Our soccer columnist Rory Smith offered a fast preview in his newsletter this week (join here):
Paris St.-Germain almost looked as if it were waiting for the wave to crash. Chelsea seemed determined to withstand, right up until the moment that the storm hit. Only then did Thomas Tuchel’s team realize its powerlessness. Manchester City, meanwhile, had almost made it to shore. Once it felt the tide change, though, it could do nothing but succumb.
It’s difficult, on the eve of the Champions League final, to avoid the suspicion that this Real Madrid story cannot possibly end in a dispiriting 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in Paris. There was an excessive amount of drama, an excessive amount of magic, within the last two months for it to conclude in any way apart from smoke and fire and white ticker tape drifting down from the sky.
Indeed, the test for Liverpool on Saturday — greater than technical or tactical or systemic — is psychological. Real Madrid has been in a position to snatch victory from defeat against three of the best-equipped opponents in Europe because its players consider within the club’s almost mystical refusal to wilt.
But Madrid has been helped by the proven fact that the opposition are inclined to consider it, too. Particularly within the Bernabéu, there may be a definite, almost palpable edge to otherwise achieved teams, a discernible awareness that in some unspecified time in the future — almost entirely unannounced — Real Madrid goes to do something elemental and unfathomable, and no one will have the opportunity to stop it.
To win its seventh European Cup on Saturday, Liverpool may have to interrupt that sequence. Its manager, Jürgen Klopp, said this week that he finds it more helpful to concentrate on stopping Real Madrid from stepping into a position to wreak its particular brand of havoc — easier said than done, in fact — than simply to observe the highlights of those two frenzied minutes against Manchester City, over and all over again. “There are one other 88 minutes in the sport,” he said.
In that sense, Liverpool might be the hardest test Madrid could have faced in the ultimate. Not necessarily since it is a greater team than Manchester City — the Premier League table, indeed, fairly suggests it is just not — but because it can see on this Madrid an echo of its former self.