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Champions League Final Preview: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Our soccer columnist Rory Smith offered a quick preview in his newsletter this week (sign up here):

Paris St.-Germain almost looked as if it were waiting for the wave to crash. Chelsea seemed determined to resist, 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 is 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 has been too much drama, too much magic, in the last two months for it to conclude in any way other than smoke and fire and white ticker tape drifting down from the sky.

Indeed, the test for Liverpool on Saturday — more than technical or tactical or systemic — is psychological. Real Madrid has been able to snatch victory from defeat against three of the best-equipped opponents in Europe because its players believe in the club’s almost mystical refusal to wilt.

But Madrid has been helped by the fact that the opposition are inclined to believe it, too. Particularly in the Bernabéu, there is a distinct, almost palpable edge to otherwise accomplished teams, a discernible awareness that at some point — almost entirely unannounced — Real Madrid is going to do something elemental and unfathomable, and nobody will be able to stop it.

To win its seventh European Cup on Saturday, Liverpool will have to break that sequence. Its manager, Jürgen Klopp, said this week that he finds it more helpful to focus on preventing Real Madrid from getting into a position to wreak its particular brand of havoc — easier said than done, of course — than simply to watch the highlights of those two frenzied minutes against Manchester City, over and over again. “There are another 88 minutes in the game,” he said.

In that sense, Liverpool is probably the toughest test Madrid could have faced in the final. Not necessarily because it is a better team than Manchester City — the Premier League table, indeed, rather suggests it is not — but because it will see in this Madrid an echo of its former self.

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