Possession is something that each team takes into account when trying to reach the Champions League Final. Pep Guardiola’s reimagining of total soccer pushed possession into becoming a dominant statistic. In fact, it is often the first thing on stat reports during postgame analysis.
In the big five leagues of Europe, three of the five champions led their divisions in possession. Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain led the Bundesliga, Premier League and Ligue 1 in the statistic, respectively. Moreover, Real Madrid finished second to, as usual, Barcelona, in possession in Spain.
The anomaly is AC Milan as they finished seventh in Serie A. Clearly, there is a correlation between possession and success at the league level. Hold on to the ball more, score more, prevent the opposition from scoring. However, in the Champions League, this correlation is less prevalent.
In boxing there is an adage that states ‘styles make fights.’ When it comes to the biggest competition in club soccer, recent history shows us that counterattacking is the preferred method for champions. Whoscored.com has possession statistics for the Champions League dating back to 2010. The year before, Guardiola led Barcelona to the title in his first season at the helm. That side became the first team to win six trophies in a calendar year.
Possession from Champions League Final winners
Below, the last 12 Champions League winners feature alongside how their possession in the competition. The ranking is against the other teams in that season’s Champions League campaign.
|Year||UCL Winner||Possession in Competition||Rank|
|2021/22||Liverpool/Real Madrid||63.2% / 51.2%||1st / 14th|
Between the Champions League victors, the median is ninth place for possession in the tourney. The outliers are 2011 and 2015 Barcelona and 2020 Bayern Munich. On the opposite spectrum, Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010 and Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea in 2012 almost played anti-soccer based on how defensive their approaches were.
Due to the rise of possession, managers like Ralf Rangnick and Jurgen Klopp use gegenpressing. Consequently, opponents feel harassed, forcing mistakes. Then, advantage of quick turnarounds and direct movements yields goal-scoring opportunities.
Possession in this season’s Champions League Final
In recent years, Klopp realized that, while his style of play produced, it created a shorter shelf life for his players due to the intensity of his philosophy. He adapted and incorporated more possession-based tactics into his squad. In doing so, Liverpool leads the Champions League with 63.2% possession. It is a total contrast to the 2019 side that won the competition while possessing the ball 50.6% of the time. The mark of this transition starts when Liverpool signs Thiago from Bayern in 2020 after the German club won the treble.
Real Madrid is the most successful club in Champions League history with 13 titles. Carlo Ancelotti was the manager when they defeated local rivals, Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final. His assistant, Zinedine Zidane, eventually took over the reins and led Los Blancos to a three-peat between 2016-18. Ancelotti has returned and, in the Champions League, they are the most pragmatic they have ever been as they only possess the ball 51.2% of the time.
Even though they are happy to sit back and hit teams on the counter, they have the best goal scorer and playmaker in the competition on their team. Karim Benzema leads the tournament with 15 goals and Vinicius Junior has 6 assists. Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić is tied for second with 4 assists. Rodrygo is the super sub of the year as he has 5 goals and 2 assists in 10 appearances, despite just four starts. Two of those goals occurred in their miraculous comeback against Manchester City.
Rubber match between Liverpool and Real Madrid
Over its illustrious history, the Reds won six Champions League crowns. This ties Bayern Munich for third-most all time. Currently, Mohamed Salah is fourth in this season’s competition with eight goals. Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino each have five. Fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are their main chance creators as they each have three assists.
This final serves as a rubber match between the clubs. In 1981, Liverpool defeated Los Blancos, 1-0 in the European Cup final at the Parc des Princes. Interestingly, this is the same venue for the Final this season.
In 2018, Real Madrid evened the score courtesy of a 3-1 victory. Sergio Ramos’s controversial tackle on Salah forced the forward to leave the match with a shoulder injury. Mohamed Salah, who finished as the joint-top scorer in the Premier League, also won EPL Playmaker of the Season with the most assists. He told BT Sport that he looks forward to this rematch.
“Because we lost in the final against them, I want to play against them, and hopefully win against them.”
The difference of styles between the clubs will make for an entertaining final. It will be interesting to see which school of thought possesses the trophy in the end. If history is the indicator, it will be the team who has the ball less than their opponent.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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