The 2022 Champions League final is set: Real Madrid will take on Liverpool in Paris on Saturday, May 28. This final poses two of the all-time great sides in Europe against one another. Real Madrid are the winningest side in the competition’s illustrious history, having won it thirteen times. Liverpool are no slouches either, with a rather impressive six titles in their trophy cabinet. Both have been powerhouses in recent times as well, making this final a little less than surprising. Real won the Champions League in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018, the last of which actually saw them defeat Liverpool in Kiev. Liverpool went one better in 2019, taking home their first Champions League title since 1984, and have been a regular fixture among the best teams in the competition every year since. In this year’s rematch edition, it seems to be a very difficult result to predict – so naturally, I’ve elected to attempt to do just that. This week, I’ll walk through the key strengths and weaknesses of both sides, how they will likely line up and the tactics they’ll employ, and finally give my prediction for a final score.
Where else to start but with the Spanish Champions and historical Kings of Europe, Real Madrid? Most predicted them to struggle this year under returning Manager Carlo Ancelotti. The squad looked to be bad, balanced between aging stars past their peak and youngsters not quite ready to take on the responsibility for leading the side, and the appointment of Ancelotti seemed to be a sentimental one rather than an informed one. Sure, he was in charge when they won La Decima (their tenth European title) in 2014, but his stock had fallen dramatically since. In 2020- 21, he’d only managed to lead Everton to tenth in the Premier League, and ended the season with a 5-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Yet somehow, come May, Real are Spanish Champions once again, 12 points clear at the top, and back in the Champions League Final. Ancelotti has galvanized his side, getting far more from the aging legs of Kroos and Modrić than anyone expected. Have a look at the second goal of their 3-2 comeback win over PSG in the round of 16. Modrić glided through the entire PSG midfield like he’s still in his prime years, despite being 36 and having played over 650 games in his career. Karim Benzema has been rejuvenated, aging like a fine wine, and has 44 goals in as many games in all competitions, including a hat trick in that famous aforementioned win at PSG. The experience has also helped the side stay in crucial games. They saw off a valiant Chelsea comeback in the quarter finals, and three times halved a two-goal deficit against Manchester City in the semifinals to keep the score at 4-3, before scoring two goals in added time in the second leg to force extra time, and eventually won the tie. There is simply no quit in this Real side, and they continue to win games they have no right to, which makes them extremely dangerous.
The final will most likely see the old guard get their last chance in a major final, with Ancelotti relying on his experienced heads to see them through. I see them playing a 4-3-3 with the highlights being Kroos, Modrić, and Casemiro in midfield, just as in their previous three title wins. Benzema will of course lead the line, with Vinicius Jr. cutting in from the left, and Rodrygo, the hero of the semifinal, on the right. The back line will be led by the experience of David Alaba in the middle alongside Eder Militao, flanked by Ferland Mendy and Dani Carvajal.
Courtois will of course start between the sticks, looking to secure his first Champions league at Madrid. Expect a system based around counter attacking play and interchanges around the Liverpool box, looking to get Benzema a even a half chance or isolate the pace of Vinicius against Liverpool’s defensively weak Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The recent kings of the knockout tie, Liverpool come into this final riding high. They’ve just knocked off perennial FA Cup finalists to win that trophy, already won the league cup in January, and sit only a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race with a match still to play. The quadruple is very much on, and it isn’t unexpected. Manager Jürgen Klopp has transformed what was a floundering side when he arrived in 2015 into a regular English and European powerhouse once more. Mohammed Salah leads the scoring charts in the League once more, while Sadio Mané is having a typically productive season alongside him up front. He and youngster Diogo Jota have 15 Premier League goals apiece. The midfield is as stable as ever, with the passing range and flair of Thiago supplemented by the steeliness of Fabinho’s defensive game, and Jordan Henderson anchors the side as captain. At the back, Virgil Van Dijk is back to his imperious best, Ibrahima Konaté and Joël Matip have split time to great effect, and Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are ever-reliably flying up and down the flanks. In goal, Allison is the best in the world.
Liverpool’s run to the Champions League Final has been mostly very smooth. They convincingly won a tough group containing Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, and Porto, coming out with 18 points, 11 clear of second place. The knockout stages have seen them sweep aside Inter Milan and Benfica with little trouble. They only mildly stumbled in the semi finals, with surprise package Villareal mounting a temporary comeback in the second leg to lead 2-0 on the night and level the aggregate score at 3-3 after a 2-0 Liverpool win in the first leg. But by the 75th minute, a Liverpool win was secured, with the Reds scoring three in the prior 12 minutes to advance. While their knockout run has admittedly been surprisingly simple in terms of the quality of their opposition, Liverpool have still shown their trademark ruthlessness, never once looking like the match wasn’t in their own hands. They have one of the best managers in the world, the most feared frontline in recent memory, and a goalkeeper and center back in Allison and Van Dijk that should arguably both have a Ballon D’or by this point. Liverpool are almost certainly the favorites.
I expect Klopp to roll out a familiar Lineup. Salah, Mané, and Jota will lead the line, with a midfield of Fabinho, Thiago, and Henderson filling out the front six in a classic Liverpool 4-3-3. The backline will feature the regular Champions league four of Robertson, Van Dijk, Konaté, and Alexander-Arnold, though I would not be surprised to see Premier League Stalwart Joël Matip step into the center of defense for Konaté. Mané and Salah will cut in as Jota drops in as a false nine, with the two wing backs flying forward to whip balls into the box. Fabinho will anchor the midfield and help keep possession ticking over with Thiago and Henderson, and Van Dijk will look to manage Benzema at the back.
This game is a tough one to call. Liverpool are by far the better side, but Real just always seem to win games they shouldn’t, and Benzema is the current best player on the planet. My prediction is the exact opposite of what happened in Kiev in 2018: I think Liverpool will take the lead early, perhaps a Jota goal on a rebound, followed by Benzema leveling things up. Real will push hard for the lead, with Vinicius going close, but Liverpool will get two in quick succession in the middle of the second half to win 3-1 and claim their seventh European title.