A certain assurance comes with winning back-to-back Champions League titles, not to mention three in four years, and when those recent triumphs come at a club that was already the most successful in the history of the competition, there is no room left for insecurities. There never has been at Real Madrid.
As outlined in these pages, Madrid’s unerring belief that the European Cup is their trophy and theirs only is a significant factor in their success. It could be characterised as ‘arrogance’, and ahead of Saturday’s final in Kiev, amid all the lip service about paying due respect to their opponents, that ‘arrogance’ has slipped out in drips and drabs.
“It’s a great achievement for Liverpool to reach a Champions League final,” the often even-handed Toni Kroos said at Madrid’s media open day, practically patting his forthcoming opponents on the head, before applying another thick layer of condescension. “It’s very difficult to play in one final,” he added. “Two is very hard. Three is just craziness.
Kroos at least gave Liverpool their dues in the majority of his media dealings on Tuesday, as any current Madrid player typically would. Those no longer actively connected to the club but still loyal Madridistas, meanwhile, have seen little to worry about.
“Real Madrid has a great squad. They are the best club in Europe at the moment and must show that on Saturday,” Vicente del Bosque told Spanish radio station COPE, predicting a 4-1 win for his former club in Kiev. “I cannot find a single Liverpool player that improves Real Madrid, [not even] Salah.”
Jose Antonio Camacho, another man to both play for and manage Madrid, has also predicted a comfortable three-goal victory. Francisco Gento, veteran of the all-conquering 1950s teams and now the club’s honorary president, rounded off a ballot for tickets to the Kiev final by describing Madrid’s task as “está chupado” – in other words, a piece of cake.
Torres himself would seem to share the view that Liverpool are an eminently beatable team. After the semi-final in Rome, he described Jürgen Klopp’s side as “a super-competitive team with a second-rate defence and a limited midfield made up of serious, professional players but with no class and little invention”.
His opinion has not changed much in the weeks since, either. Torres’s dispatch from Anfield on Monday describes a team of players who – outside of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané – depend on hard work, desire and belief. Klopp’s midfield comes in for particular criticism.
Emre Can is injury-prone, Georginio Wijnaldum inconsistent and Jordan Henderson “self-sacrificing”, and not in a positive sense. A single adjective is saved for James Milner – “old”. Under the intimidating headline “press or die”, Torres concludes that though Klopp might laugh away any worries about his team, he “would like to have more sophisticated players.
There have been plenty of memorable Liverpool versus Real Madrid, including the 1981 European Cup final, with Alan Kennedy settling it, but if the crucial goal in the competition is not your thing, then catch up with every Reds strike from that year’s competition. They wouldn’t see each other again for another 28 years, until the first knockout round in 2008/9: Yossi Benayoun knocked in a winner at the Bernabéu, setting up a tense return at Anfield…which turned out to be nothing of the sort as Liverpool absolutely hosed Real 4-0, in part thanks to some generous officiating. And then there was 2014, of which the less said the better from Liverpool’s point of view: their first-team lost 3-0 at Anfield, while Brendan Rodgers’s bafflingly selected reserves were beaten 1-0 in Madrid.