Football Football

Three key Champions League final duels

Shares
Ballon d’Or battle? The winner of Saturday’s Champions League final could decide whether Cristiano Ronaldo or Mohamed Salah win World Player of the Year © AFP/File / Lindsey PARNABY, GABRIEL BOUYS

KIEV, Ukraine, May 26 – The two highest scoring sides in this season’s Champions League face off for the title when defending champions Real Madrid and Liverpool go head-to-head in Kiev on Saturday (1845GMT).

With goals seemingly guaranteed in the Ukrainian capital, AFP Sports looks at the key matchups where the game could be won and lost.

Cristiano Ronaldo v Virgil van Dijk

Head over heels for the Champions League: Cristiano Ronaldo is looking to score in his fourth final © AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI

Ronaldo is looking to join an esteemed group of 10 players to win five European Cups by scoring in his fourth separate final.

After a slow start to the season, the World Player of the Year has been in stunning form since the turn of the year, scoring 30 goals in 23 appearances for club and country in 2018.

Ronaldo leads the Champions League goalscorers charts for the sixth consecutive season with 15, but will come up against the world’s most expensive defender in £75 million ($100 million) Dutchman Virgil van Dijk in Kiev.

Van Dijk already looks worth the massive price Liverpool paid Southampton for his services in January, as much for the improvement he has inspired in those around him as his own performances.

“I feel also personally much more confident when you know you have a really good partner next to you,” said Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren.

“He’s a leader, he takes control,” added right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. “He’s really got authority.”

Marcelo v Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah toubled Marcelo when they met in Real Madrid’s win over Roma in 2016 © AFP / JAVIER SORIANO

Salah has been the star turn of Liverpool’s season, scoring 44 goals in his debut season at Anfield to plunder a series of individual Player of the Year awards.

The Egyptian should get plenty of space to showcase his blistering pace and new-found calm in front of goal in the space normally left unoccupied by Madrid’s cavalier left-back Marcelo.

Salah exploited the gaps left by the Brazilian on numerous occasions when Roma were eliminated by Madrid from the Champions League two seasons ago, when Salah lacked the killer finishing touch he has demonstrated this season to take his chances.

Bayern Munich right-back Joshua Kimmich scored in both legs of this season’s semi-final against Real with Marcelo caught out of position.

However, the Madrid vice-captain, now in his 11th year at the Bernabeu, makes up for his defensive liabilities by bombing forward at every opportunity to wreak havoc at the other end.

“I know exactly how I have to play,” insisted Marcelo on Friday.

The flying full-back has scored against Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern on route to the final, and also has plenty of positive experience in Champions League finals having netted in 2014 and 2016, in a penalty shootout, against Atletico Madrid.

Sergio Ramos v Roberto Firmino

Captain fantastic: Sergio Ramos is looking to lift the Champions League for a third straight season © AFP / JAVIER SORIANO

Overshadowed by Salah’s sensational season, Firmino also has 10 Champions League goals to his name this season and is the key starting point for Jurgen Klopp’s pressing game.

“He’s not bothered about hard work, which is another important thing,” said Klopp when Firmino recently extended his contract to 2023. “For an offensive player that is pretty rare in world football.”

Described as a cross between a goalscoring number nine and creative number 10 by Brazil coach Tite, Liverpool will hope Firmino’s movement can drag another Madrid Champions League specialist in Ramos out of position.

Madrid captain Ramos embodies this Real side as he tends to save his best for the big occasion.

The Spaniard started Real’s recent run of European dominance with a stoppage time equaliser against Atletico in the 2014 final and also scored against Real’s local rivals two years later in another all-Madrid showpiece.

Shares

Comments