Liverpool vs Real Madrid: A Fixture Defined by Eras

Liverpool vs Real Madrid

On Saturday, May 28th, Liverpool FC and Real Madrid will meet in a European Cup final for the third time. Two clubs layered with European glory, with 25 final appearances between them and 19 titles in Europe’s biggest club competition. Real Madrid will be looking to pick up only their second league and Champions League double since the competition’s rebrand in 1992 whilst Liverpool will be looking to complete a League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League treble after just missing out on winning the Premier League last weekend.

With all the success the two clubs possess, it’s no surprise that the pair have competed against each other many times on the European stage. Here’s a look back at some of the most important meetings between the two and what impact those clashes had on the stories of both clubs and European football as a whole.

1981 European Cup Final

The stage is set in the Parc des Princes in Paris. Over 48,000 spectators gathered with Real Madrid of Spain set to face Liverpool of England in a highly-anticipated clash which viewers around Europe are tuning in to. Despite having won six European Cups previously, Los Blancos are looking to win their first title in fifteen years whilst Liverpool aim to further the recent English dominance displayed in the competition with their third win in five seasons. 

The Reds dominate early proceedings and force Madrid goalkeeper Agustin into many fine saves but Los Blancos gradually get themselves back into the game with most of their play coming through the unique talent of Juanito. As the game goes on though, it gets more and more cagey with neither side willing to take many risks in an attempt to settle it. Step up Alan Kennedy. 

The left back takes a row of fine touches after a throw-in to set himself up as he volleys a fantastic strike past Agustin. Liverpool are able to hold on and win the European Cup for the third time in the past half-decade.

This win allows Bob Paisley to become the first manager to win three European cups and despite the Englishman leaving his role at the end of the 1982-83 season, in the short-term Liverpool’s European dominance continues with yet another European Cup victory the following campaign.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, fail to achieve redemption in the competition and do not make another Final until 1998 when they face Juventus in Amsterdam. However, the 1981 defeat comes as a reality check for the Spanish club, and helps spark change. There is a shift towards trusting in youth as emerging talents such as Emilio Butragueno and Michel are brought through and combined with the signing of Hugo Sanchez from city rivals Atletico, they are able to form the famous “Quinta del Buitre”, a side which dominates domestically winning five league titles on the bounce from 1985 until 1990 following on from two UEFA Cup wins.

Champions League Round of 16, 2008-09

The atmosphere at Anfield is a fiery cauldron, as it usually is on European nights. Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool welcome Real Madrid to Merseyside and Los Blancos have it all to do after a 1-0 defeat at the Bernabeu in the first leg courtesy of a late header from Yossi Benayoun. 

Right from the get-go, Liverpool are on the front foot. Boyhood Atletico Madrid fan Fernando Torres is causing all kinds of problems for Fabio Cannavaro, but Iker Casillas keeps Real Madrid in the tie. However, after fifteen minutes of non-stop pressing and creating chances, Benitez’s side get their reward. A mix up between Cannavaro and Pepe allows Dirk Kuyt to slide the ball across the face of the goal for Torres to poke the ball home. 

Liverpool’s domination continues for the rest of the match and Steven Gerrard’s double either side of Half Time coupled with a strike from Andrea Dossena allows the Merseyside club to ease into the Quarter Finals, with Real Madrid falling at the last sixteen stage for the fifth consecutive season. 

After this result, Liverpool win 4-1 at Old Trafford the very next weekend against rivals Manchester United which helps convince the board to extend Benitez’s contract. However those two dominant wins prove something of a false dawn for the Merseysiders who still end the campaign without a trophy with the season viewed as a wasted opportunity to reclaim the Champions League as well as win the club’s first Premier League title.

After losing both Xabi Alonso and Álvaro Arbeloa to Real Madrid that summer, the Reds struggle in the 2009-10 season and that team breaks up further with Fernando Torres leaving for Chelsea in January. After finishing the season in 7th place, the club and Benitez part ways, formally marking the end of an era at Anfield.

Over in the capital of Spain, all hell breaks loose. The 4-0 drubbing at Anfield further displays Real Madrid’s failures to advance beyond the Champions League Round of 16 and the club loses its two year hold on LaLiga as Barcelona win the treble, in a clear sign that change is necessary. Following on from Ramón Calderón’s resignation midway through the 2008-09 season, Florentino Perez becomes the club’s president for the second time and right away he gets started on building the Galacticos 2.0 project. 

In the summer of 2009, not only do Real Madrid sign the two Liverpool players, Los Merengues break the world transfer record twice to sign Galacticos Kaka from Milan and Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. 

Additionally, young French talent Karim Benzema is signed from Lyon and former Villarreal boss Manuel Pellegrini replaces Juande Ramos as coach. Although success does not kick in right away, the majority of these signings come good in time under Jose Mourinho who brings improvements in Europe and delivers the league title in 2011/2012. With a number of those 2009 signings still on board, Real Madrid go on to win La Decima (the club’s tenth European Cup) in 2013-14 under Carlo Ancelotti.

2018 Champions League Final

It is 1981 all over again, except this time the host city is Kyiv, Ukraine. Despite a more than underwhelming campaign domestically, a Real Madrid side managed by club legend Zinedine Zidane enter their third Champions League Final in a row after dispatching French champions PSG, Italian champions Juventus and German champions Bayern Munich to reach the showpiece.

The Klopp train is starting to take off on Merseyside, with Liverpool making the Final after an eventful 7-6 aggregate win over Roma in the last four. Despite only finishing 4th in the Premier League, Liverpool also demolished eventual English champions Manchester City in the Quarter Finals with a 5-1 victory over two legs.

