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If Liverpool stand up to Real Madrid, they'll win the Champions League

12:00 PM WAT 26/04/2018
Mohamed Salah Liverpool
Somehow Real Madrid are there at the end again but it's Liverpool who have been the most impressive team in this season's competition

Real Madrid have proven in the last three seasons that you don’t necessarily have to be the best team in Europe to win the Champions League.

No one would have contested that claim back in 2016 when they beat a poor Roma side, a weak Wolfsburg and then an overmatched Manchester City in the knockout stage.

In the final they faced – for the second time in three years – Atletico Madrid, their rivals over whom they enjoy one of sport’s most enduring hexes.

But smuggling the trophy back to Santiago Bernabeu after penalties in Milan nonetheless gave Madrid the belief that they owned it once more. Last year’s title win was more impressive but owed plenty to confidence and – indeed – that sense of entitlement.

It carries Zinedine Zidane’s side through at crucial times. They resist and resist and resist – without ever excelling themselves – and somehow it’s full-time and they’re victorious again.

Bayern Munich are the latest opposition team to come away from an encounter against the title-holders wondering how they failed to win.

Following their 1-2 reverse on home soil last night , Bayern look to be heading out. The Germans are on their longest-ever losing streak against any one team – they have now suffered six defeats in a row – and their plight seems to capture best the maxim that Real Madrid always find a way.

“I think they are sitting in the dressing room and do not know how they won the game,” Thomas Muller said afterwards. “But they won it and that's the only thing that matters. We proved that Real Madrid is vulnerable but did not score [enough]."

Madrid were ruthless in punishing the Bayern mistakes and conjured two goals. Javi Martinez allowed a bouncing ball across him at the edge of the box. The next thing Marcelo had it in the back of the net. 

Rafinha – in the second half – then horribly misjudged a square pass to Joshua Kimmich. Even before Marco Asensio’s momentum had carried him across the halfway line, most Bayern fans would have had that sinking feeling.

Bayern enjoy something which in Germany is known as 'Bayern-dusel'. It means 'Bayern luck'. It is supposed to reflect the fact that at key times the ball bounces kindly for Bayern; they just find a way.

When PSG finish top of the group and face Real Madrid in the last 16 while Bayern come second and get Besiktas, well, that’s 'Bayern-dusel'. The term is prevalent in German football where opponents expect to lose against Bayern and try to explain away their frailties.

But it appears that 'Bayern-dusel' doesn’t work in Europe – and certainly not against Real Madrid. Bayern at full strength are more than a match for Madrid – so long as everyone is on his game – but it feels like someone is sticking pins in their Bayern voodoo dolls when it comes to playing Madrid.

By the end of the game on Wednesday – following two injury-enforced substitutions - they were without Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben and Kingsley Coman.

Name me one squad in the world who could survive without so many first-team players. Imagine Madrid facing a Champions League semi without Keylor Navas, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Isco.

But the misfortune struck Bayern and permitted Madrid to sneak through again with two away goals intact.

“After Arjen Robben’s substitution, we had some problems,” Kimmich admitted. “It's bitter for me personally that Arjen and Jerome were substituted, because both were playing next to me. But you saw that we did not fold and so it will be in the second leg.”

Madrid have the advantage, though, and that’s all that matters. It’s been said that Zidane’s team would have to lift their game if they’re going to gain a third title in a row.

Yet they have survived bad matches and awful results against Tottenham and Juventus this season and are still in the picture. No one team has yet been able to land that decisive blow that most of Europe reckoned was imminent.

Madrid have not had to play that game which once and for all exposed their inadequacies. But maybe, maybe, there is one team left in the draw who can do that.

Liverpool – like Madrid – feel a sense of entitlement with this trophy. They have a band of supporters who draw on a rich history in this competition and create an expectation on their team.

Over the course of a season, the momentum builds. The Reds are playing with a sense of destiny. They have played so well for so long this season that they are creating fear in the hearts of opponents.

Look at it this way: Liverpool are the tournament’s top goalscorers. They have scored at least five goals against every team they’ve played twice. Player-of-the-year Mo Salah has scored more goals than any other player in any of the top European league.

Between the Egyptian, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, there have been 28 goals in the Champions League alone. That front three – and the solidity granted to them by the players behind – gives Liverpool the pace and the potential for success against any team.

That is provided they don’t become overawed by the occasion. There has been no sign of that so far with Porto, Manchester City and now Roma brutally dealt with.

But Madrid – should it be Madrid – are different. They are a bigger beast and one which through their methods can totally eviscerate any sense of hope or expectation in opposition. If it’s Liverpool who end up facing them in Kyiv, they must stand up to that.

There is no denying, though, that Liverpool are the best team left in the competition. Bayern and Madrid don’t have the same kind of power. They both appear to be teams surviving by results; too slow and ponderous and prone to baffling errors at bad times.

Bayern are so comfortable at home in the Bundesliga but cannot reach the same levels in Europe. Madrid are one bad result in the Champions League away from the reset button.

So far Zidane has staved it off and forged a reputation as a masterful tactician and a rare inspirer of men. Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool should take one look at what happened on Wednesday night and fancy themselves as the team to bring an end to his success.