Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has challenged his players to stop Real Madrid lifting a third consecutive Champions League trophy on Saturday and show fans that winning “big things” is still in the club’s DNA.
With a record 12 titles to their name and winners of the past two editions, Real go into the final in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium as the favourites.
Klopp admits the Spanish giants’ huge experience in Europe is “important” and that Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates will be brimming with confidence in the seconds before kick-off at 1845 GMT.
But when the whistle blows, Klopp believes the spirit shown by his players on their “exceptional” run to the final could be enough to show Real that experience is not everything.
“I have never been twice in a row to a Champions League final,” said Klopp, who led Borussia Dortmund to the 2013 final where they were defeated by Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.
“Experience is important, I’m pretty sure that in the seconds before the game Real will be more confident than we are, but that’s not important because the game doesn’t end in that moment, it only starts.
“You analyse Real Madrid playing in other games against other teams and you think ‘wow, they are really strong’, but they never played us.
“We are Liverpool and we are not just a good team, this club has in its DNA that we can really go for the big things.
“Nobody expected us to be here but we are here because we are Liverpool. The games we had in the Champions League, it was the most exceptional run to a final, with the most goals.
“I can’t believe that but it’s true that’s us. The experience they have is a big advantage, 100 percent, to feel more confident but in the game the experience doesn’t help all the time.”
Winners of the first five editions of Europe’s premier club competition, Real are again enjoying another golden era in Europe.
Neither Atletico Madrid (twice) nor Juventus have been able to stop Ronaldo from inflicting pain on them in recent finals.
Yet Liverpool’s own attacking quality suggests the Olympic Stadium in the Ukrainian capital could be the scene of an unforgettable encounter.
Liverpool have scored a record 46 goals in all in this season’s Champions League, with Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah netting 11 of those.
In terms of history alone, this is a dream final.
Real’s 12 European Cup wins puts them way ahead of the rest, but Liverpool have lifted the famous trophy five times.
If Klopp needs inspiration for his pre-match pep talk, the German need look no further than the Liverpool team of 2005.
Trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half-time in Istanbul, a side led by Steven Gerrard struck three times in the second half to force extra-time before prevailing on penalties in what is still considered the most spectacular comeback in the history of the competition.
– Five for CR7? –
Although Real coach Zinedine Zidane believes the final is “50-50”, recent history is on his side.
Real can became the first team since Bayern in 1976 to lift the European Cup three years running, and thereby make it five consecutive titles for Spain.
Ronaldo could also win his fifth Champions League, allowing the Portugal star to equal the individual record and edge closer to yet another Ballon d’Or.
Zidane, meanwhile, is on the brink of a third straight Champions League win as a coach.
But the Frenchman said: “People can say what they like, but we are not favourites, nor are Liverpool.
“As always in a final it is 50-50. We need to play very well to win the game and inside the dressing room we know we are not favourites.”
– Stranded fans –
The build-up to the game itself has been overshadowed by complaints from fans of both sides that getting to Kiev — and finding accommodation there — has been too expensive.
With many fans let down by tour operators and fans undertaking arduous over-land journeys to get to Ukraine, and paying extortionate rates for rooms, Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore has claimed Kiev cannot cope with such a big event.
Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson said Friday he had been forced to abandon an attempt to find planes to fly in hundreds of the club’s fans stranded after he was unable to find crew for back-up planes.
But some Liverpool supporters had made the journey, even without a ticket.
Steve Anderson, 50, a veteran of many of Liverpool’s previous European Cup successes, including against Madrid in Paris in 1981 when he was just a teenager, said he was still hopeful of getting into the match — but refused to pay hundreds of pounds on the black market.
“I don’t believe in paying that kind of money,” he said. “I feel more for the younger ones that can’t get in. I’ve seen Liverpool win European Cups in Paris and Istanbul, but it’s been a long time. They’ve waited 11 years for this.”