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Champions League Final: What Bettors Need to Know for Liverpool-Real Madrid

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UEFA Champions League

It’s the final day of the calendar as far as European club soccer is concerned this Saturday, with two of the continent’s heavyweights aiming for one last knockout in the Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine at 2:45 pm ET.

Setting the Stage

The usual suspects in the form of Real Madrid (+123) are the favorites, that’s for sure, but Liverpool (+211) are a rejuvenated giant relishing their underdog status. The Spaniards are aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive title, while the Reds are hoping to spoil the party and reclaim the crown after a 13-year wait since that remarkable night in Istanbul.

 

Will Cristiano Ronaldo or Mohamed Salah live up to their reputations as the real match winner for either side, or could a teammate step into the spotlight on the biggest stage in club soccer? It’s a contest that promises entertainment and goalmouth action galore. — Martin Laurence

Odds History

Liverpool’s highest odds to win the title reached +3500 in late September while Real Madrid peaked at +800 in late January.

How They Got Here

While Real Madrid may be the bookmakers’ choice to win this weekend, their path to Ukraine hasn’t run as smoothly as their opponents’. Zinedine Zidane’s men have lost twice in this season’s tournament and very nearly let a big first-leg advantage slip in their quarterfinal with Juventus. Los Blancos also tasted defeat to English opposition in the form of Tottenham in the group stages.

That will certainly give Liverpool confidence, and while many have labeled Madrid fortunate to have made it this far based on a few controversial decisions, the same can’t be said of Jurgen Klopp’s side. Barring a couple of shaky displays in the group stages, they’ve steamrolled every defense that they have played this far, scoring three or more goals in a game against each of their seven opponents.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, have found the net in all 12 of their matches to this stage, and two prolific offensive lines will certainly be confident of causing real problems for the fallible defense of their competitors. — Martin Laurence

Tactics

Tournament finals don’t always offer intriguing matchups, but in this case, Liverpool and Real Madrid have styles that are likely to make this fight an entertaining one.

Madrid are one of the few top teams in the world that aren’t invested in pressing the ball defensively, and are in fact surprisingly easy to pass through. They depend on their central defenders, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, often shielded by defensive midfielder Casemiro to do the bulk of the defending. Liverpool, on the other hand, are an enthusiastic midfield pressing machine. They look to force their opponents to turn the ball over in midfield and then create chances quickly against an exposed defensive underbelly.

If Liverpool fail to achieve that objective and Madrid are able to push them back and force them to defend in their own half, then Klopp’s backup plan will be to try and unleash Salah on the counterattack. Salah has been an exquisite attacking player this season, and most teams would leave the fullback tasked with defending his side in reserve, but Marcelo is an important attacking influence for Madrid. If Madrid force Liverpool back, it will effectively turn the match into a race. Will Madrid, with Marcelo creating for Ronaldo, be able to score before Liverpool are able to make them pay with Salah on the counterattack? — Michael Goodman

Metrics to Know

After an early-season shooting slump, Real Madrid’s numbers recovered to reflect the incredibly potent attacking side that everybody knew they were. They scored 94 goals, trailing only Barcelona’s 99 in La Liga; nobody else had more than 66. They actually led the league in expected goals with more than 91. The worry for Madrid remains on the defensive side of the ball. They conceded 44 goals, which was only the sixth-best total in Spain. That was roughly in line with expectations, as their expected goals conceded was just over 45, the fourth-lowest total in the league. Madrid is a phenomenal high-scoring team, and a merely average defensive one.

Liverpool aren’t quite the attacking side that Madrid are. They scored 84 goals, the second-most in the Premier League, but their expected goal total was slightly worse at roughly 77.5. That total, while still good for second-best in England, is significantly behind what Madrid put up over the course of their season. But on the other side of the ball, Liverpool’s strategy of pressing to cut down on opponent’s scoring chances makes them quite a bit stingier than Madrid. While they conceded 38 goals, tied for fourth in England, expected goals predicted that they should have given up a little under 36, the third-best total in the Premiership.

A team’s underlying numbers over the course of a season don’t necessarily always tell an accurate story of how a team plays. But in both Real Madrid and Liverpool’s case, the numbers are a faithful representation of what the teams do well. Madrid score a ton to cover up for some defensive vulnerabilities. Liverpool, while also extremely potent in attack, aren’t quite at Madrid’s level, but they make up for it with a more cohesive defense. — Michael Goodman

Market

Odds for the final have been available for three weeks, leaving plenty of time for bettors to place their wagers. Real Madrid opened +127 on the moneyline at Pinnacle, where it’s now +123, implying a 44.8% chance of victory in regulation. However, odds did fluctuate to as low as +119 and as high as +131 throughout the month. Here’s a look at consensus market odds over that span:

The high total of three goals (o-135) is a very exciting aspect to look forward to, especially for the casual fan. More than 80% of bettors have taken the over, and the entire market has increased the total (3 to 3.25) or the juice on the over (-130 to -135).

 

While there’s been plenty of support for Real Madrid, bettors around the market have also taken Liverpool to pull off the upset. Each side is getting a bit more than 40% of moneyline bets, while the draw is unsurprisingly the contrarian angle with just 17% of tickets. That’s where I tend to lean for finals, and I don’t see any reason to stray from that strategy in this one. It’s also not the worst thing to root for an extra 30 minutes of play between two of the best teams in the world. — Dan McGuire

Props

This year’s Champions League final is something to look forward to. Both of these teams should be able to put on a great show and give us an exciting finale. Liverpool and Real Madrid are experts on the counterattack and have incredible technical ability. What should also add to the intrigue is that both squads are susceptible to defensive lapses.

However, I do not find myself staring at any of the game lines, as I think the odds are quite in line with where they should be. Instead, my attention has been drawn to a big discrepancy in corner kick props between the two teams.

In La Liga, Real Madrid has attempted 279 corner kicks, which comes out to ~7.3 corners per game. Liverpool on the other hand, have taken 230 corners overall, which plays out to ~6 corners per game. On the surface, this may not look like a massive discrepancy — and you’d be right — but if you dig more deeply, you see Liverpool has had trouble generating corner kicks in the knockout stages of this competition. Why? Simply put, they have faced much tougher teams than they do in the Premier League.

In the knockout stages of the Champions League, Liverpool has faced Porto, Manchester City and Roma. Real Madrid, on the other hand, has had a tougher path, having to play Paris-St. Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

In their six knockout-stage matches, Liverpool have managed to win just 11 corners. That translates to fewer than two per game. Real Madrid have won 41 corners in their six knockout-stage games, which puts them right around their average. — Sean Newsham

Our Bets

Everything points to goals in this one. Liverpool’s Champions League matches this season, including qualifiers, have seen as many as 4.43 goals per game, while Real Madrid’s encounters in the competition have averaged 3.75.

There’s no real value in the over 2.5 market, but I’d be confident to go even further, looking at either over 3.5 goals or both teams to score combined with that over 2.5 goal line. — Martin Laurence

I agree with Martin on both teams scoring, and will be betting the draw (+290) as well. — Dan McGuire

Going into the finale on Saturday, I think the best bets on the board all center around corner kick props. I’m taking Real Madrid -2 corner kicks and Real Madrid -200 most corner kicks for the match (Bovada). — Sean Newsham

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