This Champions League final is all about two great attacks: two sides with the ability to blitz opponents in a matter of minutes.
At least that’s what we’ve been told repeatedly over the past couple of weeks.
In Spain, France and Italy journalists love to christen teams with the names of attacking trios, so this is the match of the BBC – Benzema, Bale, Cristiano – versus MSF (Mane, Salah, Firmino rather than Medecins Sans Frontieres).
Never mind that there are other potentially decisive players, such as Sergio Asensio, or that Benzema has spent much of this season missing open goals, or that Bale might not last the game: that’s the way this final has been branded, with the obvious subtext of a possible shootout for the Footballer of the Year award between Ronaldo and Salah.
But football is equally about the much less glamorous business of stopping goals as well as scoring. Neither of these sides is famed for its defensive prowess. So it is quite possible that the key defenders will turn out to be the decisive actors on what promises to be a dramatic night.
That’s especially true of Real Madrid.
Their full-backs, Marcelo and Carvajal, are full-backs in name more than reality. They don’t just go forward, they have a tendency to go forward whatever the other is doing. It’s an obvious vulnerability against the pace of the Liverpool attack.
So a great deal will depend on the centre backs. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are two of the best in Europe, Ramos the veteran and Varane the most decorated 25-year-old in the game.
But the statistics that reveal most about them are their disciplinary records.
There could not be a greater contrast. When he was sent off against Athletic Bilbao in December, Ramos achieved a new La Liga record of 16 red cards. He now has a career record of 24. He collects yellows like other people collect stamps: 15 is his usual tally, rising to 23 in a special year like 2015.
The Madrid captain has sailed close to the wind since the off. His first red came against Olimpiacos in just his second game for the club. He has eight yellows since the turn of the year.
Varane is virtue personified alongside Sergio the Sinner.
There is some dispute about his first foul in a Madrid shirt but he went at least four games before attracting the attention of the referee. In his seven seasons with Madrid he has been booked just 16 times and sent off once (plus one dismissal for France).
It is an exceptional record, on a par with the very best modern defenders such as Paolo Maldini.
The outcome of this final could well rest on whether Varane’s positional sense and timing can cover the inevitable spaces at the back, or whether Ramos is tempted to dive in. Both Madrid and Liverpool have ridden their luck on the way. It could be a thriller, but it could also rest on one rash tackle or act of aggression.
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