Small hiccups aside, Liverpool’s road to Paris was a relative breeze. Threatened only for brief periods in the knockout stages- a handful of exchanges against Inter Milan, 15 frenetic minutes against Benfica and a half against Villareal- Klopp’s wards arrive unscathed. Yet, they’ll be somewhat sour for missing out on the Premier League. If not for a remarkable comeback by Etihad’s own, the Reds of Merseyside would’ve wrapped their arms around the silver trophy. But a domestic double will have to do on the home front! As they turn their eyes to a second Champions League under the hothouse German, the ‘mentality monsters’ will seek to channel the energies from 2019, when they saw off Spurs in a dull all-English final. Having narrowly missed out on the League back then- while amassing an even higher points tally- they would march into Madrid of all places and walk out with ‘Allez Allez Allez’ ringing through the air and a sixth ‘Ol Big Ears firmly in their grasp.   

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With Benzema-led Madrid on the horizon, the Merseysiders are well stocked to turn the final in their favour. Although Spaniard Thiago Alcantara looks increasingly likely to miss out (otherwise a sure shot in our humble list), the six-time European champions should have enough armoury to break their Spanish opposition. However, here’s looking at three who could prove pivotal: 

1. Mo Salah 

The Egyptian’s memory of their last encounter- back in a more peaceful Kyiv- was of subtly disguised violence. What seemed an innocuous collision turned into a Sergio Ramos shoulder twist too far! With a score to settle, Liverpool will be relying on their talisman to deliver a final for the ages. With Klopp drilling his side to create wide overloads and 1v1s for their wingers, the team is geared to allow Salah (and Diaz on the other flank) to thrive. For his part, the Egyptian salivates on such scenarios. One wonders if the same can be said of the man tasked with keeping him under check. Left-back Ferland Mendy struggled against Mahrez in the semis and must be having sleepless nights courtesy Salah shaped nightmares. Expect Liverpool’s Sphinx to throw riddles of his own come Saturday night! 

2. Jordan Henderson

The Englishman personifies perseverance. A limited player in his youth- incapable of much quality on the ball but a willing runner- he has since morphed into a footballer well aware of his strengths, inevitably maxing out on them game week after game week. Tidy with his passing, Liverpool’s captain is a workhorse. Add to that his ability to do a job across the midfield 3 (okay, perhaps not the one Alcantara does) and it comes as no surprise that he is the spirit animal of the Anfield side. Expected to stymie Madrid’s creative but ageing duo of Kroos and Modric- while charging forward whenever possible- expect the once Sunderland boy to relish this contest. 

Also read: UEFA Champions League final: 3 Real Madrid players to watch out for

3. Virgil van Dijk

The languid Dutchman is a defender of sublime quality. Acutely aware of when to drop deep and when to push forwards, he seems to play with a cigar on his lips and with all the time the world has to offer. If every Wolves’ long punt in their final league game was an advert for the absent Dutchman, expect his presence in the final to ease Mersey nerves by a notch or two. A delicious battle against Madrid’s trump card Benzema awaits and frankly speaking, it’s the punch-up we look forward to the most.