There’s a lovely sense of inevitability right now in England. The sense that there are only two teams in the top tier that could ever come close to touching the title before Manchester City wins it.
Four titles in the last five years, two by just one point and yet they’ve still struggled to reach a Champions League final. Not that they haven’t as Guardiola and his monstrous side managed to sweep aside PSG, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach to face Chelsea. But that’s a different thing altogether because as since we’ve realised, Guardiola panicked and overthought things yet again. He did it the year before and the year before and the year before, was on a sabbatical before that, and the year before and so on.
And yet even that’s beside the point because somehow the Spaniard has managed to turn a league that’s known for having a six-team title challenger into a two-team title race. How he managed to force the other four into a frenzied panic and into spending money they never had on the wrong players to create this situation is kinda freaky but that’s what he does. Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund were both forced into similar situations in the past but it worked in the long-term for the former, less so for the Westfalenstadion side.
Of course, the money definitely comes into play and the fact that City can spend absurd amounts is a big factor in all four of their last five titles. They’ve got a net transfer spend of just over €1400 million since the summer of 2008 which is a good €400 million more than second-place Manchester United. PSG and Barcelona sit third and fourth but the latter has a net transfer spend which is half that of City with Chelsea and Arsenal are both on the list as well.
Liverpool? They don’t even make the top 10. Move further forward and in the last decade, the Reds have had a net spend of £349 million while Manchester City hit £889 million. Over the last five years and the Reds have had a net spend £197 million while City’s is just over £430 million. Now all these numbers mean very little because Arsenal’s net spend is a decent chunk higher than Liverpool and yet few would agree that the Gunners have been title contenders.
It's credit to Jurgen Klopp that his side reached where they are given the financial differences and the fact that they were on par for a quadruple this season despite that. But that has little to do with money and more to do with how Klopp has run his team, evolving as they’ve grown as a financial entity and a team as a whole. It’s why basing the narrative of the 2022 Champions League final solely on revenge and the entire Real Madrid vs Liverpool aka evil vs good battle is nuts.
Especially when there’s so much more at stake because for Klopp, this would be the ultimate battle between the one man who has his number more than most. Although having said that, the job Carlo Ancelotti has done at Real Madrid over the last season has been sensational. Who would have thought that the one many believed was washed-up because he was at Everton would do this?
Nobody but that’s the Carlo magic. He’s about as malleable and adjustable as managers come but more so, the Italian has a little something about him that changes teams. The prime example is this Real Madrid team as the cool, calm, composed and tea-drinking Ancelotti watched on. Because over the last three seasons, prior to this one, the Los Blancos have made it past the Round of 16 once. Sure, they won the league title once but they also finished second and third in the same spell.
Combine that with the losses that they suffered over the summer and it all pointed to a sensational collapse especially after PSG rejected those bids for Mbappe. But in walked in Don Carlo and within less than a month, he had not just formulated a plan but Real never faltered from the top of the table. Sure there were moments where it looked like they would and where it looked like they wouldn’t make it out of their group stages after that loss to Sheriff Tiraspol but it turned out to be a mere blip.
However, explaining all those second-leg knockout comeback wins is beyond anyone. That’s just a combination of a lot of experience, Karim Benzema playing football at a level well beyond what anyone thought was possible and the resurgence of that entire squad. Ancelotti was fortunate enough to inherit a core of players who knew what they had to do but he also took steps forward.
It’s no coincidence Ancelotti's the only manager who’s won the championship in the top five leagues. He’s got huge experience. He knows how success works. He’s seen it all.
By trusting Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo with first-team roles, Eder Militao to step in and take charge of the defense while slowly blooding both Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga into the fold, he's given them a future. It's why Don Carlo and his band of chaos bringers is possibly the toughest test for Jurgen Klopp’s evolved Liverpool side and that’s even everyone fit. As while Thiago brings control to the chaos that Klopp’s team has had to tone down long the season is, it will show against Real Madrid.
Because sometimes to battle against a team that makes no sense, a team that can do “that” to Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea over six games, you’ll need more. Especially when the unflappable Carlo Ancelotti is at the helm and especially when the Italian has Jurgen Klopp’s number. Because of all the managers Klopp has faced over his storied managerial career only five of them have beaten him more than Ancelotti.
Pep leads the line with 9 wins in 24 games with Felix Magath, Thomas Schaaf, Ralf Rangnick, Dieter Hecking and a few others behind him. Carlo Ancelotti and his Real Madrid, Napoli and Everton have faced Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool only ten times but they’ve won four times. Even more curiouser, Klopp and Liverpool have only beaten Don Carlo and one of his teams (i.e., Napoli and Everton) just twice in eight games.
A 1-0 win over Everton in the 2020/21 FA Cup and a 1-0 win over Napoli in the 2018/19 Champions League group stages. Even with Everton, Liverpool never beat their cross-town rivals in the league as their three games produced two draws and a loss for the Reds. Add that with this Real Madrid team running on something intangible and something more than just tactics, formations and all that alongside the experience of winning four Champions League crowns and you get a lethal combination.
Real Madrid’s record in European Cup Final’s since 1966:— Watch LFC (@Watch_LFC) May 26, 2022
The only loss… Liverpool, in Paris!
Lethal enough that even the malleable Ancelotti won’t have to do much although as Jordan Henderson said, “I would say they are facing a different Liverpool, for sure.” Less heavy metal and more control, less overly dependent on Mohamed Salah and more dependent on the whole of the team to thrive even if the individual struggles. Salah can’t do it? Pish, send on Diogo Jota or Luis Diaz or Divock Origi. And yet, there's still a sense that this team, despite their evolution and dominance in England, has yet to hit it's mark.
Yet, whether they’re the same team or not, there’s little doubt in the world that the Champions League final will come down to the smallest possible margins. A mistake or a moment of pure magic, chaos or control and while Liverpool seems capable of thriving in both scenarios, they know what Real Madrid can do. They know what Real Madrid have been powered by this season even if most of us can’t put a finger on it.
But knowing things and actually doing something to combat the things you know about are two very different things. It’s a very Arjen Robben thing because you know exactly what he’s gonna do and yet stopping it is a completely different question altogether. In the end, it’s up to Liverpool to rise to the occasion or let Madrid win their gazzilionth Champions League trophy because you know they will. How? Now that nobody knows.