WHEN Liverpool and Real Madrid last met in a Champions League final, the beautiful city of Kyiv was the host.
We probably spoke about that memorable match as if it were a war — especially with Real’s big bad wolf Sergio Ramos having nobbled Mo Salah and apparently inflicted a concussion on Reds’ fall-guy keeper Loris Karius.
It wasn’t a war, of course, it was merely the greatest club football match on the planet.
Four years on, these two European superpowers should have been meeting in St Petersburg.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Uefa’s showpiece was switched to the Stade de France, just north of central Paris.
When asked about this at the end of his eve-of-match media conference, Jurgen Klopp was momentarily struck dumb.
But after thinking long and hard, Klopp answered: “That the game still happens and that it’s not in St Petersburg maybe is exactly the message Russia should get.
“Life goes on, even when you try to destroy it.
“We play this final for all the people but as well for the people of Ukraine.”
It was a sobering reminder, that for all the talk of a Liverpool ‘revenge mission’ after that controversial 3-1 defeat in Kyiv, tonight’s outcome will be nothing more than a glorious distraction on a continent scarred by war.
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This final comes just a year after the football world was raging against elitism when the European Super League plan was hatched and swiftly wrecked.
Yet here, tonight, will be the most elitist football match of all time. By the end, these two monsters will have 20 European Cups between them.
Real boast a record 13 successes, while Liverpool’s haul of six makes them England’s most successful European club by a country mile.
Here are two clubs who so often seem to be carried through on European nights by the sense of belief which comes from such mighty histories.
A prime example came in Real’s epic semi-final comeback against Manchester City, when it felt as if the sheer will of the Bernabeu pulled Carlo Ancelotti’s men over the line.
It was widely anticipated that we would be served up a third all-English final in four seasons — and a clash of ages between the two great Premier League sides of their generation.
But Real’s history — both recent and distant — counts for a lot. In this competition, history is rarely bunk.
Klopp admitted: “Real Madrid are the most decorated club. Some in this team can win it for the fifth time and their manager can win it for the fourth.
“We cannot buy that sort of experience or get it overnight. But we are here in the final for the third time in five years and that is special, too.”
Asked which team should be favourites, Klopp replied: “The history and the expectations of Real Madrid and the way they make these great comebacks — which are crazy — I’d say Real Madrid.
“But I want us to be on the same level, to be thinking on the same level, to be completely ourselves.”
Ancelotti can surpass Liverpool’s own Bob Paisley and become the first boss to win four European Cups tonight.
He has the most feared centre-forward on the planet, Karim Benzema — with ten goals in his last five Champions League matches — the Frenchman sinking Chelsea and City on a one-man mission to disprove the notion of Premier League domination.
There has been much griping this week in Madrid because Benzema’s international team-mate Kylian Mbappe has decided against his long-expected move to the Bernabeu and opted to stay at Paris Saint-Germain.
Those moans speak much about Real’s sense of entitlement. That arrogance can sound churlish — but in European Cup finals it can be a huge plus.
Real haven’t lost one of these since Liverpool defeated them across town at the Parc des Princes way back in 1981.
Klopp was asked whether he felt the need to do something ‘surprising’ in a match as big as this.
‘PUT THINGS RIGHT’
His answer wasn’t intended as a swipe at his great domestic rival Pep Guardiola — accused of ‘over-thinking’ his City team selections in this competition and especially in last year’s final defeat by Chelsea.
But, in that context, it was an interesting response.
“If I do something surprising, the players might think I’m nervous,” said Klopp, “like a rabbit in the headlights.
“But if you do things all the time and you’re successful, they must be the right thing.”
Asked about that 2018 defeat in Kyiv, Klopp insisted that while “we want to put things right”, it would never be his team’s prime motivation.
He added that while 2018 was important, 2019, when Liverpool defeated Tottenham in this fixture, was “more important”.
It was a measured response. After all, even Ramos isn’t in the same league as Vladimir Putin.
This may be the greatest club fixture of the year, between two of the mightiest clubs on Earth, but it is still just a game of football.