PARIS — As collisions of star power, pedigree and history go — and provided you don’t support one of their rivals — it would be hard to conjure a better Champions League final this season than Liverpool vs. Real Madrid.
The teams meet Saturday in Paris to crown Europe’s club champion. Real Madrid, which won the Spanish league this year, is chasing a record 14th Champions League title after narrowly dodging elimination in the semifinals. Liverpool, the runner-up in the Premier League but holder of two cups already this spring, will be hoping to lift the Champions League trophy for the seventh time.
Here’s what you should know.
How can I watch the game?
Saturday’s final will be broadcast by CBS (English) and TUDN (Spanish) in the United States, and streamed on Paramount Plus. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time but — and this is critically important — the game will not start for another 90 minutes. Plan your day accordingly.
Not in the United States? You can find your local viewing options — from Canal+ to Canal Dos to the wonderfully named Silknet and Wowow — on this list of UEFA’s television partners.
What time is the final?
The ball will roll off the spot at 9 p.m. in Paris, which is 3 p.m. Eastern. It will almost certainly travel backward, though that hasn’t been required by the rules for eight years now.
What’s the vibe in Paris?
Our correspondent Tariq Panja was on the streets on Friday, where he reports that it was oddly quiet compared with previous finals. His dispatch:
France is the center for world sports this weekend, with the Champions League final at the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, the French Open across town at Roland Garros and Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix on the south coast, if you prefer your sporting twists and turns in the literal sense.
Paris was easily able to absorb the influx of fans, though in its usual tourist hot spots there was little sign that soccer’s biggest game was in town. That might have been owed to a warning issued to supporters of both teams that they risked fines of 135 euros (almost $150) if they turned up wearing club colors in places like the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Élysées, the grand avenue that is typically flooded with visitors.
Instead, the tournament organizer, UEFA, and city officials hosted fans of the rival teams in separate venues closer to the city limits. That could be normal caution, fears of the coronavirus or the fact that France may not be entirely thrilled to have the game: It only got the hosting rights in February, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made it untenable to go to the original host city, St. Petersburg.
Still, the final — the first to be played in front of a full stadium since Liverpool last won the tournament in 2019 — did attract the well-heeled and well-connected, with UEFA’s luxury hotel a magnet for former players, high-ranking officials, politicians, agents and assorted extras.
About a mile away, Real Madrid’s leadership, led by the club president, Florentino Pérez, gathered before heading in a convoy of buses to watch the team train at the Stade de France. Perez traveled to Paris with a security detail amid concerns his presence might be seen as provocative only a week after he failed in his efforts to lure Kylian Mbappé, the star player on France’s biggest team, Paris St. Germain, to Madrid.
The final also was the first time that Pérez and the UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, met in person since a Pérez-led effort to create a European Super League failed spectacularly just over a year ago. Pérez, who is still suing UEFA over the Super League’s demise, and Ceferin, who called some of the plotters behind it “snakes” and “liars,” sat alongside one another at an official dinner at the Louvre on Friday night.
Let’s hope the meal didn’t require sharp knives at each place setting.
What kind of game can we expect?
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.
The Madrid players at Carlo Ancelotti’s disposal are of a higher quality, of course, and the experience of his squad — many of his stars are going for a fifth Champions League crown in nine years — is incomparable. But the nature of the way the team plays, conjuring those irresistible surges, is not.
It was that sort of style, after all, that carried Liverpool to the final in 2018, the one it lost to Real Madrid in Kyiv: the ability to “finish” a game, as Klopp put it, in no more than a couple of 10- or 15-minute stretches. The roles have reversed completely now. Liverpool will seek to control events in Paris, while Madrid waits for its storm to gather from a cloudless sky. It will come. Liverpool will know that. The challenge is what you do when it breaks.
Haven’t we seen this movie before?
Yes, in a way. Both teams have been regulars in the latter stages of the Champions League, and regular visitors to the final, over the last decade.
Liverpool is playing for the trophy for the third time in five years, a stretch of some of the most thrilling — and most beautiful soccer — in its proud history. Real Madrid is in the final for the fifth time since 2014; in each of its previous four visits since 2014, its fans will quickly point out, it has left with the trophy.
But despite their storied histories, Liverpool and Real Madrid have met in the final only twice.
Liverpool beat Real Madrid, 1-0, in 1981, when the tournament was still known as the European Cup, and when it was Liverpool that was in the midst of a string of recent titles.
Real Madrid won the rematch by 3-1 in 2018, continuing its own string of recent titles.
That final still stings for Liverpool, which endured two horrible mistakes by goalkeeper Loris Karius that sealed its fate and lost forward Mohamed Salah to an ugly tackle from Real Madrid supervillain/legend (descriptions may vary) Sergio Ramos in the first half.
Salah was forced from the game with a shoulder injury after the tackle, in which it appeared Ramos had hooked his arm as they fell. Ramos no longer plays for Madrid, but Salah does not appear to have forgotten.
“We have a score to settle,” he said this week.
Any injury concerns?
It doesn’t look like it. Liverpool’s Thiago, who has been the precision-passing engine of its midfield, and Fabinho, who does a lot of the hard work behind him, were both back in training this week, Coach Jürgen Klopp said.
I haven’t prepared. Tell me something I can say to sound smart.
“The matchup between Vinícius Junior and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the wing should be fascinating, given how involved Alexander-Arnold usually is in Liverpool’s attack despite playing right back. If he gets caught forward too often, Vinícius can punish him.”
My friends say I should skip the final because soccer is boring.
Get better friends.