Saturday’s Champions League final may have a sense of familiarity to it, but for Liverpool and Real Madrid, the desire to continue winning trophies is as strong as ever.
These sides have been involved in five of the past seven finals between them, while Paris is hosting the showpiece event for the sixth time – only London (seven) has done so more.
The French city hosted the first European Cup final back in 1956, with Madrid winning their first of a record 13 trophies after seeing off Reims at the Parc des Princes.
Indeed, come kick-off, no two teams will have faced off more times in a European Cup or Champions League final than Liverpool and Madrid (three).
And yet while it may all feel similar – Liverpool making it to a third Champions League final since 2018, Carlo Ancelotti back on the brink of European glory – it is difficult to remember a similar type of hype surrounding a major club showpiece in recent years.
That has been clear in Paris in the build-up to the match, with the Eiffel Tower and surrounding fan parks a sea of white and red, colors synonymous with this great competition.
France certainly knows how to host a major event, explaining why UEFA switched this year final to the Stade de France with just three months’ notice.
The final had been scheduled for Saint Petersburg, but was shifted to Paris – or Saint-Dennis, more specifically – after Russian invasion of Ukraine, which of course hosted the most recent meeting between these sides; the 2018 final, settled in Madrid’s favor by Gareth Bale’s heroics and Loris Karius’ errors.
Yet the organizers can only do so much. The onus is now on Liverpool and Madrid to put on a show for the 80,000 inside the ground and the millions watching around the world.
For Liverpool, there’s a shot at a cup treble after winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup with penalty shoot-out victories over Chelsea (both times) at Wembley.
For Madrid, an opportunity to add their favorite trophy to a LaLiga title sealed with four games to go in a rather serene stroll in Spain’s top flight.
Whereas Los Blancos have been given the opportunity to rotate in the weeks leading up to this match, since their incredible comeback against Manchester City, Liverpool have had to play to their maximum right to the final day.
This will be game 63 of a grueling campaign for the Reds – not since Manchester United in 2016-17 has a side from Europe’s top five leagues played more in a season (64).
As Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were eager to point out in Friday’s pre-match news conference, though, fatigue will not play a part against Madrid.
Nor will the disappointment of missing out on a quadruple last weekend, with City pipping them to the Premier League title by a point.
“They’ve obviously had a bit more relaxed preparation and wrapped up their league two or three weeks ago,” Robertson said.
“They’ve probably not played as many games and at a high tempo. We knew how hard our run was going to be on our bodies, but we were in the best possible shape.
“We’ve come through a lot and yes we’ve had injuries and problems, but the lads are fully fit. It’s important we take the competitive nature of a tough season into the last game.”
Intentional or otherwise, however, the tempo of Liverpool’s final training run-out at the Stade de France on the eve of the match was far lower than that of Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp was happy for his players to pass the ball around on the sun-soaked surface, which has been freshly laid for this game – a big topic ahead of the contest.
Madrid’s players were equally as relaxed – understandable given the experience in their ranks – as they split into two full-size teams for a mini-match.
As they made their way down the tunnel area, there was still a chance for the likes of Marcelo and Toni Kroos to glance around at the vast venue. Maybe even two of the most decorated players in the modern game can still be awestruck every now and then, and it goes to show that, while we are now used to seeing these same players battle it out at the top, the experience is different each time.
The pain of losing hurts no less; the joy of winning all the sweeter as a player or a coach enhances their legacy.
Klopp, for example, is aiming for his second major European title in what is his fourth appearance in a final. Ancelotti, on the other hand, is hunting a record-breaking fourth Champions League crown.
As for the supporters who could be heard chanting late into the night on Friday, an “I was there” moment awaits as two behemoths go at it again.
Familiar it may be, but enjoy it while it lasts.