Salah should be concerned about facing ‘Mr Champions League’ Marcelo

On Marcelo’s left thigh is etched a tattoo of the Champions League trophy and underneath the design are written three dates – 2014, 2016, 2017. Real Madrid have won 12 European Cups in total and a quarter of those have come in the last four years.

The attainment of La Decima – against Atletico Madrid in Lisbon – launched a new dynasty at Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid’s status as a continental superpower may have been secured in the late 1950s and early 1960s thanks to players like Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Francisco Gento and their achievements. But modern Real Madrid team are writing their own history.

Marcelo admitted earlier this season in an article for The Players’ Tribune that he had never heard of the Champions League until he caught the 2004 final between Porto and Monaco at the Fluminense youth training camp when he was 16.

The Champions League was on pay TV in Brazil and his family couldn’t afford it. But there is no doubt that he understands how much it signifies now. The 30-year-old is an indelible part of Madrid’s history in the competition.

And, above his knee, there is plenty of space for more dates to be written in.

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“He arrived with his grandpa and he was such a nice kid,” Francisco Pavon, Marcelo’s ex-Madrid team-mate, told Goal. “I spent a year-and-a-half with him. His family gave him a great education from when he was very young and he was so shy at the beginning.

“It wasn’t easy for him because he arrived at Real Madrid in order to become the heir to Roberto Carlos and he wanted to play all games. Marcelo didn’t get a lot of playing time but look what he has become. I am so happy for him because he deserves it.”

The comparisons with his predecessor will endure. Roberto Carlos may have the World Cup medal but he cannot match Marcelo’s riches in the Champions League.

Marcelo Real Madrid

“I played with both,” says Pavon. “Both are very different even if both are offensive left-backs, but each has his own skills. In their own way, I think they have been the best left-backs ever to play for Real Madrid.”

While Madrid possess Cristiano Ronaldo and one of the game’s finest midfield quartets in Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco, it is the work of Marcelo and his cohort Dani Carvajal at right-back that have often given the team the impetus they need to overwhelm the opposition.

“Both [Marcelo and Carvajal] are fundamental, especially in attack,” says Pavon. “Both bring superiority when attacking because they go forward often and create two-versus-one situations.

“A lot of goals this season have come after long runs from one of them ended with a Cristiano or a [Karim] Benzema shot.”

Marcelo Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid

The evidence has been borne out time and again in the knockout rounds, where Madrid have recovered from an ordinary group-stage showing to take their place as favourites ahead of Saturday’s final against Liverpool in Kiev.

Carvajal, of course, provided Ronaldo his assist for one of the best overhead kicks the world has ever seen. That came against Juventus in the quarter-final first leg when the Italians were destroyed in Turin.

And it was Marcelo’s clever ball to Isco, who crossed for Ronaldo to score early on, which got Madrid going on the night. He added a late third himself. His one-touch control and cross for Benzema’s header in the semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich should also be considered a standout moment of his Champions League season.

These are not the type of actions you would normally expect from a left-back. But Marcelo has made the role something new and utterly unique. 

As well as that goal he notched against Juve, he scored the third goal to break Paris St-Germain’s spirit in the first leg of the last 16. He also earned Madrid a crucial equaliser in the first leg of the semi-final against Bayern.

“The good thing is that we have him and not the other teams,” coach Zinedine Zidane said after the Bayern game. “He is an important player for what we want to do, especially offensively. At any moment, he can make a difference.”

Zinedine Zidane Marcelo PS

Marcelo celebrated his strike against PSG by sprinting to the technical area and embracing his manager emphasising the unity within the Madrid ranks. Zidane was under serious pressure for his side’s shortcomings in the group phase and in La Liga, where they had slipped fatally behind Barcelona. But Madrid stuck together.

And when you look at Madrid’s line-ups from the 2014, 2016 and 2017 finals, you’ll find continuity. You’ll see a crop of players who have learned to suffer together and who have garnered the experience of what it takes to boss this competition. That continuity has helped Madrid at key times this campaign.

