UNDERDOGS vs overdogs. A team vs individuals. Working class vs royalty! Hang on, Real Madrid have won the last two crowns and aren’t Liverpool also European royalty?
However the Champions League final is hyped, there is an overlap that doesn’t allow either side to be pigeon-holed – whatever Real think of themselves. Both clubs have an illustrious history and are mostly a rojak of imports, cheap and expensive.
But if we really have to separate them, it’s because of their managers: one a 22-carat, superstar who has won everything on and off the field, and the other a journeyman player who has won… very little.
Zinedine Zidane needs an aircraft hangar to store his trophies of which the Ballon d’Or (1997), World Cup (1998), Euros (2000) and European Cups (2002 as a player and 2016 and 2017 as a manager) are just the highlights.
Against that Jurgen Klopp can carry his two Bundesliga baubles in his rucksack and has been beaten in all his five finals. It says an awful lot then that Liverpool are far from alone in thinking they have the superior man in the dugout.
Great players are often accused of getting the top job because of their name. And this was certainly the case with Zizou after his apprenticeship stretched to nothing more than coaching Real’s kids.
Even now, two European Cups and one La Liga later, he is regarded as little more than a “clap yer hands manager”.
The champions have no discernible style of play and they’ve laboured through this season to third place in La Liga – a grave disappointment after the summer Barcelona had suggested the title was Real’s for the taking.
Zidane has failed to get the best out of the precocious Marco Asensio and Isco, let alone Gareth Bale. Tactically, he has often looked bereft and his selections can be mystifying. But he is still there. He is Zidane.
Klopp this week admitted that he was glad he didn’t have to face him on the field – as a journeyman defender at Mainz. But implicit in the compliment was that he didn’t mind facing him in the dugout.
This season, win or lose in Kiev, Klopp has emerged as an inspirational leader for the ages.
He has overcome transfer disappointments, a difficult start, the loss of Philippe Coutinho, injury disruptions and the loss of his right-hand man at the worst possible time, and still steered Liverpool from the qualifiers to the Champions League final.
He has come up the hard way and knew early doors that he would not be much of a player.
A striker-turned-defender for second division Mainz, he might have been forgotten but for being handed the top job.
But a judicious mix of inspiration, perspiration and tactical nous earned promotion and then a switch to Borussia Dortmund. Relishing the challenge of facing “F.C. Hollywood” Bayern, he mixed and matched kids and castoffs to win the Bundesliga twice in a row. It earned him the eternal gratitude of the Yellow Wall.
Burnt out, he took a brief sabbatical but couldn’t resist the lure of Liverpool, a similar, blue-collar club with a devoted following. And as at Dortmund, he is loved by players and fans alike.
Indeed his charisma and character suggest he could be the closest the Kop has seen to the immortal Bill Shankly.
He still has a way to go and Real can be formidable opponents on the big occasion, but Liverpool already have every confidence their manager can win the battle of the technical areas.
He will have had two weeks with his men – what he called “a perfect preparation” since the last Premier League game against Brighton when the Reds showed what one week’s rest can do.
That welcome return to form and fluency – especially of Mo Salah – was just the tonic they needed after looking drained in the preceding league games.
The Egyptian star had been running on empty and with Zeljko Buvac disappearing before the return leg at Roma, it briefly looked as if things might go awry.
But Klopp steadied the ship and a warm weather break in Marbella has them raring to go.
Real’s Tony Kroos, who knows a thing or two about facing Klopp’s teams from his Bayern days, says: “It will be like facing 11 animals, all really up for it.”
Facing Salah and Sadio Mane will certainly feel like facing a couple of gazelles and up front is where Liverpool boast their greatest strength – sheer blinding pace.
The only answer to it is to deny them space but that would mean Real’s own attack not getting their normal service.
Real are favourites but not overwhelmingly so as everyone has been mesmerised by the brilliant counter-attacking of the Fab Three.
Roberto Firmino has been the perfect foil to the two speed men and has grown in influence since his compatriot Coutinho left.
The biggest worry for Kopites is still defence and whether the improvement since Virgil van Dijk arrived can be sustained.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be fading but is still capable of magical moments. But then so is Salah – and his are more often.
As Klopp says, “It’s a football match – anything can happen.” There could be a few goals, it could be close and it could be down to the managers to swing it.
Divock Origi remembers the effect Klopp’s histrionics had in the Europa League comeback against Borussia Dortmund at Anfield. He told the players, 3-1 down at halftime, “to create something we can tell our grandchildren about”. They won 4-3.
Mats Hummels, then at Dortmund, recalls it too: “We started bricking ourselves at the sight of Klopp on the touchline.” On Sunday morning, Zidane may clap his hands but from Klopp, there will be a clap of thunder.
*Bob’s latest book Living the Dream is available at all major book stores.