Champions League final: Real Madrid’s quiet genius Carlo Ancelotti eyes historic fourth title against old foes Liverpool

“I faced Liverpool in the 1984 final as a player, then in 2005 and 2007 as manager, and now it will be against Liverpool one more time. I lived in Liverpool for two years and it’s like a derby for me, because I am still an Evertonian.”

In Carlo Ancelotti, Liverpool will be facing a man who knows how to get the better of them.

He won one and drew two of his three Premier League meetings as Everton boss – the only defeat during his time at Goodison Park came in the FA Cup third round.

The Italian has faced Liverpool as a manager on no fewer than 16 occasions over the years, winning eight times in the process, while losing on just five occasions.

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Ancelotti’s currency has always been winning trophies, but it is the unbreakable spirit of his side that make familiar foes Real Madrid the most dangerous opponents Liverpool would ever wish to face in this weekend’s Champions League final at the Stade de France.

Real struggled at the beginning of the LaLiga campaign but would ultimately saunter to a record-extending 35th domestic title last month in dominant fashion.

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Real Madrid are greeted by fans at the airport ahead of their flight to Paris for Saturday’s Champions League final against Liverpool

The win also made Ancelotti the first manager to capture titles in each of Europe’s top five leagues – England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France. He has come a long way since his first job with Reggiana in the summer of 1995.

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Ancelotti has not become one of the game’s great minds through dwelling on past successes, however, and the 62-year-old believes the title success can help lift the players’ spirits further as they prepare to head to Paris.

“A celebration like this can bring an extra energy to the locker room, it can be good as another motivation facing such a difficult task against a great team,” Ancelotti said. “The season has been spectacular. Lots of regularity. Consistency. I have to thank the players for their work and their attitude.”

Such a never-say-die mentality is part of the club’s fabric.

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Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti says his side will need to match Liverpool’s physicality if they are to overcome Jurgen Klopp’s side in the Champions League final

The dramatic stoppage-time turnaround against Manchester City in the semi-finals was the third consecutive occasion Madrid had come from behind in this season’s knockout stage, following previous fightbacks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Ancelotti said after the breathless victory over City: “The greatness of this club is this. It is a club that does not allow you to lower your arms when it seems that everything is over.

“It is a feeling that gives you the strength to continue, to continue to believe. We played a match against a very strong rival, solid, competitive. When everything seemed to be over, we looked for the last bit of energy to match it.”

Image: Ancelotti has unified Madrid against expectations

Real are in their fifth Champions League final in nine years led by Ancelotti, the first coach to win the European Cup three times with two different clubs and on the verge of leapfrogging Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane to become the first to win it four times.

This will be the third meeting in a European final, the most between two clubs across the history of this competition. Liverpool won the first 1-0 final back in 1981 before Real beat Jurgen Klopp’s side 3-1 in 2018.

Ancelotti knows he is facing a fellow European heavyweight, but his calm demeanour – his quiet genius – has made a mockery of initial plans for his return to only be a temporary measure.

It was during an informal telephone call in early June last year that this mild-mannered gentleman asked Real Madrid president Florentino Perez how his search for Zidane’s successor was going. His response was to offer him the job.

The pair had enjoyed a healthy relationship during a two-year period between 2013 and 2015 in which Real won four major trophies, and Ancelotti jumped at the opportunity.

Speaking on the Essential Football Podcast, Spanish football journalist Ben Hayward said: “He ended up back at Real Madrid a little bit by accident. He wasn’t really in their thoughts until a conversation Perez had with him where it just happened to be brought up.

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Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah says it is time for his side to get revenge against Real Madrid in the Champions League final after losing to them in 2018

“Earlier on in the season there was criticism, some patchy performances and he was criticised for not rotating enough, always picking the same 11, and in the Champions League they had some difficult moments – they lost to Sherriff in the group stages.

“But he’s the ideal coach for Real Madrid, he’s not completely hands on as we see with Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, he’s not intense like them but he’s a great motivator, very good tactically and it’s worked really well with this incredible record.”

Real are the tournament’s specialists, winning 13 titles, while Liverpool are six-time winners. Real also hold the superior record in the Champions League era with seven wins to Liverpool’s two, reaching eight finals compared to the Reds’ five and 15 semi-finals to six.

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Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher look ahead to the Champions League final with the Overlap Fan debate with Neville saying Real Madrid’s midfield could be the key to beating Liverpool

Ancelotti has won as many European Cups as Pep Guardiola and Klopp combined, but he has never made the success of his teams about him. He knows the past will count for nothing this weekend.

Reflecting on his managerial achievements, Ancelotti added: “I’ve thought about it. Yes, many years have passed since the first time. Football has changed, and I was able to adapt to those changes.

“From the first final in 2003 to today, there have been many changes. They have been positive changes. Football is always a very, very interesting show, and I adapt to the changes because I have a passion for this sport.

“What does it feel like to win it? [It feels like] you’ve won the most important competition; you have done your job well. Is it different winning it as a coach than as a player? Well, yes.

“The feelings, the emotions, are different. They are stronger when you win as a manager. As a player, you’re part of a group that wins the trophy, but as a manager you have more responsibilities.”

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These Liverpool supporters were in confident mood ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid

Twice with AC Milan and once with Real Madrid during his first spell in 2014, Ancelotti knows his way around Europe’s premier cup competition and rarely stumbles at the last hurdle – but you will not see him waving four fingers at the cameras if Real prevail.