While they haven’t always been at their best collectively, there is still an outstanding togetherness and clarity of purpose among Madrid’s elders. Real Madrid exists to win the Champions League and their players understand that.

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As has been demonstrated time and again this season, opposition teams live in fear of Madrid. Real block, they resist and when the moment comes, they strike.

Marcelo may well be named in direct opposition to Mohamed Salah on Saturday in Kiev, one of the world’s most in-form players. While the Egyptian carries a potent goal threat and is lightening quick, he will have to be just as concerned about Marcelo as the Brazilian is about him.

Because if Marcelo gets the other side of him and helps to set up an ambush with Isco or Ronaldo on Liverpool’s right-back, then a familiar feeling will take hold. Madrid will be again hunting goals through their most productive channel.

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Germany boss Low upbeat over Neuer’s World Cup hopes

Germany head coach Joachim Low it optimistic captain Manuel Neuer will be ready to play in the World Cup.

Bayern Munich goalkeeper Neuer has not played competitively since undergoing foot surgery last September.

Low named the 32-year-old in his provisional World Cup squad earlier this month, with the caveat that he must gain match practice before the group is cut to a final 23 for the tournament in Russia.

Neuer was an unused substituted as Bayern went down to Eintracht Frankfurt in last Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final, meaning only friendlies against Austria and Saudi Arabia remain either side of Low’s June 4 squad deadline.

Nevertheless, the coach is confident a player who had a key role in Germany’s World Cup success in Brazil four years ago is on track.

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“I’m optimistic and I assume that Manuel Neuer is able to make it,” he told Bild after Neuer was given squad number one in Germany’s party earlier this week.

“He has now been back in Bayern’s training for more than two weeks and has reached the maximum load of physical demand. I think he can maintain this load in our training camp.

“Only Manuel himself can evaluate in the end if he still has subconscious fears. He promised us that we’ll talk about that honestly. He is aware of his responsibility for himself and the team as well.”

Despite this confidence, Low reiterated that the onus remains on Neuer to prove his fitness.

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“Manuel goes to the World Cup as a player who is a 100 per cent ready to play – otherwise he won’t,” he added.

“It won’t be that he only goes with us as a captain who just sits on the bench.”

Germany have been drawn in Group F alongside South Korea, Mexico and Sweden.

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Tottenham midfielder Victor Wanyama picks the most memorable goal of his career

Victor Wanyama has revealed his headed goal against Barcelona in the Uefa Champions League back in 2012 remains his personal favourite.

The Tottenham midfielder, who recently won Spurs’ Goal of the Season Award for a stunning long-range strike in the 2-2 draw against Liverpool in February, stated that the significance of his headed goal for Celtic sees it remain a cherished memory.

“I am not taking anything away from the goal against Liverpool, but if you ask me, the headed goal against Barcelona remains my favourite,” Wanyama told Goal.

“The goal came out of nowhere! We barely touched the ball, so scoring that goal will always remain special,” the Kenyan national team captain, who is on holiday in his native country, recalled.

“In that match, we went on to win 2-1, so the goal and the match are special not only to me but the entire Celtic family; given the type of the opponent, we were up against,” he revealed. 

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This season’s strike in the dramatic game against Liverpool was historic for Spurs as well as Wanyama since he became the first Spur’s’ player to win the Goal of the Month Award after the Premier League introduced its own prize at the start of the 2016/2017 season.

He was the second African player to win the monthly award in the 2017/18 season, after Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal clinched the October 2017 award for his solo goal for Southampton against West Bromwich Albion.

That goal went on to win the Premier League Goal of the Season award.

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‘My girlfriend tells me I’m a hot guy!’ – Ronaldo explains topless celebrations for Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo has had plenty of cause for celebration down the years, with the Real Madrid forward revealing that he often opts to remove his shirt as girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez considers him to be “a hot guy”.

