Ian Rush: Liverpool Won't Underestimate Real Madrid Like Others Did
As we edge closer to the Champions League final, Jurgen Klopp’s main concern is the fitness of Thiago Alcantara which, at this moment in time, is still up in the air.
Fabinho should be fit, I reckon, but Thiago will be a big miss if he loses his race against time to be ready for Real Madrid. He’s been playing so well this season and I felt for him when he went off against Wolves, but I’m still hopeful he can make it.
On the plus side, if Thiago isn’t able to start, Liverpool still have plenty of strong options in midfield. Jordan Henderson might not be as inventive as Thiago, but his work ethic and the ground he covers certainly makes up for that.
If Fabinho does start, I wouldn’t worry too much about his fitness. People might think it’s not ideal to have been laid up for a few weeks with an injury ahead of the biggest game of the season, but Fabinho will have had more rest than his team-mates.
It’s been such a long season for Liverpool and you can see fatigue creeping in to their play over the past few weeks with a few laboured performances.
But Fabinho’s injury at Southampton could actually prove to be a blessing in disguise as he’s been able to focus on getting his body primed for the Champions League final. He could turn out to be fresher than anyone.
In the week of a European Cup final, it’s important not to push your body too much. The hard yards have already been done throughout the season, so at this stage it’s all about keeping yourself fit and preparing your mind and body for the big night.
It feels like a long time since Liverpool had six days to prepare for their next game, so Klopp and his staff will have made the most of their time this week.
Players can react differently during these rare periods of downtime – some like to train harder, others prefer to preserve their bodies. Ultimately, it’s up to the management team to ensure the correct balance is struck and, since this is Klopp’s fourth Champions League final as a manager, he’ll know how to go about it.
Are Real Madrid Underdogs?
Having already knocked out Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, I don’t think anyone at Liverpool will be underestimating Real Madrid on Saturday.
They won La Liga quite easily this season and they have Karim Benzema who’s hit a remarkable 44 goals in all competitions. That said, I do feel as though their defence is there to be got at by Liverpool, so we could see quite an open game with both teams scoring.
Even if Liverpool go two or three goals up they can’t afford to switch off, as we’ve seen Madrid punish teams in a split second the moment their opponents let their guard down. However, I’d expect Liverpool to do a better job of defending a lead against them than PSG or City managed.
Madrid have quite a few tidy players but there’s no getting away from the obvious – Benzema is the star of the team and he’s the main man to watch out for. He’s really come of age this year and looks set to win the Ballon d’Or, although if Mohamed Salah can upstage him in the biggest club game of the year then it could swing in Mo’s favour.
Sadio Mane cannot be ruled out either at this stage. He’s scored in a Champions League final for Liverpool against Real Madrid before, and if he does so again – especially if it turns out to be a winner – then he’d have to be firmly in the Ballon d’Or mix having already won the Africa Cup of Nations, FA Cup and League Cup.
In fact, in 2022, Mane has arguably been Liverpool’s best player. That AFCON triumph has really filled him with confidence and you could legitimately say he’s Liverpool’s most important player right now. It’s actually a great opportunity for Mane to show the world that he is Liverpool’s main man.
Liverpool need to shut down Madrid’s service to Benzema, who is set for a fascinating battle with Virgil van Dijk. Real have a few avenues they look to go down to get Benzema within striking distance of goal, and Luka Modric is their primary creator.
But Madrid have other creators in their side so it’s important for Liverpool not to focus too much on the little Croatian, or they could leave themselves exposed elsewhere. If the Reds can limit the supply to Benzema and simultaneously play their own attacking game, then I think they’ll win.
They’ll have to take their chances when they come, but Thibaut Courtois is a top quality goalkeeper who has bags of experience, and he’s no stranger to Liverpool given his past with Chelsea.
The same applies to Madrid, though, because Alisson Becker has been fantastic this season – there’s no one I’d prefer to have in goal in a one-on-one situation.
Will Liverpool win a seventh European Cup? I always back Liverpool to win, no matter who they’re playing, and Saturday will be no different.
Final Day Drama
I was at the game at Anfield on Sunday and it turned out to be one of the closest Premier League title races there’s ever been. At one stage, I was dreading the thought of Villa getting a result at the Etihad and Liverpool failing to do their job by beating Wolves.
That would have been a hard one to stomach, but in the end Liverpool wore Wolves down and it just so happened to be too little too late given City’s remarkable turnaround.
When Mane had a goal disallowed for offside, I had a gut-wrenching feeling it wasn’t going to be our day, but the players battled on and got the three points regardless.
In fairness to Wolves, they put up a really good fight and weren’t lying down despite not having much to play for, as some had suggested they might. But Liverpool ground out the win thanks to the strength of the bench, which has been a familiar theme this season.
You can only take your hat off to Manchester City though. To turn around a two-goal deficit in such a short space of time like that – they’re probably the only team in the Premier League who can do that in the blink of an eye.
It was a really interesting closing 15 minutes to the Premier League season, but I’ve got to give City credit – they are worthy champions.
Lap of Honour
Once the reality of the situation sunk in, at least the Anfield crowd were given the chance to get a closer look at the two trophies Liverpool have already won this season with the traditional lap of honour after the last home game of the season.
It was also a chance to send the team off with a bit of encouragement for the Champions League final this weekend, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom around Anfield after full-time.
Win or lose in Paris, there’s going to be a parade in Liverpool for a side who have already exceeded all expectations this season and there’ll be a huge crowd for it as there always is.
Honoured By Local Mural
When Liverpool FC and Liverpool City Council asked me if I’d like to have a mural painted on a wall right outside Anfield, it was an incredible feeling.
Seeing it up close last week, it felt like a lovely gesture. I’m very proud that the fans, club and council wanted to do that for me. Maybe some of the older match-goers can point to it and tell their kids about Liverpool’s record goalscorer!
Incidentally, the artists behind the painting are going over to Paris this week to do some work for UEFA and they fully deserve an opportunity like that because they’re very talented.
A mural befitting of a true Reds legend ❤ pic.twitter.com/pINgVyOQch— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 19, 2022
Relief For Leeds
As a former player of theirs, I’m glad Leeds stayed up last weekend. They’ve had injury problems all season but they somehow managed to pull it out of the bag on the final day of the campaign.
Whether Jesse Marsch is the right man to take them up a level next season remains to be seen. If he can get a fully fit squad and hang on to his best players, then I’m sure they won’t struggle as much as they have done this year.
But next season will be a big test for him and he deserves his chance having kept them up. With the squad they have at the moment, Leeds can have realistic hopes of finishing in the top half next season, although there’s a lot of competition for the top 10 now.
The likes of Aston Villa and Crystal Palace are all vying for that top 10 and will be investing this summer, but for Leeds the biggest thing will be retaining their top players such as Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha.
Had they been relegated, I would have said there’s no chance they’ll hang on to those two in particular, but staying up gives them a fighting chance. Raphinha has apparently handed in a transfer request, which is not good news, so the manager already has his work cut out this summer.
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