open.

It as if a spirit of adventure has energised the competition, where the sheer deluge of goals and attacking tactics means no side thinks any lead is insurmountable. And it has had some spectacular effects.

Look at the words of the managers in the final. Klopp described his semi-final as “wild” and Zidane said his was “crazy”, but they have been entirely in-keeping with both of their campaigns so far. Both managers have been in enough of those games already this season… but may have to get ready for one more.

All of this is why Liverpool will not be cowed by Real’s recent success, and why we are thereby set up for a final in-keeping with that high-scoring campaign, too.

Real Madrid's Zidane reacts after the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich

On 20 goals, this has already been the highest-scoring semi-final stage of the entire Champions League era, and the second highest in history after the 22 hit in 1959-60. That was when Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers 12-4 on aggregate and Real Madrid beat Barcelona 6-2, with the two going on to produce what was one of the most commemorated finals ever and definitely the highest scoring at 7-3 to the Spanish side.

This may not produce that. But it does look set to be the first Champions League final since 2005 to see both sides score more than one goal.

It does look set for another piece of history.

That would be entirely fitting with this raucous and prolific present reality.

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