On Thursday evening, there was a bit of calm in the French capital. It certainly was hard to guess that the main event of European football, which was moved from St Petersburg after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would take place on Saturday.
But on Friday morning, it was an entirely different story. Hundreds – if not more – fans from both sides arrived and began to sneak through the city.
Some of them ended up in pubs and bars, others made their way to the Stade de France on the outskirts of the city to soak up the atmosphere before an unforgettable final.
This is a repeat of 2018, after all, Real Madrid beat Liverpool that day, thanks in large part to Gareth Bale’s superb head kick, perhaps the greatest goal of all time in a Champions League final.
However, Liverpool had a sense of what could have followed after Mohamed Salah’s early departure due to Sergio Ramos’ injury. You can call it revenge or, as Salah said after Real Madrid’s return in the semi-final against Manchester City, there is “an outcome that must be settled”.
On paper, it would be hard to say Liverpool are the better team, both individually and collectively – but Real’s arrival in the final was as unlikely as it was entertaining.
Three comeback victories in back-to-back rounds against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and then Manchester City gave this team, which has won the European Cup 13 times, an indomitable aura in the competition. In an attempt to clarify, Real Madrid defender Nacho simply said that there is “magic” at the Bernabeu on nights like these.
It remains to be seen if that magic can be mobilized and taken from Madrid to Paris in Saturday’s final, but it appears to have given fans unwavering confidence ahead of the match.
“Madrid 3-0!” A raucous group of fans shouted when asked about the expectations of their goals outside the stadium. The Benzema Trilogy.
“You know the way to victory”
Claude Makelele, the former Real Madrid star and one of the most famous midfielders of all time, is certainly less confident.
Winning the European Champions League Los Blancos In 2002, when he narrowly defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-1, he knew that these finals often don’t go the way many expect.
Makelele admits his loyalty lies with Real on Saturday but he was happy with the football Jurgen Klopp’s side played.
“They made it to the finals and played the way they wanted to play, they’ve shown that over the past three years,” Makelele told CNN. “When we go back to the final, Liverpool will be different [to the team that lost to Real in 2018] I am 100% sure.
“But it will also be a different Madrid. Now they play differently. Owning, substituting… I think it will be very fun. Liverpool might be a little bit favourite, but I think they always play Madrid in finals, they always are.” Learn how to play and win the ultimate games.
“The team will [most important] For both, they are not just individuals who attack and defend; Both sides are teams, from attackers to midfielders and defenders. Both teams have a great balance – for me it’s 50/50, and it’s hard to pick a winner.”
Even real players know exactly what lies ahead.
Speaking to CNN earlier this week, striker Rodrygo said facing Liverpool in the final was the “hardest” test this team has faced in the Champions League this season.
“If they are in the Champions League final now, it is because they are the hardest,” he said. We traveled through Paris [Saint-Germain]Chelsea and yes they are two great teams but Liverpool are there too, they are a great team.
“I didn’t want to play for Liverpool but now we have to play with them and we know it’s going to be difficult.”
“Always be ready”
Real Madrid had to thank Rodrygo for helping him beat Manchester City in the semi-finals.
After trailing 5-3 overall, coach Carlo Ancelotti pulled the Brazilian off the bench with just 20 minutes left and changed the game completely.
Two goals, one on each side of the 90-minute mark, ensured the match went into extra time as Karim Benzema’s penalty secured a place for Real in the final in Paris.
Ancelotti may not have the reputation of being a tactical genius like Klopp’s Pep Guardiola or Manchester City’s, but Rodrygo says the camaraderie coach he has built within the squad is truly unique.
The 21-year-old insists there will be no frowns from players who were not selected for Saturday’s start.
“I always try to do my best, whether I’m starting or coming later,” Rodrygo explains. “I think we have a very good group, everyone is very focused and we know that if we start or start the game, we have to help the team, we have to help Real Madrid.
“I think the coach makes it a little easier because we have two players who are very close friends, we are also friends and that helps a lot. In the times the player is in, the opponent is more tired.
“The substitute has more space there and the player who comes in later can decide the match – that’s how I felt in other knockout rounds. We know how important it is for the whole team, those who start the game and those who come later, we all have to be ready at all times.”
Like Makelele in the past, Rodrygo hopes to put his name in Real’s history, and while the former France international knows the joys of winning a Champions League final, he has also suffered from the heartbreak of defeat.
The Frenchman was part of the Chelsea squad that lost to Manchester United in 2008 and vividly remembers the feeling of that night in Moscow.
When you win, you don’t understand [what you have achieved] See you tomorrow.” “If you lose, you understand right away. That’s the difference between winning and losing.”