After some ninth months of blood, sweat and tears across the continent, the two finalists will battle it out in the final of the Champions League on Saturday.
For Real Madrid, history awaits. They seek a slice of history as they aim to become the first side to win three consecutive Champions League/European Cup titles since Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s.
As for Liverpool, this is the club’s first Champions League final in over a decade, and their current crop of players will be looking to emulate the feat of the Reds side of 2004/05, who completed the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ by winning the trophy on penalties after trailing 0-3 at half-time. Jurgen Klopp will be looking for a much better start from his team this time around.
These two sides have reached the final in rather differing circumstances, and you wonder if the extra energy it has required Real to overcome their previous opponents will play a part compared to the relaxed and refreshed Liverpool.
Real Concerns for Zidane
Zinedine Zidane’s men breezed through Group H, and enjoyed a surprisingly comfortable passage past PSG in the last 16. The Parisians were shorn of the talents of Neymar, but even so Real were convincing in a 5-2 aggregate victory.
And then the problems started….
They were outstanding, admittedly, in the quarter final first leg against Juventus. A fantastic brace from Cristiano Ronaldo set the scene in Turin, and the Galacticos secured a 3-0 win to take back to Madrid. They surely couldn’t be usurped from here, could they?
Thy certainly did their level best to throw the tie away. Mario Mandzukic struck twice and Blaise Matuidi got a third as Juve levelled the tie at three apiece, before that man Ronaldo stepped up to convert a 98th minute penalty and spare his teammates’ blushes.
They wouldn’t suffer a similar fate against Bayern in the semis, surely….
Once again, Real dominated the first leg, and they took a deserved 2-1 lead back to Spain courtesy of goals from Marcelo and Marco Asensio.
But lightning looked set to strike twice at the Bernabeu when Joshua Kimmich brought the Germans level. A brace from Karim Benzema restored some order, before James Rodriguez’s goal gave Zidane and his team a rather squeaky final half-hour to negotiate.
They did so, and confirmed their third straight Champions League final appearance in less than convincing fashion.
European Tour a Doddle for Klopp & Co
If you could devise the perfect path to a showpiece final, you wouldn’t stray too far from the model that Liverpool have enjoyed this season.
Given a rather agreeable draw at the group phase, the Reds eased past Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Maribor; remaining unbeaten and coming out with a hefty goal difference of +17.
They made mincemeat out of Porto in the last 16, with a 5-0 win n the first leg enabling them to take their foot off the gas in the second, while in the last eight they dismantled Manchester City in a show of sublime attacking football; taking the spoils 5-1 on aggregate.
In the semi-final, they were urged to get off to a good start at Anfield, and the 5-2 victory was just about as good as it gets.
Yes, they fumbled and stumbled in the second leg, but realistically Jurgen Klopp could not have wished for a more carefree passage to the final.
Could that relative comfort ensure his players have plenty of energy to spare in Kiev?
The Final Verdict
How much will Real’s past Champions League final experience count here?
Their memories of this competition have been overwhelmingly good ones in the past couple of years, and that may give them the edge over a Liverpool side almost exclusively lacking big match experience.
But that naivety on the part of the Merseysiders may actually be a blessing; especially with a manager like Jurgen Klopp in charge, who will send his troops out to play in their normal attacking fashion come what may.
A front foot approach is the best way to tackle this Real Madrid side – Juventus and Bayern have already shown that, and you do wonder is Mo Salah’s head-to-head battle with Marcelo will prove all-important.
Both men will have attacking and defensive duties to perform….but who will get the best of it?
Otherwise, you could argue that Liverpool are short on the ground when it comes to genuine match winners; the brilliance of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane notwithstanding.
Real have messrs Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale, Kroos and Isco, amongst others, and Liverpool’s occasional defensive fragility could come back to haunt them here.
Expect Ronaldo and co to sneak a high-scoring contest by the odd goal.