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Big calls go Liverpool's way and more Champions League talking points

Plus, why it’s time to recognise Zinedine Zidane as a top manager.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after the final whistle.
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after the final whistle.

1. Big calls go Liverpool’s way

LIVERPOOL HAVE BEEN hugely impressive in the Champions League this year, but they have certainly received the rub of the green along the way too.

They benefited from good fortune in the quarter-final second leg against Man City, as a Leroy Sane strike was controversially ruled out at the Etihad Stadium with the hosts in the ascendancy.

This evening, as the Reds lost 4-2 on the night but prevailed 7-6 on aggregate, they also were aided by favourable decisions from the officials.

A handball on the line by Trent Alexander Arnold happened so fast that it was very difficult to call and was arguably ball-to-hand anyway.

A more controversial incident occurred shortly after half-time. Edin Dzeko was played through on goal, before being taken down by Loris Karius inside the box. It would have been a clear-cut penalty and red card had the officials not dubiously ruled the Bosnian forward offside.

Of course, most teams need the odd fortuitous decision in their favour to make it to the final, and Liverpool certainly have been aided in that regard tonight.

2. Time to recognise Zinedine Zidane as a top manager

In some ways, the Real Madrid job is a no-win situation.

If you end the season trophy-less, you are more or less guaranteed to be sacked.

Conversely, if you win the title or the Champions League, you supposedly only did it because you have a bunch of great players in the squad and more money than almost anyone else.

And while there is some truth to these caveats, whatever way you look at it, Zinedine Zidane has done a remarkable job with Los Blancos.

After taking over in January 2016, he is one game away from guiding them to a third successive Champions League trophy — something that has never been done since the competition’s format was changed in 1992.

In addition, while they are not exactly strapped for cash, Real haven’t made many big-money signings since the France legend took over.

In the summer of 2016, their only excess transfer in was buying back Álvaro Morata for €30 million from Juventus.

Last summer, they made just two signings for serious money – Theo Hernández (€24 million from Atletico Madrid) and Dani Ceballos (€16.5 million from Real Betis).

So, by comparison to PSG and Man United among others, it’s not as if Zidane has broken the bank to achieve success.

He, of course, has Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the two best players in the world, at his disposal.

Yet plenty of other well-regarded coaches (Fabio Capello, Rafa Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini) have been in Zidane’s position and not performed anywhere near as well.

Under their former player, Real have become the ultimate cup team, not losing a single Champions League knockout game since his tenure began.

Zidane has also made brave, tactically astute decisions, such as dropping star players, including Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale at various points.

Their less-than-convincing two-legged victory over Bayern and the club’s record in La Liga, where Real are currently third and Barcelona have been confirmed as champions, suggests imperfections exist in the side, but if Real can triumph in Kiev later this month, Zidane will surely be remembered as a manager of considerable renown no matter what he does between now and the end of his career in the game.

What the French coach has done is far from easy. A third Champions League success will put him in illustrious company — in the history of football, only Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti have won the European Cup/Champions League three times, and only the former has achieved this improbable feat with the same club.

3. Hard to predict a winner in Kiev

It looks set to be an entertaining and unpredictable Champions League final in Kiev later this month.

Liverpool and Real Madrid have many similarities. Both have a world-class star leading their attack (Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah). Both are third in their respective domestic leagues. Both can be lethal in attack but also suspect defensively at times. And both often like to soak up pressure and hit teams on the counter-attack.

The experience that comes with aiming to win the competition for a third consecutive season makes Real Madrid slight favourites.

However, Liverpool have shown that they are capable of beating anyone at their best and certainly won’t be fearful of going up against Zinedine Zidane’s side.

It should be an unforgettable occasion that brings together two sides that have already claimed the trophy a phenomenal 17 times between them.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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