At first blush: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

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The bookmakers say it’s going to be close, but favor Real Madrid to come away with its third-straight UEFA Champions League Final when it meets Liverpool on May 26 in Kiev.

Us? We’re not so sure the two sides are even as far apart as Real’s meager 5:4 odds and Liverpool’s 2:1 underdog status.

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The biggest obstacle in choosing Liverpool to beat Real seems more to be aura than anything; Betting against Real in the Champions League has been a fool’s errand for some time.

Real is allowing better than a goal-per-game in league play this season, and has been a bit worse in Europe despite advancing to the final.

It’s also lost two matches in the UCL, one in the group stage against Spurs and the second leg against Juventus. Liverpool has only lost one match in European play, and has allowed goals at a similar rate to Real.

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Yeah, this one’s tough to call.

Goalkeeper: No, the keepers don’t play each other, but this is the one of three areas in which we’re looking to put the positions against each other. Loris Karius has been fine, but Keylor Navas gets a slight edge thanks to his wealth big game experience in both UCL Finals and with Costa Rica. Edge: Real Madrid.

Real forwards vs. Liverpool back line: There’s no use big-upping Virgil Van Dijk or defending Dejan Lovren here; This is Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Marco Asensio going up against a back line. Gareth Bale is on the bench (maybe). While Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are strong talents, this isn’t where Jurgen Klopp is hanging his hat. Edge: Real Madrid

Liverpool forwards vs. Real back line: Here’s where it’s a little tighter, but still easy to call. Sergio Ramos is a living legend, Marcelo is close to that status, and Dani Carvajal is pretty darn good. And of Real’s eight top-rated players in the UCL, five of them are defenders (the three mentioned above as well as Raphael Varane and Nacho). Still, the Mohamed SalahRoberto FirminoSadio Mane trident is the strongest in the world (at least until Messi and Suarez find their new running mate). Edge: Liverpool.

Midfield vs. Midfield: Here’s where the tie is going to be decided, barring gaffes at the back end. Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are fine, and James Milner is underrated, but the Reds injury troubles will cost them dearly here. Liverpool needs that trio to be at their top of the games, and hope that at least two of three of Casemiro, Modric, and Toni Kroos have off days. Even if Robertson and Alexander-Arnold flood the midfield, we wouldn’t bet on it. It gets a bit closer if Emre Can gets over his back trouble, but wouldn’t change our final judgment. Edge: Real Madrid.

Manager vs. Manager: It’s probably about time people stop looking past Zinedine Zidane as a manager. He’s not just a legendary player looming over the touch line. But even without Veljko Buvac helping out, Jurgen Klopp’s tactical acumen will serve Liverpool better over one match than Zidane’s does Real. Edge: Liverpool.