PEP GUARDIOLA believes everyone loves Liverpool, that they have the neutrals’ vote when it comes to the confrontation between his club and the Reds. He’s very wrong, because over the years, Liverpool have certainly been respected for their football, their consistency and innovation, but for a number of reasons, they are the club opposition fans love to see beaten.
In Spain it is probably a similar story for Real Madrid, they are the most popular and the most unpopular of clubs. Likewise, in other countries, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Ferencvaros, Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain will have as much hatred poured their way as they do love and affection. Success breeds jealousy and contempt and the green-eyed monster is a well-established resident in the game of football.
However, respect is due to both Liverpool and Real Madrid for their record in European football and there are no more popular coaches in the modern game than Jürgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti.
It promises to be a stunning match to end what has been a riveting Champions League season. While we can easily criticise the structure that has created huge imbalances in football, the quality of the competition never disappoints. But it is a rich man’s play thing, a society of wealthy, blingy clubs and players, prima-donnas and starlets. At the end of the final, the winners are showered in gold ticket-tape like wedding confetti, but it might be more appropriate to send kilos of cotton wool into the sky.
|Cup wins||7 (+9 Lge Cup)||19|
|Champions League wins||6||13|
|Other European titles||3||4|
|Average Attendance 2021-22||53,096||41,228|
|Total income 2020-21||£ 487.4m|
(-1% on 2020)
(-9% on 2020)
|P&L 2020-21||(£4.8m)||€ 1.7m|
|Wage bill||£ 314.4m (65% of income)||€ 371.8m (57% of income)|
|Social Media followers||118 million||300 million|
It is hard to predict a winner, but over the past decade, the richest club have invariably lifted the trophy. In fact, since 2005, the poorer (and that word is used loosely) club has won just four times: Liverpool in 2005, Barcelona in 2009, Inter Milan in 2010 and Chelsea in 2012 and 2021. The roll-call of finalists tells you everything: the club with the lowest level of income has been Atlético Madrid in 2014 and 2016 (source: Deloitte). Using this as a guide, then Real should be favourites (second richest versus seventh), but it is hard to look beyond Liverpool for the quality of their team and coach.
Yet Real Madrid have made a habit of winning this competition without necessarily being the best team around. They are certainly not the only club to do this, there were arguably better teams than Chelsea in 2012 and 2021 and Liverpool in 2019. Real Madrid’s record in the competition carries an awful lot of weight, but so, too, does Liverpool’s rich history. A Liverpool win in Paris will be their seventh in the European Cup/Champions League, putting them level with AC Milan. In short, both Real Madrid and Liverpool can rightly be considered “European royalty”. The banners held by Liverpool fans may irritate their opponents, but it is true.
The path to Paris
Liverpool had a very attractive and challenging first phase group, including AC Milan, Porto and Atlético Madrid, their average UEFA ranking was 25. Real, by comparison, had a weaker group comprising Inter Milan, Sheriff of Moldova and Shakhtar Donetsk. The average ranking was 51. While Liverpool won all six of their group fixtures, Real slipped-up at home to Sheriff, but were successful in every other game.
The knockout stage really showed Real Madrid’s resilience and also underlined the brilliance of often underrated striker, Karim Benzema. Real lost a game in each of the round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals, but emerged triumphant each time. Benzema has scored 15 goals in the competition, including 10 in the knockout games with hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Real’s ability to turn around a tie was seen against PSG, Chelsea and – quite dramatically – in the semi-final with Manchester City. On the way to Paris, they beat three of the last four finalists in the Champions League.
Liverpool’s group might have been tougher, but they had a slightly more comfortable time from the round of 16 onwards. Inter were beaten far more convincingly than the 2-1 aggregate suggested and Benfica and Villareal gave them a challenge, but it wasn’t Manchester City or even Chelsea. In 12 games, Liverpool lost once, compared to Real’s four defeats. The UEFA rankings at present favour Liverpool in second position to Real Madrid’s fifth.
Real Madrid won La Liga for the 35th time in 2021-22. Their margin of victory was 13 points, the second highest in the past 10 years in Spain. In some ways, Real have not received the credit they deserve for their domestic success. Barcelona were in a state of flux and coming to terms with the loss of Lionel Messi and Atlético Madrid seemed hamstrung by injury and a lack of fresh impetus. It wasn’t a title by default by any means, 26 wins from 38 games says it all, but nobody appears to rate Real or their popular coach Carlo Ancelotti highly enough. Regardless, they have won the league and reached the Champions League final, so Ancelotti and his team are doing something right.
