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24th May 2018

Liverpool can beat Real Madrid if they exploit an obvious weakness

Liverpool can hurt Madrid

Robert Redmond

There should be goals in the Champions League final and lots of them.

Liverpool have scored 40 goals in the Champions League this season and Real Madrid netted 30 goals on the way to the showpiece game in Kiev.

The final on Saturday night won’t be cagey.

The two teams are among the best attacking sides in the world. Mohamed Salah has scored 44 goals in 51 games this season. Sadio Mane has 19 goals in 43 matches this year and Roberto Firmino has scored 27 goals in his 52 appearances for Liverpool this season. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo has 450 goals in 437 games for Real Madrid. One look at the defences on each side only adds to the feeling that the final could finish 4-3 to either team.

Dejan Lovren’s propensity to have a Dejan Lovren moment will only be increased when faced against Ronaldo, and Madrid will inevitably target Liverpool’s young full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, as Man United, Manchester City and Roma have this season.

Then there’s Marcelo.

The Brazilian full-back is a brilliant footballer – one of the best attacking full-backs in the world. But he’s defensively suspect and sometimes looks as though he just couldn’t be bothered defending.

Against Madrid in the final, Marcelo’s tendency to go forward and leave oceans of space behind him is an obvious weakness that Liverpool can exploit.

This season, other sides in the Champions League have targeted the full-back. In the semi-finals, Bayern Munich scored the opening goal of the second leg in part because of the space Marcelo afforded Thomas Muller on the Bayern wing. The German forward had time and space to put a cross into the box, which eventually fell to the feet of Joshua Kimmich to score.

Bayern’s second goal on the night came from another cross on Madrid’s left-hand side, with Marcelo once again out of position.

It was a common theme on the night.

And the same thing happened repeatedly in the quarter-final.

Juventus scored as a result of a cross that came from Marcelo’s side. The 30-year-old’s effort to block the pass appeared half-hearted.

And he was regularly out of position, leaving massive gaps for Juventus to create goalscoring chances.

In the last-16 against Paris Saint-Germain, the French side scored a similar goal to the one Bayern got against the European champions in the semi-final second leg.

Marcelo was out of position and didn’t work hard to make up for his initial error, the cross that Madrid failed to cut out was deflected into Adrien Rabiot’s path and PSG took the lead.

Marcelo just doesn’t appear to be interested in the defensive side of the game. He gets away with this approach because of his talent going forward and the brilliance of his teammates.

Against Borussia Dortmund last season, his attempt to try to play the opposition offside was comical.

And yet again he was no-where to be found when Dortmund scored from a counter-attack down Madrid’s left-hand side.

This isn’t intended to be a compilation of Marcelo’s worst moments. The Brazilian is a gifted footballer, an athletic full-back with great technique, who is wonderful going forward, and has an excellent delivery. He also scores his fair share of goals and can hurt Liverpool when Madrid attack. But it would be remiss not to point out the defensive flaws in his game that Liverpool can exploit.

Salah will inevitably drift into the space Marcelo leaves when he goes forward, and he will run into areas the Madrid full-back doesn’t want to go. It will be up to the Egyptian’s teammates to find him when this occurs.

Liverpool lack a central midfielder with the craft to cut the opposition open with a through-ball, but this can work in their favour against Madrid.

They rarely played through midfield against Roma, and chose instead to hit early balls into the space vacated by Roma’s wing-backs. This resulted in Salah and Mane getting into several one v one situations and it caused havoc amongst Roma’s defenders.

Expect Jurgen Klopp’s side to attempt this type of ball when they win possession in midfield in Kiev.

Of course, Madrid are a significantly better team than Roma, but similar gaps could appear and Liverpool have the means to hurt the Champions League holders. With Firmino dropping deep and potentially dragging Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos with him, and Mane occupying the other flank, Liverpool could hurt Real on Saturday.

For example, this goal against Roma is quite similar to the goal Madrid conceded against Juventus when Marcelo failed to defend the cross.

The ball was played into the open space, the attacker got the better of the defender in the one v one situation and set-up a simple finish at the back post with a cross.

Yet, the worrying thing for Liverpool is that they could do everything right on Saturday and still lose. They could exploit the space left by Marcelo and still come up short. Salah could score a hat-trick and Madrid will somehow score four.

Real have been written off several times over the last few years and always find a way to win. They’re arguably the most talented squad in Europe and it would be foolish to bet against Ronaldo.

They find a way to win and will back themselves to score against Liverpool’s often rickety defence. The gulf in talent between the two sides in midfield is also staggering. However, Klopp has been the underdog for his entire career and has always found a way to beat teams with better resources – his impressive record against Pep Guardiola’s teams is testament to that.

Liverpool and Real are both so potent going forward, and with soft centres at the back, that a frantic end-to-end match with plenty of goals feels inevitable. The defensive weaknesses of each side, as well as their attacking talent, makes it such an exciting game for neutrals. It could be a classic Champions League final.