Thiago and Fabinho fit for Liverpool as Klopp makes three changes for Champions League final

By Sports Desk May 28, 2022

Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho were included in Liverpool's starting line-up for Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Fabinho had not played since the win over Aston Villa on May 10 due to a hamstring injury, while midfield colleague Thiago also damaged a hamstring against Wolves last week.

Manager Jurgen Klopp initially appeared to rule Thiago out of the Stade de France showpiece, but the Spain international – as well as Fabinho – returned to training earlier this week.

The pair were included from the beginning against Madrid, with Klopp making three changes from the 3-1 win against Wolves.

Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, rested last week with an eye on the Madrid clash, were recalled to the XI along with fit-again Thiago.

Jordan Henderson was named in the side for his 57th appearance of the campaign – the most of any player from Europe’s top five leagues this campaign – while it was also his 50th Champions League appearance, making him the fourth English player to hit that milestone for Liverpool.

There were no surprises in Klopp’s line-up, with Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold named in the full-back spots, the latter surpassing Thomas Muller (23 years, 254 days) as the youngest player to start three Champions League finals. Alexander-Arnold featured in this game at the age of 23 years and 233 days.

Saturday's contest marked the third time Liverpool and Madrid had met in a European Cup or Champions League final, making it the most contested trophy match between two sides in the history of the competition.

Liverpool XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago; Diaz, Salah, Mane.

Subs: Kelleher, Milner, Keita, Firmino, Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Minamino, Jota, Tsimikas, Matip, Elliott.

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    Niclas Fullkrug proved the last-gasp hero as Germany avoided a shock upset to top Group A at Euro 2024 after snatching a 1-1 draw with Switzerland on Sunday.

    Dan Ndoye's first international goal seemed set to seal a famous win for Switzerland and ensure them top spot in Group A, but Germany's towering substitute stepped up in the dying seconds in Frankfurt.

    Ruben Vargas thought he had doubled Switzerland's advantage late on, only to be denied by the offside flag, and that decision proved pivotal when Fullkrug headed in his 92nd-minute leveller.

    That late intervention ensured Germany finished top of the group and will face second place in Group D in the last 16, while Switzerland's top-two finish sets up a meeting with the runners-up of Group B.

    The host nation started brightly once again and thought they had taken another early lead when Florian Wirtz teed up Robert Andrich, who squeezed his shot past Yann Sommer into the near post.

    However, the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder was denied his first international goal after a VAR check as Jamal Musiala was deemed to have fouled Michel Aebischer in the box during the build-up.

    Nagelsmann's team instead found themselves behind for the first time in the tournament just before the half-hour mark after Ndoye crashed Remo Freuler's whipped cross past the helpless Manuel Neuer.

    Just moments later, Ndoye offered Germany another scare, racing past Antonio Rudiger before fizzing an angled shot just wide of the far post. 

    Nagelsmann's half-time message was clear as Musiala looked to make it three goals in three games with a powerful hit from the edge of the box, but Sommer was equal to the attempt.

    Toni Kroos drilled a low shot wide under pressure before Kai Havertz glanced a header over the bar as Germany failed to find their clinical edge.

    Joshua Kimmich had the best chance to equalise from close range in the 71st minute, but an incredible last-ditch block by Manuel Akanji denied him.

    Vargas was left one-on-one with Neuer shortly after and slotted into the far corner, but the assistant referee was quick to flag for offside as Switzerland celebrations were short-lived.

    Havertz's looping header bounced off the crossbar as Germany sought a response, which arrived when Fullkrug made his impact off the bench, thumping a header home from David Raum's left-sided delivery.

    Neuer's record-breaking day salvaged by Fullkrug

    Neuer had already made history in their opening game at Euro 2024 as he became Germany's outright top appearance maker at major tournaments, surpassing Philipp Lahm.

    Now, on his 37th start for his country, only Cristiano Ronaldo (45) has played more games across the Euros and World Cup than him, while he has also made the most appearances among goalkeepers in the history of the competition (18, moving ahead of Gianluigi Buffon).

    The 38-year-old could not mark a special day with a win, though, as Germany's long wait for a comeback victory when trailing at half-time stretched to 11 matches in the competition (D2 L9).

    Their last such win came at Euro 1976 against Yugoslavia (2-0 down at half-time, won 4-2), but Neuer and Co. can at least celebrate top spot after late drama in Frankfurt.

    Ndoye steps into the spotlight

    Xherdan Shaqiri grabbed the headlines in Switzerland's 1-1 draw with Scotland last time out after scoring in a sixth consecutive major tournament, but with him on the bench on Sunday, the Red Crosses needed others to step up.

    In his 14th start for the national side, Ndoye netted for the first time, becoming Switzerland's second-youngest goalscorer in the history of the Euros at 23 years and 242 days, after Johan Vonlanthen against France in 2004 (18y 141d).

    Despite going off in the 65th minute, Ndoye had the most shots for Switzerland (two of their three), creating an expected goals tally of 0.52 as he proved their biggest threat.