The iconic Portuguese forward is renowned for many things, with an unerring ability to find the back of the net perhaps the most impressive weapon in a remarkable arsenal.

Having plundered 450 goals in just 437 appearances for Madrid, the 33-year-old has established his own unique way of acknowledging those achievements.

His “Siiii” celebration is now replicated by youngsters around the world, with Ronaldo often choosing to accompany his spinning jump with the removal of his top – despite the obvious threat of receiving a yellow card.

Quizzed as to why he feels the need to do that, the five-time Ballon d’or winner told El Chiringuito de Jugones: “My girlfriend tells me I’m a hot guy!”

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Ronaldo maintains that he never practices a move which got a first airing during an International Champions Cup clash with Chelsea in August 2013.

When it was put to him that he should be considering a change after almost five years, the Madrid talisman was eager to point out that some people still don’t know what he is saying and that he has no intention of retiring the celebration.

He said: “The people still don’t know how to say it. It’s not Suuuuu. It’s Si.”

Ronaldo now considers the celebration to be part of his game and maintains that he will not be looking to change his ways any time soon.

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Ahead of a Champions League final clash with Liverpool on Saturday, he added: “It’s like the hair. People say: ‘Why don’t you cut the hair? It’s a disaster’.

“And honestly it is. But this is my natural hair, you know. It’s giving me luck. Why cut it now if it’s giving good luck? Leave it.”

Ronaldo will be hoping his lucky hair allows him to bring about the customary celebration in Kiev this weekend, with Madrid chasing down a hat-trick of Champions League crowns during a period of unprecedented European success in the modern era.

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Real Madrid v Liverpool Betting Tips: Latest odds, team news, preview and predictions

Liverpool head to Ukraine for Saturday’s Champions League final as outsiders to lift the trophy against the defending champions.

The Reds’ opponents Real Madrid have won three of the last four titles and the Spanish club have a winning mentality in this competition having reached the final 15 times and lifting the trophy on 12 of those occasions.

Jurgen Klopp’s men have played some sensational football to reach their first final in this tournament for 11 years and will surely contribute to what could be a memorable end of season showpiece.

Latest odds

dabblebet offer Real Madrid at 6/5 (2.20) to win in 90 minutes and at 4/6 (1.66) to lift the trophy.

Liverpool meanwhile can be backed at at 15/8 (2.88) to triumph without the need for extra time, and at 6/5 (2.20) to lift the trophy.

A draw after 90 minutes is offered at 13/5 (3.60).

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Team news

Zinedine Zidane has all 24 members of his first team squad fit and available for Saturday’s game at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo had missed two league games with an ankle problem, but made a scoring return to the starting eleven last weekend and will surely feature from the beginning on Saturday.

Liverpool are missing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a knee ligament injury and Joe Gomez, although Emre Can should return to the squad.

Preview

With two attacking sides for whom defending is not often their strongest attribute, there is every chance that this is an open final with plenty of goals.

Real Madrid Liverpool Champions League Final graphic

Real Madrid have kept just four clean sheets in their last 26 matches in the Champions League, while Liverpool’s conceding of six goals to Roma in the semi-final underlined their potential defensive fragility.

If both teams feel they can score, then both teams will feel like they can win, and the game may come down to a straight shoot-out between two highly attack-minded sides.

Tips and predictions

Both teams to score is priced at 2/5 (1.40) which looks like a nailed on selection but is too short for most punters.

For our purposes, we will back Real Madrid to score over 1.5 goals at 8/11 (1.73).

This bet comfortably paid out in last year’s final, while also paying out in five of Real Madrid’s six games in the knockout stages of this season’s competition.

Other options to consider are backing over 3.5 goals in the game at 11/10 (2.10), while Real Madrid are offered at 23/10 (3.30) to win but concede. 

Betting Banner - Best BetReal Madrid to score over 1.5 goals at 8/11 (1.73) for a 3pt stake with dabblebet 

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