The game kicks off in the Ukrainian capital. Early on, Liverpool seem to have Los Blancos on the ropes with pressing all over the pitch but Real are eventually able to calm the game down with accurate passing from the back to tire out Klopp’s side. 

With the game becoming more evenly balanced, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos makes a harsh challenge on Mohamed Salah which leaves the Egyptian in a heap and clutching onto his left shoulder. The Premier League Player of the Year is forced to leave the field just after the half hour mark and does so in tears. Zidane’s side start to take hold of the match after that with Karim Benzema’s influence growing, but the sides go into Half Time at 0-0. 

After the break, the dominance of Los Merengues continues. Isco hits the bar from close range but the score-line only changes in the 51st minute of the game. Toni Kroos fails to deliver a quality over the top ball to Benzema and the ball is collected by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius. However, the German shot-stopper is left with egg on his face after he attempts to roll the ball out to his teammate, only for Benzema to stick his leg out and direct the ball into the goal. 

Advantage Real Madrid, but Liverpool do not let their heads drop. Within five minutes, they earn a corner. James Milner swings the ball into Dejan Lovren who cushions the ball into an area where Sadio Mane stretches and levels the score. 

Zinedine Zidane turns to his bench and decides to bring on Wales international Gareth Bale who missed out on starting the game under controversial circumstances. Bale is subbed on in the 61st minute of the game, and within 120 seconds he writes a piece of footballing history.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Casemiro and Marcelo keep possession on the left-hand side of the Liverpool box before the Brazilian left back swings a weak footed cross into the area. The ball is behind Bale who leaps into the air and performs an outrageous bicycle kick into the back of the net to send half of the Olimpiyskiy Stadium into jubilation, a goal that is now regarded as arguably the greatest ever goal in the history of the European Cup.

Apart from a Mane shot against the post, Real Madrid are relatively untroubled for the rest of the match and in the 83rd minute, Bale lines up another shot. This comes as a long-range effort from outside of the box and despite a bit of the movement on the ball, Karius once again disappoints as he fails to keep out a relatively tame effort. Los Blancos hold on to their two-goal lead and wrap up their thirteenth European cup. 

The aftermath of the match produces a heavy change in the state of both clubs and ultimately a change of guard in European football. Ronaldo and Zidane both leave Real Madrid and the club from the Spanish capital go on to have possibly their worst season in recent memory in 2018-19.

Liverpool don’t spend long licking their wounds though and decide to spend big on positions in which they lack. A whopping £170 million is spent in the summer transfer window as Fabinho arrives from Monaco and Naby Keita from RB Leipzig, both to toughen up the midfield while Alisson is signed from Roma as the second most expensive goalkeeper of all time, replacing Karius between the sticks. 

In the next campaign, Liverpool once again make the Champions League Final, although this time around the result goes in their favour as they defeat domestic rivals Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 and become European champions for a sixth time. Jurgen Klopp’s side go on to win their first league title in thirty years in 2019-20.

Not only do the tides change between the two clubs, the guard of European football begins to shift. After winning fourteen of the previous fifteen European trophies available, LaLiga’s dominance in the continent begins to transition into Premier League dominance with English sides winning five of the next nine European trophies with Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Manchester City also making finals but ending without a trophy to show for their efforts.

This Year’s Champions League Final

Liverpool vs Real Madrid is a fixture which has often defined the change in eras at both clubs but also in European football, and this season’s meeting in the Champions League Final will be no different. 

If Liverpool win, Jurgen Klopp could cement his legacy as an all-time great manager in the beautiful game and peel away in the “Pep vs Klopp” debate, at least in European terms (this would come as the German’s second Champions League win with Liverpool with Guardiola yet to win the prestigious title at Manchester City). Some in the red half of Merseyside may even begin to argue that Klopp could potentially overtake Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly and become the greatest manager in the club’s history with a win here.

Furthermore, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah may look to put months of negotiations behind them and finally extend their contracts with Liverpool to end the peak years of their careers in the north of England.

A loss, however, could frustrate Klopp and his players heavily, further backed up by the way they were pipped to the Premier League title on Sunday. Five years of high work rates and attacking football all to end with “only” one Premier League title and a single Champions League could have some of the Liverpool squad looking for change, feeling that so much hard work is not bringing much tangible success and with Erling Haaland signing for Manchester City, domestic trophies will become even harder to come by. 

On the other hand, a win for Real Madrid would bring along several individual achievements as well as a record breaking fourteenth European Cup. Carlo Ancelotti would overtake Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane and become the first manager to win the trophy on four separate occasions and a victory in the final should almost certainly hand Karim Benzema this year’s Ballon d’Or. 

Also, with the rise of youth at Barcelona and clubs such as Villarreal and Real Betis, Los Blancos winning the biggest trophy Europe has to offer, may hint at a shift away from what many in Spain had feared would be a period of sustained English dominance.

However, with the failed transfer of Kylian Mbappe to the Spanish capital, losing in Paris would bring major transfer doubts over the club. Despite making the Final, Real Madrid’s squad is ageing and with the injury issues of Dani Carvajal combined with the inconsistencies of Rodrygo and Marco Asensio, right sided players will no doubt be linked to Real Madrid throughout the summer but options will be costly and it could also be argued that not many proven right sided players are likely to be on the market.

However this game finishes, we can look forward to a fantastic match between two of Europe’s greatest clubs, played in one of the world’s greatest cities and this will no doubt be an occasion to remember. 

About James Scullion 28 Articles
James has been a big fan of LaLiga for many years having been attracted by the culture and competitiveness of the league. He has a passion for writing about Spanish football, culture and travel.

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