UEFA Champions League final: Liverpool’s path to meeting Real Madrid at the Stade de France in Paris

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Liverpool may have lost the Premier League title to a historically good Manchester City team but they’re one win away from a treble after already securing victories in the EFL Cup and the FA Cup. A win over Real Madrid in a rematch of the 2018 Champions League title (Saturday, 3 pm ET | CBS and Paramount +) would be a sweet way for Jurgen Klopp and the team to complete their special season.

If Liverpool can pull off the victory they’ll tie AC Milan for the second most Champions League titles with seven. There is an air of inevitability when the Reds play that they’ll get the job done as they’ve only lost three games across all competitions this season. Can they avoid a fourth loss against Real Madrid?

But how exactly did Liverpool get to this point? Here’s a recap of their path to the final.

Qualification

Liverpool qualified directly for the group stage after coming in third in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season.

Draw

Drawn into what seemed like a group of death that included Porto, AC Milan, and Atletico Madrid, Liverpool did not have any issues finishing the group stage with a perfect record.

Group stage results

  • Matchday 1: Liverpool 3, AC Milan 2
  • Matchday 2: Porto 1, Liverpool 5
  • Matchday 3: Atletico Madrid 2, Liverpool 3
  • Matchday 4: Liverpool 2, Atletico Madrid 0
  • Matchday 5: Liverpool 2, Porto 0
  • Matchday 6: AC Milan 1, Liverpool 2

Round of 16 results

First leg: Inter Milan 0, Liverpool 2

Inter Milan weren’t able to get a shot on target in the first leg against Liverpool. The Reds only got two shots on target in the match but it was all that they needed, scoring both. Inter Milan were in a tough spot missing Nicolo Barella due to suspension and the team struggled going forward without their creative force. Hakan Calhanoglu actually had the best chance of the match rattling the bar in the early going but was not able to make it count.

Diogo Jota was replaced by Roberto Firmino at the half which changed the flow of the match. Following an Andrew Robertson cross, Firmino’s header opened the scoring in the 75th minute before Mohamed Salah was in the right place at the right time to double the lead. It was not Liverpool’s prettiest performance but it was an effective one.

Second leg: Liverpool 0, Inter Milan 1

This time it was Liverpool who rattled the bar from a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick. Inter Milan were good at holding their defensive shape, ensuring that Liverpool wouldn’t get many good looks at goal but the issue was that they also struggled to get the ball into the box trying all of their attempts from outside the area.

With a two goal lead, Liverpool were fine with this and were playing the match on their terms until Laurato Martinez hit a stunner from outside the box to give Inter the lead. But the joy would only last for seconds as Alexis Sanchez was sent off for a lunging challenge on Thiago only minutes later. It ruined Inter’s chances as Liverpool were able to manage the rest of the match without issue.

Quarterfinal results

First leg: Benfica 1, Liverpool 3

Another example of the Reds coming out strong in the first leg, Benfica’s stout defensive unit did not stand a chance. They were well aware of the danger of Luis Diaz from his time at Porto, so to see him again as a member of Liverpool was cruel for the Portuguese side. Ibrahima Konate opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a towering header before Sadio Mane continued scoring goals in his new role as target to double their lead.

Darwin Nunez did score after the half to provide a bit of hope but it wouldn’t hold long as Diaz scored to restore Liverpool’s two goal advantage heading into the second leg.

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Second leg: Liverpool 3, Benfica 3

This is where competing on so many fronts at once caught up with Liverpool. Klopp’s side played Manchester City in the league three days before the match and then in the FA cup three days after it, in a stretch that saw the Reds play four matches in nine days. To get players rest, Klopp sat Salah, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Thiago, Mane, and Fabinho for the second leg, banking on the past two goal lead. It’s the kind of trust that Klopp has needed to have in his reserves during a long season, but it almost came back to bite them.

Konate again opened the scoring before Benfica pulled a goal back to equalize. After Roberto Firmino’s brace, Liverpool almost found a way to drop the tie as Roman Yaremechuck and Nunez scored to make it 3-3 but Benfica’s hole was too deep at that point to come back. It shows why it’s so important to take care of business in the first leg, something that would be important to Liverpool in the semi’s as well.

Semifinal results

First leg: Liverpool 2, Villarreal 0

Liverpool’s game management when they’re the superior side is second to none. Only allowing Villarreal to have one shot, an off-target shot at that, was a defensive masterclass by Klopp. Unai Emery may have been too conservative in the first leg but he also knew that if he did not play a defensively sound game on an away trip to Anfield his side would get carved apart.

An own goal from Pervis Estupinan and a goal from Sadio Mane made the difference, but the tie headed to Spain with Villarreal very much still in the game.

Second leg: Villarreal 2, Liverpool 3

Impressive energy from Villarreal saw them go ahead 2-0 in front of their home fans before the half via goals from Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin. Even without their leading scorer, Arnut Danjuma, the Yellow Submarine were beating Liverpool at their own game and it seemed like they had a chance after leveling up things on aggregate.

But there’s a reason why the Reds are inevitable. Fabinho and Diaz scored within five minutes of each other to restore the two goal advantage and Mane added another goal as his impressive season continued. Mane may have started things slow, but he’s entering the Champions League final as one of the hottest players in the world splitting his time between the left wing and center forward positions.

Champions League final

And now it’s on to face Real Madrid. In 2018 it was Madrid who won the final, complete with Sergio Ramos dislocating Mohamed Salah’s shoulder in the process. Now the Reds are looking for payback.

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