There you have it, a Champions League final that no one imagined two months ago. Clear favorites like Manchester City, Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain did not even reach the semi-finals, and Roma were about to play the final.
For sure, it has been a strange season in the Champions League. Beşiktaş were group leaders, Sevilla eliminated Manchester United and Roma destroyed Barcelona. Hence, it is rather appropriate to see Liverpool in the final in such an interesting season, but what is more interesting is that, Real Madrid is also there. I will talk about how Real made it this far, but I must say for the record that Zinedine Zidane's pragmatism brought his team way higher than they deserved.
First of all, except their clear win against Juventus in Turin, Real Madrid did not dominate any of their games after the group stage.
Throughout the season, Tottenham, Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich and even Juventus dominated the game against them, but it was always Real that got the results. Apart from the obvious counterattacking tactics and individual talents of the team, one detail changed the way Real played in the recent years, the paradigm shift in Zinedine Zidane's vision. Since he became the manager of the team in 2016, Zidane's philosophy has undergone serious changes.
The most important change was in the beginning of the last season, when Zidane opted for a pragmatic individualism rather than idealist collectivism. Although he won Champions League in his first season, the game Real played was not as efficient as Luis Enrique's Barcelona. Being a hardcore pragmatic, Enrique changed the philosophy of Barcelona so much that Zidane's Real was the flag-carrier of collectivist reform in La Liga. Roles were changed, Real were playing a collective game while Barca was looking for a miracle from Messi's feet.
However, these roles again changed and Zidane adopted a pragmatic philosophy which brought him both Champions League trophy and La Liga last season. Now, he is at the last minutes of his fuel, enjoying the last fruits of his individualistic pragmatism. It was proven in La Liga that this mentality was not sustainable in the long term, and it is only a matter of time until Liverpool proves the strength of their collective action.
Unlike Real, Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool do not rely on individual talents to create opportunities, rather they rely on their intense press in the final third. Thus, it will not be easy for Real to sit back and launch counterattacks as they did so far. If the game is played at a high tempo, Liverpool certainly have a physical advantage and if played with a low tempo, Real's defense and midfield will be a target for intense pressing. Either way, it seems like Klopp's pressing model will serve as an end to Real's legacy, which lasted much more than it deserved.