Graham Cummins: Pressure on Liverpool, defeat to Real Madrid would undermine epic effort all season

'Winning the Champions League will mean more to the players and perhaps the manager than winning their domestic league; Europe’s elite club competition is the pinnacle for any footballer.'
Graham Cummins: Pressure on Liverpool, defeat to Real Madrid would undermine epic effort all season

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson at Anfield. Picture: PA

AFTER missing out on the Premier League title, Liverpool are under pressure to deliver a Champions League trophy tonight.

Failure against Real Madrid would see Liverpool’s season go from a historic campaign to a mediocre one. Considering the expectations of the club, should winning two domestic trophies be seen as success?

Less than a week ago Liverpool were chasing an unprecedented quadruple, which is why, if Jurgen Klopp’s side were to leave Paris with another runners-up medal, this season will end up being viewed as an average one. I don’t believe missing out on the Premier League title will affect the Liverpool players ahead of this fixture.

I think the players were resigned to losing the title once they failed to defeat Tottenham with four league games remaining. They may have been disappointed after the Wolves game, considering the manner in which Manchester City ended up winning their fixture against Aston Villa, but they would have quickly recovered.

Winning the Champions League will mean more to the players and perhaps the manager than winning their domestic league; winning Europe’s elite club competition is the pinnacle for any footballer.

Players like Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane will be more concerned about adding another Champions League winners medal to their already impressive collection rather than another Premier League one.

ELITE

This encounter might not only decide the Champions of Europe but also which player is named the best player in the world and it might increase Salah and Mane’s chances of winning the Ballon d’Or.

Madrid striker Karim Benzema is currently the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or but were Liverpool to defeat Los Blancos, and Mane or Salah to be the main reason for the Reds’ success in the final, then opinions could change as to who is the most deserving of being named the best player in the world.

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool after hitting the winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool after hitting the winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

However, Mane and Salah producing a moment of magic could also convince the hierarchy at Madrid that either player should be the one the Spanish side should focus on signing over the summer.

With Madrid missing out on both Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland, their attention will switch to other big-name players.

And with both Mane and Salah yet to sign a new contract with Liverpool, it appears both would be keen on leaving Anfield, especially if it is Madrid who are interested in signing them.

I think for any player, apart from perhaps Liverpool-born players, if it came to making a decision between signing for the Reds or Madrid, the majority would choose the Spanish side.

Liverpool have a rich history but aren’t even the biggest club in their own country; Madrid are the biggest club in the world. Salah and Mane have achieved everything they can with Liverpool and could be ready for a new challenge.

Benzema has gained many plaudits for his role in Madrid getting to the final. Without the Frenchman, Carlo Ancelotti’s side would have exited the competition at the round of last-16.

The striker has been pivotal to Madrid’s success and it will be interesting to see how Liverpool cope. Will Virgil van Dijk make it his business to go and mark Benzema and show why many claim him to be the best centre-back in the world?

Or will he shy away from the challenge and take a backseat, allowing his partner, probably be Ibrahima Konate, to deal with the Frenchman, while the Dutchman takes the easier option of acting as more of a sweeper?

Of course, Benzema might feel playing on Konate would be the better option for him as he might perceive van Dijk to be the tougher opponent of the two. A striker will always try to isolate the defender he feels is the weaker, so he has a greater opportunity of succeeding.

However, I believe playing on Konate would be the wrong choice as van Dijk is only returning from injury and has at times this season, looked defensively vulnerable.

Despite Madrid’s remarkable record in Champions League finals - they have won their last seven finals - I would be surprised to see the Spanish giants winning their 14th title tonight.

The last time Madrid lost a final was in 1981 against Liverpool in Paris and I can see history repeating itself.

Although the Reds have looked fatigued in recent weeks, they will have too much energy for their opponents and I expect them to win comfortably.

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