Real Madrid bet it all on 13 in 2018 Champions League final
13. Having bet it all on that odd, prime number, Real Madrid's season has come down to today's game in Kiev: the final of the Champions League, Europe's top club competition. Since the days when it was still called the European Cup, it has been 'their' tournament. Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp hit the nail on the head when he said that Los Blancos are "cool as ice" in these finals. They feel absolutely at ease, in their territory; as if they're simply exercising their birthright, one could even venture to say. So much so that they've won 12 of the 15 that they've been involved in thus far; indeed, the last final that they lost was way back in 1981, against their opponents tonight. They've been victorious in their last six. There's nothing tougher in football than taking on Real in the Champions League's showpiece event.
Liverpool's forward line is awesome; their defence, less so
Mind you, Liverpool are hardly European also-rans. They've won the trophy five times themselves, have a glorious history of their own to defend, and boast three superb forwards in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. Salah is world football's latest superstar. Their game is all about pressing in midfield and then attacking at full pelt through that trio, who wreak utter havoc. The flipside of this team, though, is that they are less than watertight at the back, and are missing some of their best midfielders. Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, has a full complement, leaving him with such a wealth of resources that the question marks revolve around who he's going to leave out: Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema. Having finally been given a welcome dose of bench time, both have now acquired a greater work ethic.
Real Madrid head into Champions League final in fine shape
With all their eggs placed in the Champions League basket, Real Madrid have idled domestically and arrive in Ukraine in fine physical fettle. Every player in the squad heads into the final in tip-top shape, a state of affairs for which credit must go to Zidane, who amongst other things has managed to persuade Cristiano Ronaldo that, if need be, today's game is worth missing 100 others for. There's real togetherness in the squad, that's clear to see: in Sergio Ramos, they have a leader who is exerting a hugely positive influence on the group. And last weekend, Real's basketball team showed their football counterparts the way with a EuroLeague triumph that opens up the possibility of an unprecedented double crown. All the ingredients are there for Real to go out and enjoy a great night on a pitch where, not so long ago, we saw a Spain side featuring Ramos win the Euros.
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