Liverpool or Real Madrid in the final? Benzema star knockout stage? Good goal-scoring away?

The Champions League final will take place between Liverpool and Real Madrid – the 2018 rematch – in Paris on May 28 after two exciting semi-final clashes in the return leg ended with the elimination of Manchester City and Villarreal.

Gabriele Marcotti, Mark Ogden and Julien Laurens from ESPN give us their thoughts on the knockout phase and which team they think will lift the trophy at the Stade de France.

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Who will win the final and why?

Marcotti: Logic says that Liverpool, I think they are just the better side, from top to bottom. But after seeing the return of Real Madrid, I’m not sure to what extent the logic comes into it. I would also not underestimate the fact that, having already won LaLiga, Real Madrid have no real competitive matches from now until 28 May, while Liverpool have a Premier League race that goes down the wire and FA Cup finals as well as a four-way run. It can work in both directions: it either exhausts you emotionally and physically, or it keeps you fit and sharp (unlike Madrid). So, I guess I’m sitting on the fence, but since you don’t want to, I’m going to stick to logic.

Ogden: I have to say Liverpool. Virgil van Dijk can watch Karim Benzema in the final, Thiago Alcantara can download Luka Modric in the fight to dictate the game in Paris, while the front line of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Luis Diazplus Diogo Jota, has an advantage in Real’s attacking options. It’s a close thing in all of those areas, but I just feel like Liverpool have the advantage, a little more in their game. But while Liverpool can usually point to their European pedigrees as if giving them an X-factor in the Champions League, that doesn’t count against Real. No one has more X-factors in this competition than 13-time champions and that’s why they never know they’re defeated, so of course they can win it. But if we take away emotion and history and judge football exclusively, Liverpool have the advantage and should win the seventh European Cup.

Laurens: After everything that happened to Real Madrid in this knockout phase – magic, immortality, irrational, surreal – they will go and win the final. That is their destiny, it is written in the stars. They did not do one miracle to enter the finals, but three. Against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City they overcame everything to go all the way. They have this armor that makes them immune, invincible. Liverpool are probably a better team this season, but they don’t have the paranormal powers like Carlo Ancelotti and his team. And once again, Benzema, Thibaut Courtois and Vinicius Junior will wear this team. Real have won their last seven Champions League finals (1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 against Liverpool). Their experience and beliefs are enormous. The last ones were lost back in 1981 in Paris at the Parc des Princes against … Liverpool (1-0). They will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Who was the best knockout stage player?

Ogden: It can only be Benzema. Consecutive hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea, a stunning display (and a Panenko penalty) against Manchester City at the Etihad and a comprehensive series of appearances that put Real Madrid among this year’s top-ranked Ballon d’Or. Benzema has been with Real Madrid since 2009 and you don’t stay that long at the biggest club in the world unless you’re a world-class player. Benzema has always been in that rank, but because he has played with him for so many years Cristiano Ronaldo, the merits and recognition he deserves have been coming for a long time. But this season he has undoubtedly proven his class.

Apart from Benzema, the honorary awards should go to Modric, Diaz, Villarreal Arnaut Danjuma and Benfica Darwin Nunezbut this category is a one-horse race and Benzema wins all day, and his decisive kick from the spot against City at the Bernabeu crowns his remarkable run in the knockout rounds.

Laurens: Are you really asking a question? Surely everyone knows the answer. There is no discussion here. Benzema has been on another planet all season, especially since the rematch of the round of 16 against PSG. He then scored a hat trick and another against Chelsea in the first game of the quarter-finals. There are 10 goals in this knockout round! He was unstoppable, unstoppable. He led his team by example like a boss. He dominated every defender he faced, like a boss. Even when he wasn’t at his best, like against Manchester City in the semi-final rematch, he still found a way to assist and score another after winning a penalty. He was just phenomenal. He’s Kariiiiiiiiim San!

Marcotti: Come on now. It’s Benzema. It’s not even close. Get Benzema out of Real Madrid and they are playing in the Europa League because they did not come out of the group stage. I can brag Fabinhowhich is still criminally underestimated, and perhaps if Kevin De Bruyne if he hadn’t come out, City would have been done and we could have talked. But no, it’s Benzema.

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1:37

Alejandro Moreno describes how the influence of Luis Diaz led Liverpool to a return in the second half over Villarreal.

Has the abolition of the away goal rule had a positive effect? What else would you change?

Laurens: 100%. Abolishing the rules on away goals has been one of the best decisions made lately. Finally, no calculations are required. You have to go for it and play your football everywhere, at home or away, and try to score as many goals as possible. I can guarantee you that by the old rule we would have very different matches at this knockout stage. Instead, this was probably the best we’ve ever had in the Champions League. Everything was exciting. So far, we have scored 82 goals in 28 games – almost three goals per game. We mostly saw the teams play away as at home. Surely that’s what every football fan wants, right? It would be crazy to want the rule back which means you can go all the way to the Champions League final without actually winning a single game.