    Though Switzerland will rue their late concession, they are now unbeaten in their last four meetings with Germany – a promising sign as the last-16 awaits.

  • Croatia boss Dalic laments ageing squad and defensive issues for Euro 2024 struggles Croatia boss Dalic laments ageing squad and defensive issues for Euro 2024 struggles

    Croatia are on the brink of an early Euro 2024 exit and Zlatko Dalic apportions their struggles to an ageing squad and defensive issues.

    Dalic's side must overcome Italy on Monday to have any chance of escaping Group B, sitting on just one point after a 2-2 draw with Albania followed a 3-0 humbling by Spain in their opener.

    Croatia have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1) as those defensive problems referenced by Dalic remain the main issue.

    They have conceded five goals in two matches so far, only letting more in at two major tournament group stages, shipping six at Euro 2004 and as many at the World Cup 10 years later.

    "We haven't started well," Dalic told reporters on Sunday. "We haven't been up to our usual standards because we've been conceding too many goals.

    "We only conceded once in the group stage in Qatar 2022, we've conceded five thus far here.

    "The players are three years older. We are also coming up against strong opposition here as well. Perhaps the main issue is that we started to concede goals this season."

    Indeed, Croatia have an ageing midfield with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, as well as calling upon veteran Ivan Perisic.

    Yet that experience can still prove pivotal. Modric played 64 passes in the final third against Albania, the second-most by a player on record in a European Championship match (1980 onwards), behind Mesut Ozil for Germany versus Greece at Euro 2012 (74).

    Modric also made his 34th appearance across the Euros and World Cup combined in that Albania draw, a total only six outfield European players can better.

    That in-game knowledge and quality could prove decisive when they meet Italy, in what Dalic acknowledge is a winner-takes-all clash.

    "We know it's essentially a knockout match tomorrow, and there won't be any extra time and we must simply win the game," Dalic said.

    "It's a must-win, any other result will send us home. We don't want to go home so soon.

    "We'll try to stop them from getting that draw. We'll try and stay relaxed to not lose our cool or lose our heads and not allow the opposition to get on top of us.

    "Anything can happen tomorrow night but we're ready to take it on again."

    Dalic has previously apologised to the travelling Croatia supporters for their performance against Spain, though his side are creating ample chances to win games.

    Croatia have already had more shots (38) and more shots on target (15) at this tournament than they had in their Euro 2020 group stage (30 shots, 10 on target).

    They have only had more efforts on target at the group stages of two Euros – 19 in 2004 and 16 in 1996 – with Dalic just needing fortune to fall in Croatia's favour in Leipzig.

    He continued: "Yes, there is pressure. And that comes down to the results we've had thus far and also to the thousands of fans that have been travelling and will be there in Leipzig as well.

    "So there is pressure for us to put a smile on their faces, to try to get a good result for our country. We need to show our true level. So right from the word go, we need to try to put things right."

  • De la Fuente refutes comparison to Spain glory days despite strong Euro 2024 start De la Fuente refutes comparison to Spain glory days despite strong Euro 2024 start

    Spain may have breezed through to the Euro 2024 knockout stages but Luis de la Fuente refused to compare his side to the dominant La Roja team that lifted European and World Cup glory.

    De la Fuente's side have eased through Group B, making it to the last 16 with a game to spare after beating Croatia 3-0 and Italy 1-0.

    That dominance has left some comparing the current crop of Spain stars to the side that triumphed at the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship two years later.

    De la Fuente says there can be no such praise yet, however, as his new-look Spain squad have not achieved anything.

    "We have a long way to go to catch up with that national team you mentioned because they won the Euros," De La Fuente said at a pre-match press conference on Sunday ahead of Monday's meeting with Albania.

    "We need to improve in every area. That may seem negative but we have to keep improving. That's our goal from day to day.

    "The good news is there's huge room for improvement, possibly infinite or maybe there's a limit. That's what makes us feel very optimistic."

    Indeed, the triumphant Spain side from yesteryear included the likes of David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, as well as Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol further back.

    Rodri has taken a Xavi-like role in midfield but will be suspended for the next clash with Albania, where De la Fuente insists Spain will not rest on their laurels.

    "We're only focusing on winning because we want to win every match," the former La Roja youth coach added.

    "We want to send out what we feel is the best side. We have complete confidence in our 26 players here. Everyone has a chance to play here at a high level, so I'm very calm about that."

    Spain and France are the only sides to have not conceded yet at this tournament, despite the likes of England and Germany also being touted as pre-Euros favourites.

    De la Fuente expects the favourites to soon click into gear, though.

    "I don't think we've seen the real quality of certain teams yet," he continued. "Some of them have reached a strong competitive level straight away while others that some may call favourites or contenders, they haven't yet got going fully.

    "When you head into the knockout phase, there's no room for error. So I think that once the last 16 begins, I think we'll see the real potential of every team."

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