The Italian has lifted the trophy in three of his previous four finals, only failing to do so infamously in 2005’s Miracle of Istanbul having led 3-0 against Liverpool only to lose 3-2 on penalties.

There has been media attention on this being a ‘revenge mission’ for Mohamed Salah after the Egypt forward was forced off through injury during the 2018 defeat in Kiev, but the same can be said of the Madrid boss.

Ancelotti was part of the Roma squad that lost at the Stadio Olimpico to Joe Fagan’s treble-winning Liverpool side of 1984 on penalties – remembered for Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs. The midfielder played no part in the showpiece due to injury.

Image: Luka Modric celebrates winning Real's 35th La Liga

The Champions League brings out the best in both teams, even when they are not on top domestically, but Ancelotti has his sights set on securing a record 14th European Cup for Real – which would then be twice as many as any other team.

“Will Liverpool be out for revenge for the 2018 final loss to Madrid?” Ancelotti questioned. “Real Madrid are also looking for revenge because they lost a final against Liverpool in the 1981 final in Paris.

“I don’t think it means much. Two great teams will face each other, and the one with more courage and personality will win at the end.

“Liverpool have a lot of quality together, with high intensity and good organisation. They’re one of the best teams. Jurgen is a great coach. I have a good relationship with him. He’s a great coach who brought some new things to football with the intensity and offensive pressure of his teams. He’s doing a great job.”

Image: Rodrygo scored two late goals to stun Man City

For this understated leader, it is the great players who shall decide the outcome.

He may have been pictured smoking a cigar on the team bus during the trophy parade, but Ancelotti said afterwards: “No, I don’t smoke cigars. It was only a photo with my friends and yes, these players are my friends.”

His personable touch is what sets him apart from his contemporaries. There is not the same obsession over a rigid philosophy his players must follow, but instead an openness to discuss tactics and exchange ideas.

Ancelotti, the player, has never really diminished and it can be seen in Frank Lampard, John Terry and others who have taken to coaching having worked under him.

Reflecting on his 2011 departure from Chelsea in his autobiography ‘Quiet Leadership: Winning hearts, minds and matches’, Ancelotti wrote: “l believe Roman Abramovich’s main reason for letting me go was that he thought the management of the squad was not right.

“He thought I was too kind in front of the players. He would try to convince me, with all my experience to the contrary, to be stronger, tougher and more rigorous with the players.

Image: Carlo Ancelotti can become the first manager to win four Champions League titles

“I’d heard it before, and I’ve heard it since, but he was wrong. They are all wrong. I don’t change my character.

“What they hire me for is my ability to calm the situation at a club by building relationships with the players, which is one of my biggest strengths.”

Ancelotti has always placed a huge importance on having positive relationships with his players while maintaining his authority.

Liverpool go into this year’s gripping climax having played every match they possibly could have this season, a total of 63 to Real’s 56 including the game on Saturday, but Ancelotti certainly will not underestimate his opponents’ powers of recovery and Liverpool’s drive to overcome the disappointment of finishing second in the Premier League.

Image: Real Madrid face Liverpool in the Champions League final

“A team like Real Madrid are always considered favourite,” added Hayward. “Although if you look at the club’s respective seasons you’d say Liverpool are a stronger team right now.

“I would say there’s confidence but also a lot of respect for Liverpool and what they’ve done this season – the 63 games they’ve played this season, winning the two domestic cups, going so close in the Premier League and reaching the Champions League final.

“There’s a healthy respect for Liverpool, but a healthy confidence because of Real Madrid’s record and the comebacks they’ve produced.”

Ancelotti confirmed this month he intends to call time on the game once his Bernabeu career is over, but any such plans for retirement can wait.

Image: Ancelotti is the first coach to lead a team in five Champions League finals

“If the club wants me here for 10 years, I will train for 10 years,” he vowed. “But then I would like to be with my grandchildren, go on vacation with my wife.”

It was an acrimonious if understandable exit from Goodison, but Ancelotti remains an Evertonian and he would certainly be welcomed back by the blue half of the city at his favourite retreat Crosby Beach were he to deny Liverpool further European success.

A quadruple is still alive in Paris, but it is Ancelotti’s record-breaking fourth Champions League managerial crown that is on the line.

Champions League final special: Alexander-Arnold vs Vinicius, records on the line, the view from Madrid and the latest from Paris

In a Champions League final preview special of the Essential Football Podcast, host Ron Walker is joined by a trio of guests to look ahead to the European club showpiece of the season as Liverpool take on 13-time winners Real Madrid in Paris.

Sky Sports digital football journalists Richard Morgan and Nick Wright talk us through where the game will be won and lost for Liverpool, whether their Premier League title battle will put them at a disadvantage and how Trent Alexander-Arnold and Vinicius Junior will be a key battle at the Stade de France.

Spanish football expert Ben Hayward also joins us to give us the mood from Madrid, where Carlo Ancelotti has been able to rest a number of his key players ahead of the final, and could make his own history if he becomes the first manager to lift the European Cup four times. Ben also explains why Real Madrid have become so synonymous with Champions League success – and what has driven their sensational never-say-die attitude this season.

Finally, Sky Sports features writer Adam Bate dials in from the French capital to update us on the latest on the atmosphere in Paris as well as explaining how the temperature could play its part, and give his prediction for Saturday’s spectacle.

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