KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Liverpool need to press Thibaut Courtois

KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Liverpool will get plenty of joy if they can press Thibaut Courtois into kicking… while Virgil van Dijk must be touch-tight to Karim Benzema all night – it could be the difference between winning and losing

  • Sportsmail columnist Martin Keown says Liverpool can expose Real’s weakness 
  • Thibaut Courtois is known to stutter with the ball at his feet and delay his pass
  • Jurgen Klopp’s side can capitalise on that with their intensive counter-press 

Real Madrid can look like they’re floored, practically face down on the canvas and out for the count. But such is the spirit of Carlo Ancelotti’s fighters, they don’t stay down for long.

They come out swinging and have knocked out three heavyweight opponents that way. Real were behind to Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City but simply refused to leave a competition they have won a record 13 times.

There’s no denying a great deal of luck was involved. City would have been featuring in tonight’s final instead had the footballing gods not been shining on the Spaniards so gloriously in that semi-final second leg.

Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League final in a repeat of the 2017/18 and last season’s quarter-finals

When that happens, as a player you can feel like it’s fate that you’re in this final and a 14th European Cup is on its way.

Yet Real don’t have a return trip to the Bernabeu to save themselves this time. It’s all on tonight’s final in Paris, and a one-game shootout suits Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp’s side can look to control their opponents in a way that City simply didn’t. One way that Liverpool can look to inflict damage on Real and dominate possession is using their high press to force the ball into being played back to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

He made some super saves against City but the goalkeeper is not as comfortable using his feet as others.

That’s a weakness which Liverpool — the best pressing team in Europe — can try to exploit at the Stade de France tonight.

Thibaut Courtois has gained a reputation for being uncomfortable using his feet in games

Courtois will be under constant pressure from Sadio Mane. Even if the Belgian lumps it long before Mane reaches him, it will allow Liverpool to regain possession.

Real Madrid took offence at Mohamed Salah saying he wanted to play them instead of Manchester City, feeling that would have been a tougher test for Liverpool. Federico Valverde said Salah ‘disrespected’ their club and that only added to tonight’s tension.

Salah will be booed by the Real fans, but he’ll play with real intent. His 2018 Champions League final against these opponents amounted to 31 minutes.

Now he can be Liverpool’s punisher. As the right-sided forward, Salah will need to put in a shift tonight. Trent Alexander-Arnold will be trying to push up in support of Salah. But likewise, Salah needs to be willing to help Alexander-Arnold, too.

Mo Salah was forced off the pitch after 31 minutes in the previous final meeting with Madrid

The right back is going to be tested to the limit tonight by Vinicius Junior, who is rapid. For all his attacking ability, Alexander-Arnold’s defensive capabilities have been questioned in the past. Tie down Vinicius tonight and that debate is over.

Liverpool’s centre backs need to be touch-tight to Karim Benzema. Any space and he can be the difference between winning and losing this final.

Who starts alongside Virgil van Dijk — one of Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate — is a big decision for Klopp.

Much like the calls he must make in midfield, because he may feel it would be too much of a risk to use both Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara after their hamstring and achilles issues, as influential as they are.

Jurgen Klopp will have to pick between Joel Matip (left) and Ibrahima Konate (right) to start

Only Klopp will know their true state of fitness. Liverpool are facing a midfield of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos — a trio who have bags full of experience of winning the Champions League.

Modric plays off the front, Casemiro is the deep-lying midfielder who sweeps up and Kroos is a tidy passer who loves a long diagonal pass to switch play.

Liverpool having two midfielders returning from injuries for this final is far from ideal and would be a big gamble against such a formidable Real midfield. That could be where the game is won and lost.

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