Marcotti: Absolutely yes. At least this season. In the long run, we need a larger sample size. The away goal rule made sense at the time, when you were going abroad to a stadium that seemed exotic, with rival fans setting fire alarms at 3am, a hostile atmosphere, naughty home fans. Back then, the home team’s advantage was a thing, and in order to oppose, the away goals made sense to encourage the visiting teams to attack. But times have changed. Liverpool are in the final, but lost at home to Inter Milan and drew 3-3 at home to Benfica. Real Madrid lost at home to Chelsea and Sheriff Tiraspol (!). When clubs travel to the Champions League, they go to the same pitches and stay in the same hotels, over and over again. It’s just like that. So it’s better to dismiss this altogether, use a cumulative grade, and make this more fun and easier to understand for everyone.

What else would I change? I’ve been discussing “ball in the game” time (two 30-minute halves, the clock stops when the game stops) for a long, long time. First of all, we wouldn’t have any controversy as to why City were only given three minutes of time, and referee Daniele Orsato blew the final whistle with eight seconds to go. We’ll get there one day.

Ogden: No, it was a bad decision and it took away one of the unique elements of European football. We can argue all day about whether the away goal rule encouraged teams to attack or worked on the other side and made them more defensive if they had the away goal advantage from the first game, but football should be excitement, tension and danger and the goal rule the guests gave us all that stuff. Just imagine that the scenes were still valid as a rule when Rodrygo he scored Real’s second goal on Wednesday and equalized the tie in the overall standings, but Real won with away goals. Scoring away goals is harder and, if the game is tied, it is a legitimate way to decide the outcome – much fairer than taking penalties, which ultimately puts all the responsibility for the defeat on the player who misses his shot from the point. I would return it, but to balance that, goals scored in overtime would not count as away goals because it would be unfair for the visiting team to have 120 minutes to score, while the home team had only 90 minutes in the first game.

What else would I change? I would end up with the idea of ​​a ‘Football Festival’ that would give us a semi-final in one match, and the final would be condensed into a mini-tournament, which is reportedly being considered by UEFA. Let’s stay with two legs, and the return of away goals reigns.

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2:07

Nedum Onuoha and Steve Nicol dissect the last capitulation of Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League.

Based on the time, context and size of the return required, was Real Madrid’s return to the semi-finals against Manchester City greater than Liverpool’s return against Barcelona in 2019?

Marcotti: Maybe you’re too young to remember, so I’ll give you a little history lesson. The biggest returnees are Manchester United who scored twice against Bayern Munich in the last 60 seconds of the 1999 final and beat Treble, and Liverpool who returned to Istanbul 0-3 to 3-3 in their 2005 final victory over AC Milan. But if you just compare these two returns, Liverpool may have had a bigger mountain to climb in 2019 as they needed to reverse the 0-3 gap from the first game, but by the end of the hour they were 3-0 and Barca were nowhere to be found, with we knew that we would probably get extra time. This was more dramatic. Goals came later, Real Madrid was outplayed, and just as important as the goals scored were those not: think about it Jack Grealish be rejected twice in a row by Ferland Mendy on the goal line and Courtois’ rescue.

Laurens: Definitely not. Liverpool’s 4-0 destruction of Barcelona at Anfield will forever be one of the greatest European returns of all time. This Real Madrid against City was epic, but not as big, and not even as big as the one they played against PSG earlier in the season. So, Liverpool against Barca is better than Real Madrid against City for many reasons. First of all, because Real Madrid entered the rematch of the semifinals with only one goal behind. Liverpool lost 3-0 after their first game at Camp Nou. Then, except David Alabathe Spanish champions had all their players at their disposal while the Reds had to face it Lionel Messi and Barcelona without Salah and Roberto Firmino. Two goals from Rodrygo and a penalty from Benzema are good goals, but nothing extraordinary like a quick corner played by Trent Alexander-Arnold and finished from Divock Origi to be 4-0 and to make the impossible possible, and the dream a reality. Finally, Liverpool “repaired“became especially special (and extra valuable) with the fact that Jurgen Klopp and his players then won the final against Tottenham Hotspur.

Ogden: I agree with Gab and Juls about this: Real’s return against City is probably not even among the top five in the Champions League. On top of those games that Gab has already mentioned, what about PSG rejecting a 4-0 lead in the first game against Barcelona and losing 6-5 overall in 2017, or United’s 3-2 semi-final win against Juventus in Turin 1999 trailing 2-0 that night against one of the best teams of the decade? And let’s not forget that the Spurs had a 3-0 overall standings with 35 minutes of play against Ajax in Amsterdam in the 2019 semi-final rematch. Lucas Moura scored a hat trick to complete the amazing fight. Perhaps the only thing that will make Pep Guardiola and City feel a little better is the knowledge that they haven’t committed the biggest Champions League breakup ever – but that will haunt them for a long, long time.

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