Champions League final tests spirit of two tough adversaries

The clash between Liverpool and Real Madrid in the final of this year’s Uefa Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious and richest football tournament, will pit the champions of Spain against the English runners-up.

It is a match between two teams with global fanbases and a European football pedigree underpinned by 19 Uefa Champions League and European Cups shared between them.

Alongside the prestige, a huge financial prize is guaranteed for the champions. Last year’s winners, Chelsea, collected €119.8mn for lifting the trophy, a sum boosted by additional royalties and bonuses from sponsors. By contrast Villarreal, which last season won Uefa’s second-tier Europa League competition, collected €33mn. The winners at the Stade de France stadium in Paris this Saturday will also qualify for Uefa’s Super Cup.

Off the pitch, financial analysts suggest no club is worth more than Real Madrid. The club has an estimated market value of €3.1bn including debt, according to Football Benchmark. By the same metrics, Liverpool is in fifth place with a value of €2.5bn.

German coach Jürgen Klopp will manage Liverpool in the club’s third meeting with Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League. Under his stewardship this season, Liverpool have recorded one of the highest win ratios in the past 20 years of Champions League matches.

The team’s win rate of more than 2.5 times the median club this season is bettered by only two clubs: Manchester City last year and Bayern Munich’s Champions League winning run in 2019-20, where it won all 11 matches, according to analysis by the Financial Times.

The season before Klopp arrived at Liverpool in 2014-15, the win ratio for the Reds in the Champions League was just 0.3 times the median.

By contrast, Real Madrid have won two-thirds of their games this season, or 2 times the median club, coming back from behind in each of the last three rounds in the knockout stage. Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti is hoping to become the only manager to win the competition four times. Klopp has one European title with Liverpool.

But as the teams progressed to the knockout rounds, the numbers do not tell the full story. While Manchester City have won England’s Premier League title four times in the past five years, European success has eluded Pep Guardiola’s team.

It is the same for French champions Paris Saint-Germain. Both clubs have spent massively in their quest for European glory. According to data website, Man City has spent a net of more than £710mn since 2015-16 compared with £530mn for Paris Saint-Germain — considerably more than Liverpool and Real Madrid, which have spent about £230mn and £60mn respectively after accounting for players sold.

Despite this outlay and continued domestic success, both Man City and PSG seem to trip over a final psychological hurdle in Europe’s elite competition.

Klopp often calls his Liverpool players “mentality monsters” for their fighting spirit, but in this season’s Champions League one team above all have shown a capacity to rescue a losing position: Real Madrid.

Charts showing how Real Madrid and Liverpool fared in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Liverpool were never behind in any of their knock-out stage ties, whereas Real Madrid had to come from behind in each of their knock-out stage ties. Including overturning a 2 goal deficit in their semi-final against Manchester City with 90 minutes of regulation football played in the second leg tie.

The Spanish champions trailed in every one of their Champions League knockout matches but mounted three consecutive comebacks, sometimes with only minutes remaining on the clock.

The first time was against PSG, then defending champions Chelsea and in the semi-final they had a thrilling 6-5 aggregate win against Manchester City, where they were two goals down after 89 minutes and yet still won.

This season’s exploits and a trophy-laden past — they have come out on top in all of their seven previous Champions League finals — mean that few doubt Real’s winning mentality.

Data visualisation by Steven Bernard

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