LIVERPOOL locking horns with Real Madrid in the biggest game of the European football calendar has a eloquent feel to it, writes JOEL SANDERSON-MURRAY. Feels right, doesn’t it?

The names bounce off the page at you. Liverpool and Real Madrid, these are the big boys, these are no pretenders, these lads know what it’s all about.

Five-time winners Liverpool pitting their wits up against 12-time winners Real Madrid in the final 90 minutes of the football season to determine who will be the kings of Europe. Yeah, that feels right.

It’s wild that two of the most decorated teams with such a rich history in this competition have only met five times. And, as we all know, one of them was a final, when we won the European Cup for the third time.

But when you reflect on the context of the most recent meetings in 2014 to the clash on May 26, 2018, it has never been more evident how far this club have come in four years.

Brendan Rodgers’ lads back in 2014 were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The team that had earned the qualification back to the Champions League for the first time since 2009 the season earlier deserved to be on the same pitch as Real Madrid, but not those lads, not with the way they performed in the 3-0 defeat.

There were plenty of times that season where scoring a goal looked like the hardest thing in the world for this Liverpool team to do, and the most impossible thing for us as fans to imagine. That was the clearest example.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 22, 2014: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard looks dejected as Real Madrid CF score the second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When you’re turning your hopes to Fabio Borini at half time in the hope that this time, surely, he shows this massive potential that we’ve been told he has, then you know we were blagging any hope of progressing to the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

There was this narrative of sitting back and admiring the Madrid side that came to Anfield that night and toyed with us. Some of the supporter base accepted what was happening that night and put it down to that being our level, not deserving to grace the same acres of land as the mighty Real Madrid.

That’s not what our mindset should have been, and what made it worse is that it was clear the players bought into that as well.

Trying to find a positive way to describe what that game felt like has been just as difficult. The wait for a big European night back at Anfield which never really got going. The brick walls we kept running in to when we looked even remotely like putting an attack together.

The closest thing I can come up with is…

The return trip to the Santiago Bernabeu brought with it a gutsy and determined performance from the ressies after a pre-match wave of the white flag from Rodgers.

The last two times Liverpool and Real Madrid have met in the Champions League. The two most recent times and that’s what we were dealt.

MADRID, SPAIN - Tuesday, November 4, 2014: Liverpool's Joe Allen looks dejected as Real Madrid score the winning goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Together in name and history only. Years apart in quality and skill.

This glimpse back into the past may have uncovered some painful memories, but it is important to reflect on it.

Because look where we are now. Look at what we have. Look at what we are.

We’ve come a long way, ladies and gents, and still have some way to go.

Real Madrid, the winners of the last two European Cups are not rolling up to play some mugs undeserving of their place in this final curtain call of the 2017-18 season.

This time they are coming up against the highest scorers in the competition (with 40 goals) who have in their side the player with the most assists in James Milner (nine).

Second behind Milner is Bobby Firmino with eight assists. Madrid boast the top goalscorer in the competition in Cristiano Ronaldo, but literally the next three players behind him in the ranks are our lads.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 14, 2018: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (right) celebrates scoring the second goal with team-mates Sadio Mane (centre) and Roberto Firmino (left) during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and AFC Bournemouth at Anfield. (Pic by Laura Malkin/Propaganda)

There is no doubt Jürgen Klopp and his team have earned their place in the final of the Champions League. This is their rightful place and we are coming up against rightful opponents — literally the most successful club in the history of this competition.

This time, Liverpool and Real Madrid are on equal footing and a level playing field.

Liverpool have finished in the top four for the last two consecutive seasons, have three of the most exciting forwards in world football wearing the red shirt and one of the most in-demand managers in Europe.

Add to that the signature of Virgil van Dijk and the impending arrival of one of the continent’s hottest prospects in Naby Keita, and the progress and development is indisputable.

If we didn’t deserve to be on the same pitch as Madrid in 2014 this time it’s our ball and they’re asking if they can join in.

And we’ll let them because we’re sound.

Whatever the outcome of Kiev, Liverpool have come a long way in four years and the high ceiling for this team is clear for all to see.


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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo

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