Liverpool continued their two-way battle with Manchester City, losing out on the Premier League title by one point. As the media have pointed out, this could have been a year of the quadruple, but Klopp’s side have missed-out after finishing runners-up in the league. They have won the two domestic knockout competitions, both on penalties against Chelsea, and they could still end up with a treble. Liverpool’s league record is very impressive and clearly the mark of a champion club. Two defeats in the Premier, 94 goals scored, 26 conceded would win almost any major league in almost any other season.
Liverpool and Manchester City have dominated the Premier over the past four years and there is no sign of that duopoly ending any time soon. Both clubs adopt a smart approach to team-building with a strong emphasis on data and strategic hiring. When the rest of the league catches up, then Liverpool and City may come under more pressure, but they are currently so far ahead of their rivals the 2022-23 season will surely be more of the same.
How the squads were built
|Konaté (£ 36m)|
Diaz (£ 37.5m)
Camavinga (€ 31m)
|Tsimikas (£ 11.7m)|
Thiago (£ 20m)
Jota (£ 41m)
|Minamino (£ 7.2m)||2019-20||Militao (€ 50m) Hazard (€ 115m)|
Mendy (€ 48m)
Rodrygo (€ 45m)
Jović (€ 60m)
|Keita (£ 52.7m)|
Fabinho (£ 39m)
Alisson (£ 55.5m)
|2018-19||Courtois (€ 35m)|
Vinicius (€ 45m)
|Salah (£ 36.9m)|
Robertson (£ 8m)
Van Dijk (£ 70m)
|2017-18||Ceballos (€ 16.5m)|
Mané (£ 30m)
|2016-17||Asensio (€ 3.9m)|
Valverde (€ 5m)
|Gomez (£ 3.5m)|
Firmino (£ 21.3m)
|Origi (£ 10m)||2014-15||Kroos (€ 25m)|
|2013-14||Carvajal (€ 65m)|
Casemiro (€ 6m)
Isco (€ 30m)
Bale (€ 100m)
|2012-13||Modrić (€ 30m)|
|Henderson (£ 16m)||2011-12|
|2009-10||Benzema (€ 35m)|
|2006-07||Marcelo (€ 6.5m)|
Over the past five years, Liverpool’s transfer market activity has resulted in a net spend of minus £ 200 million, the ninth biggest deficit in English football. This was less than the two Manchester clubs by some distance, but Chelsea (-£ 240m) and Tottenham (- £232m) were not far behind. Since the Klopp era began, Liverpool’s gross outlay has been £ 668 million and net spend totals £ 226 million. What has become obvious is that Liverpool rarely have a poor buy, which says a lot about the process behind their transfer market decision-making.
Real Madrid’s gross expenditure in the same period was the equivalent of £ 634 million and their net is even better, a deficit of £ 59.1 million. Real have generated £ 575 million from player sales since 2015. While Real’s squad is valued at € 816 million by Football Benchmark, Liverpool’s comes in at more than € 988 million. Liverpool’s squad is also slightly younger at 27.2 years compared to Real’s 27.5 years, but the latter has a more urgent need to bring down the age of its regular starting line-up. Liverpool certainly seem to have more valuable players at current market prices. Both clubs are heavily reliant on foreign talent.
The past is no guide
The two clubs have met in the final twice before, in 1981 and 2018. The first clash was in Paris and Liverpool scraped home 1-0 in a somewhat tame game. In 2018, in Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, Real took advantage of mistakes by Liverpool’s goalkeeper Loris Karius and won 3-1. Liverpool also lost Mo Salah after half an hour to a bad tackle from Sergio Ramos. The two clubs have come face-to-face eight times in the competition overall, with Real winners four times, Liverpool three, and there has been one draw, in 2020-21.
Past results, however, are no pointer to how this final will go. These clubs are Champions League experts and this will be Carlo Ancelotti’s fifth as a coach to Klopp’s four. Finals are often a disappointment, but the way Liverpool and Real play suggests there will be no overbearing caution or reluctance to go in search of the trophy. All clichés aside, this could be a very compelling game.