Real Madrid vs. Liverpool will be a Champions League final goalfest
ROME, Italy -- Expect goals in Kiev on May 26: Real Madrid vs. Liverpool could achieve the unthinkable and end up as the highest-scoring final in the history of the European Cup.
Real's 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960 has always appeared to be one of those marks that would never be erased from the record books. After all, there are too many defensively-smart teams and coaches in the modern era for such crazy scorelines to happen again in a game of such magnitude.
But would it really be a surprise if Madrid and Liverpool shared 10 or more goals in the Ukrainian capital later this month? Liverpool have scored 40 goals in this season's competition, while the holders have hit 30 themselves.
What's more, the top four scorers in the competition represent the two clubs: Cristiano Ronaldo leads the way with 15, with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino on 10 each. One further back is Sadio Mane, whose opening goal on Wednesday paved the way for Liverpool to seal a 7-6 semifinal aggregate victory over Roma.
At the other end, unconvincing defending has seen Real concede 12 this season and Liverpool nine; the floodgates, it seems, are open at both ends of the pitch when they play, so be prepared for a white-knuckle ride in the Olympiyskiy Stadium.
It is a classic, heavyweight final match-up, which is appropriate for a city whose mayor is none other than former world champion Vitali Klitschko. Real will start as slight favourites as they attempt to win a third successive Champions League and their 13th European Cup overall.
Liverpool, meanwhile, can move ahead of Barcelona and Bayern Munich by claiming a sixth title, meaning they would trail only their opponents in Kiev and seven-time winners AC Milan on the list of the competition's most successful clubs.
The game will be a repeat of the 1981 final, which saw Liverpool win 1-0 at the Parc des Princes in Paris, courtesy of Alan Kennedy's goal. But, just over three weeks away from the big game, who holds the balance of power?
Real are no longer the all-powerful outfit that overcame Atletico Madrid and Juventus in 2016 and 2017 finals. Their frailties were exposed by Juve in the quarterfinal and by Bayern during Tuesday's tense 2-2 semifinal second-leg draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Gareth Bale has lost the trust of manager Zinedine Zidane, while goalkeeper Keylor Navas is prone to errors and, at the heart of their defence, Sergio Ramos lacks a reliable partner. Even Ronaldo, while delivering on the big occasion more often than not, was kept quiet by Bayern and the 33-year-old appears to be feeling the strain of a long season.
Real will expect to penetrate Liverpool's defence, especially if Isco, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema can properly support Ronaldo, but Jurgen Klopp will also back his forward line of Salah, Firmino and Mane to take advantage of Real's defensive shortcomings. The trio's combined tally of 29 this season eclipses the previous high for a three-pronged strike-force of 28, set in 2013-14 by Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale.
There can be no escaping Liverpool's problems at the back, even though they have diminished since the £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk in January. Roma scored six goals in two games against them and the Italians could, and perhaps should, have managed more in the second leg. Liverpool cannot expect to win in Kiev if they play the same way against Real.
"The game was wild," Klopp admitted. "They took all the risks and we punished it with the counter-attack, but then we gave away a goal. There was lots of space, but then our last line was too deep and you cannot play like this. I forgot the score! It was 7-6 right? Unbelievable!"
The two sides have almost identical strengths and weaknesses, but one area in which the Spanish side are unquestionably stronger is midfield, with the likes of Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric at Zidane's disposal.
Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner offer energy, tenacity and commitment, but Real have the players to control a game and dominate possession in the centre of the pitch.
Injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emre Can are a huge blow for Klopp, and Adam Lallana's struggle for fitness has denied the Liverpool manager another option, although the England player could be available in Kiev.
They might start as underdogs, but Liverpool possess the courage and pace to hurt Real and will not travel with an inferiority complex. It could go either way, but however it ends up, there will be goals.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_