Monday, June 17, 2024
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Four talking points ahead of the Champions League final

The UEFA Champions League final takes place at Wembley this weekend and ahead of the clash between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, we’ve looked at four talking points.

Bellingham or Sancho and Bynoe-Gittens to join exclusive English club

Jude Bellingham’s first season at Real Madrid could hardly have gone better. Named La Liga’s Player of the Season during the club’s title-winning campaign, Bellingham’s brilliance has exceeded even the high expectations that greeted his arrival last summer.

The 20-year-old will now face off against his former team in the Champions League final, a dream conclusion to his campaign. A win will cement his place as the Ballon d’Or favourite, though he’s not the only Englishman chasing European success this season.

In the opposition colours will be Jadon Sancho, whose return to Dortmund on loan in January could end with club football’s biggest prize. After an unhappy time at Manchester United, Sancho has shown flashes – particularly in the semi-finals of this competition – of the player who illuminated Dortmund during his first spell at the Westfalenstadion.

Sancho was arguably the trailblazer for young English talent leaving the comfort of home, heading abroad with success after hitting a glass ceiling in Premier League academies, a path followed by now Dortmund teammate Jamie Bynoe-Gittens.

An exclusive group will be extended this weekend of English players to have won the competition with a foreign club. Only Steve McManaman (Real Madrid, 2000 and 2002) and Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich, 2001) have done so previously.

Ancelotti looks to add to greatness

If Carlo Ancelotti were to never manage another game, he would be remembered as one of the greatest coaches of all time. The Italian has already won a record four Champions League titles as a manager and this weekend can put clear distance between himself and three-time winners Bob Paisley, Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola.

Ancelotti is often (unfairly) seen as a brilliant man-manager as opposed to an elite tactician, though you don’t achieve what he has in the game with simple arms around shoulders and a cohesive dressing room. The 64-year-old has seen and won it all, becoming the first, and so far only, coach to win each of Europe’s top five leagues in addition to his unrivalled European record.

That he has achieved all of that while remaining a hugely popular figure with fans and players alike, is a testament to the man.

Don Carlo, indeed.

Can Füllkrug follow the Sorloth blueprint?

Borussia Dortmund will start this weekend’s final as underdogs, with the Bundesliga’s fifth-best side this season having surprised everyone with their run to the final.

It’s just the third time the Germans have reached the decider and the odds are against them against a Real Madrid team with a record 14 titles. The Spanish side has not lost a final in this competition since 1981, winning eight consecutive finals since, more than any other team has won, ever.

For Dortmund, the final will be about defensive discipline and finding avenues to exploit Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Edin Terzic will have taken a keen interest in Real Madrid’s recent 4-4 draw with Villarreal, a fixture that saw Alexander Sorloth score four times for the Yellow Submarine.

The Norwegian’s first two goals came from headers as Sorloth bulldozed Eder Militao to nod home crosses. Militao’s recent return from a long lay-off might have contributed to his struggles, but Sorloth’s dominance in the air will have been noted.

Dortmund possess a similar profile of forward in Niclas Füllkrug – the 6ft 2in forward has four headed goals this season – and can use that to their advantage.

Goodbye to two greats

This weekend’s game will see farewell to two greats of modern – and German – football.

Toni Kroos will play in his last club game after announcing he will retire from football after Euro 2024 this summer, with the midfielder’s u-turn on his international retirement for the tournament to be used as a final swansong.

The 34-year-old will leave Real Madrid after a decade of success in Spain, which could culminate in his fifth Champions League win with Los Blancos this weekend.

“His decision to go is the decision of a great, a decision of character. We are saying farewell to a footballing great who we have been lucky to have here,” Carlo Ancelotti said on the midfielder.

“He is a great midfielder with huge quality and fantastic character, with little ego, who always played for the team; very altruistic. We have been lucky to have him for 10 years.”

For Dortmund, it is goodbye to Marco Reus. After 12 years and 428 appearances for his boyhood side, Reus will leave Dortmund in the summer in search of a new challenge. The 35-year-old has remained loyal to BVB when others have left in search of trophies, while fortune has not always favoured Reus in a career of cruel luck at times.

One of the icons will celebrate a dream final game at Wembley this weekend.

Read – Champions League final preview – Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid

See more – Five who played for both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund

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