2018 UEFA Champions League Final Preview

Emmanuel Rodriguez, Associate Sports Editor

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for a football fan.

The 2017-18 football season is coming to a close and with most titles secured and a couple of matchdays left, we turn our eyes to the Champions League Final in Kiev, Ukraine to get us hyped up for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Ironically, the two best teams in Europe didn’t win their league titles.

Real Madrid is back in the Champions League Final for the fourth time in five years and are looking to win an astounding third straight title, proving to the world the high level of dominance Cristiano Ronaldo and Los Merengues have established in football over the past half-decade, even though they sit in third on La Liga’s table.

How have Real Madrid been able to compete at such a high level?

The proof is in the pudding. The aforementioned Ronaldo is amongst the top two players in the world as the never-ending argument of Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi continues.

Ronaldo scored in Madrid’s previous game, against Barcelona in El Clásico, but it came at a bit of a cost as Pique’s desperate attempt to clear the ball out of harm’s way caused Ronaldo to tweak his ankle. He was subbed off at the half, which was a good decision by Madrid’s manager, Zinedine Zidane, as Real Madrid didn’t have anything to play for as Barcelona had already clinched the title.

In Madrid’s last game, Cristiano wasn’t the only one who played spectacularly. Gareth Bale was able to snipe a rocket past the outstretched arms of Barcelona’s goalkeeper, Marc Andre Ter-Stegen. Bale, always a thorn in the side of opponents because of his powerful left foot, speed and overall body control and manpower could prove to be a problem for their opponent.

Additionally, in El Clásico, Marcelo continued to be an instigator as he was able to draw a punch to the face from Barcelona’s defender Sergi Roberto. Roberto was shown a red card and sent off. With Barcelona playing a man down, Marcelo continued to play his game as a left winger and was often found up the field to try to help his men score.

There are so many key players on this Real Madrid team that I haven’t even mentioned like midfielder Isco, defender Sergio Ramos and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who made incredible save after save in El Clásico that made my jaw drop to floor and even drew a chuckle from Messi after making an incredible front post save off of the Argentine’s left foot.

Now for their opponent, and who saw this coming back in August?

Liverpool F.C., after losing Phillipe Couthino during the January transfer window, has found their key player and quite possibly a very honest contender with Messi and Ronaldo for Ballon D’Or, even though they too sit in third place of Premier League table.

Mohamed Salah was on the bench for Chelsea and only made 13 appearances for the Blues from 2014-2016. The Egyptian was sent to Italy on loan stints. In 2015, he only made 16 appearances for Fiorentina. The following year, Chelsea sent him to Roma on a loan stint and appeared in 34 games, scoring a career-high 14 goals. Roma then decided to purchase his contract and Salah was transferred to Italy permanently. In over a year, he made another 31 appearances and scored another career-high 15 goals in a season. Then in June 2017, he went back to England to don the iconic Liverpool red.

Salah, in less than 11 months, has shattered all expectations, setting a new career-high 31 goals in 35 matches. Additionally, he helped Egypt reach the FIFA World Cup for the third time in the country’s history, the first since 1990.

Now, the 25-year old has found an incredible chemistry with fellow forwards, 26-year olds Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané.

Not only are the fine strikers in form at the right time for Liverpool, the midfield has been in form as well, even after losing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a season-ending knee injury. Captain Jordan Henderson, James Miliner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can have been able to fill the void left by Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Will it be the established Spanish powerhouse? Or will it be the young team representing England in the Final for the first time since 2012?

As a die-hard Barcelona fan, I hope every time Real Madrid is playing in any final, I hope to see them embarrass themselves.

As a lifelong fan of the sport, I hope to see a great Cinderella story because let’s be honest, outside of Anfield, no one gave The Reds a chance to do what they have done. Over the past 30 years, Liverpool hasn’t been able to break the curse of their inability to win in big games, but this team has broken that curse.

Typing this pains me.

I believe Liverpool will come out guns blazing. It wouldn’t surprise me if Salah scored within the first 15 minutes of the game. Ronaldo will score in the first half, as well. I believe this game will be back and forth for 90 minutes and it won’t be enough. I believe they will end up 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and a vigorous 30 minute extra time. Real Madrid has too much power all over compared to Liverpool. Real Madrid scores all five penalty kicks and Liverpool scores three.

I predict Real Madrid will win their third straight Champions League title 1-1, 5-3 after PKs.

Kickoff from Kiev, Ukraine will be on May 26 at 2:45 p.m. EDT.

And after that, we get ready for the most beautiful tournament in the history of sports: The FIFA World Cup.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for a football fan.


Twitter: @E_Rodriguez_24