Liverpool's marathon season set for epic climax as Real Madrid await in Paris

Jurgen Klopp's side face Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday; Stade de France clash will be the 63rd game of Liverpool's marathon season

Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti - bespoke image for CL final Friday nightlead (Nick Wright)

It began with a 3-0 win at Carrow Road in August and it will end, nine gruelling months later, with a Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris. Sixty-two games played. One more to come.

Liverpool have contested every fixture possible in their incredible season, the last 16 coming in the space of just 56 days and including an FA Cup final triumph over Chelsea in a game which, like their Carabao Cup final win in February, went the full distance.

The same can be said of their Premier League title challenge, which was alive until the final 15 minutes of the final day. Liverpool, 14 points behind Manchester City at one point in January, took 51 points from a possible 57 in the second half of the campaign.

"We have given absolutely everything," said Jordan Henderson.

That they still fell short of Premier League glory, their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple dashed by City's comeback against Aston Villa, is a measure of the competition they face.

The only team to collect more than 92 points in a season and not be crowned champions? That would be Liverpool three years ago.

Jurgen Klopp's team made up for it that year, beating Tottenham in Madrid to claim a sixth European title. Now the objective is the same - even if the stakes are arguably higher. Victory at the Stade de France would clinch a treble as well as number seven.

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It only takes a wander through the streets of Paris to see the pain of Sunday's second-placed finish has not lingered long. Liverpool supporters have descended on the city in their thousands. The prevailing mood is one of hope and optimism.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah celebrate a Liverpool goal
Image: Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah celebrate a Liverpool goal against Wolves

Their team has provided ample reason to believe, after all, losing only three of their 62 games this season and none since December. Club records for most goals scored (147) and most wins (46) in a season have already been shattered.

Their relentlessness owes a lot to how Klopp has managed his resources. In total, Liverpool made 113 line-up changes over the course of the Premier League season, a total second only to Chelsea's 129.

Klopp used 36 players across all competitions, their number bolstered by academy products such as Tyler Morton and Kaide Gordon, who stepped in primarily in cup competitions.

He has made full use of his squad, his rotation ensuring no player has played more than 84 per cent of their total minutes. Virgil van Dijk is the only outfield player to have played more than 80 per cent.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah and Andrew Robertson are next on the list behind Alisson and Van Dijk in terms of minutes played but nobody has been pushed past their limit.

Jordan Henderson has made the most appearances with 56 in all competitions but 14 of those have come as a substitute, his load carefully managed. Klopp has kept key players fresh at the same time as ensuring those on the fringes remain motivated.

He has resisted the urge to rush players back and never more so than in the last few weeks.

In the win over Southampton that sent the title race to the wire, there were nine changes from the side that beat Chelsea at Wembley three days earlier. Neither Van Dijk nor Salah were risked from the start in the win over Wolves on the final day.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says he 'couldn't care less' about speculation linking Sadio Mane with a move to Bayern Munich

Klopp's careful approach has allowed them to reach their final hurdle with a near clean bill of health but if there has been one frustration this season, it is that they have not always delivered their best performances on the biggest occasions.

They twice needed penalties to beat Chelsea at Wembley and did not win any of their Premier League meetings with Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham.

They will need to demonstrate greater ruthlessness against Real Madrid, whose quality and pedigree are matched by staggering powers of recovery which they have demonstrated at every juncture of this season's knockout stages.

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Mohamed Salah reveals his plans for next season, as he prepares for Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid

Paris Saint-Germain. Chelsea. Manchester City. All vanquished in the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. "It is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone," said Carlo Ancelotti after the comeback against City.

Madrid's record of 13 European Cup triumphs is of course unrivalled but in Liverpool, they face one of few sides with a formidable history of their own in the competition. AC Milan are the only other club to have lifted the trophy on more occasions than the Reds.

Liverpool, of course, have produced magic of their own on the European stage in recent years too.

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Jurgen Klopp says he has no concerns about the state of the pitch at the Stade de France after it was freshly laid ahead of Saturday's Champions League final

In 2019, with their extraordinary 4-0 win over Barcelona at Anfield, they became the first side in 33 years to recover from a three-goal first-leg deficit in a semi-final of the competition.

To reach this year's final, they had to recover from two goals down against Villarreal, their scintillating second-half performance at Estadio de la Ceramica sealing a 3-2 second-leg victory.

Klopp called them "mentality monsters" that night, just as he did in 2019, and there has been more evidence of those qualities in the intervening weeks. In fact, Liverpool have come from behind in five of their last six games, including Sunday's win over Wolves.

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Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson says lifting the Champions League trophy in 2019 has been the pinnacle of his career and believes the players and the fans deserve more success this season

Over the course of the Premier League season, they won 20 points from losing positions - five more than any other side. "Madrid's finishing skills, in terms of finishing games off, are pretty impressive but we are not here by any kind of magic," said Klopp this week.

He was eager to emphasise Liverpool's own ability to produce moments of magic when they need them most and it is another factor which adds to the intrigue surrounding Saturday's final.

An epic climax to a marathon season awaits.

Klopp: Thiago, Fabinho looking good

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Real Madrid's history in the Champions League makes them favourites

Jurgen Klopp confirmed "it looks good" for Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho to be fit enough to play for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday.

The midfield duo had been injury doubts but speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday ahead of the game in Paris, the Liverpool boss suggested they would be available.

"It looks good for Thiago and Fabinho," said Klopp. "Fabinho trained yesterday and Thiago will train later today. The mood is good, very good. Really excited to be here now and getting a feeling for a stadium, location and that is all good."

The Liverpool boss also talked about issues with the pitch at the Stade de France and described Sadio Mane as being in the "shape of his life" ahead of the game.

Carra confident of beating 'lucky' Madrid

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville preview the Champions League final

Jamie Carragher is confident Liverpool will beat Real Madrid in the Champions League final, but fellow Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville thinks the Reds will lose.

Carragher told Sky Bet's The Overlap podcast: "I've watched Real Madrid in the Champions League this season and they've lost more games in the Champions League than Liverpool have lost all season in all competitions.

"Real Madrid are a very good team but they're not as good as Man City and I don't think they're as good as Chelsea - even though they beat both of them."

Neville said: "I look at Real Madrid's midfield in Casemiro, Kroos, Modric - plus the two that come in late with Valverde and Camavinga - those five players drive them right from the first minute and right to the end.

"I think Liverpool's midfield is their weak point and in the last 15 minutes that midfield for Real Madrid - the five of them combined - will see them win the game on Saturday..."

Analysis: Real Madrid - lucky or plucky?

Real Madrid face Liverpool in the Champions League final this week. Credit AP/PA/Getty.

Is Jamie Carragher right? Were Real Madrid lucky to beat Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Chelsea? Or is there something more to Carlo Ancelotti's side appearing in this Saturday's Champions League final?

The pattern of those victories - particularly in the second legs at the Santiago Bernabeu - have been similar. Real started the return fixtures poorly, conceded first, watched their opponents miss a host of chances to go through, before Karim Benzema led the comeback charge.

So how do you assess this Real Madrid team...?

Analysis: Reds must overcome Madrid's psychology

Real Madrid's Rodrygo scored two late goals to stun Man City and take the semi-final to extra time

Perhaps you are already aware that Real Madrid have won all seven of the European finals they have contested in the Champions League era, writes Sky Sports' Adam Bate. Include the back-to-back UEFA Cup wins of the mid-1980s and it is nine out of nine.

If these games were coin tosses - and they have included matches against Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool - then the odds of winning that many in a row are over 500 to one. No wonder they say that Real Madrid do not play finals, they win them...

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