What to watch as Real Madrid take on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final

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The journey to Champions League The finale is never easy, but real MadridThe journey this season has been nothing short of Herculean. Plagued by injuries that would have crippled most teams, they managed to secure their place in the finals thanks to their tactical flexibility, the rise of the remaining healthy players and the emergence of new heroes.

Defy the odds

Imagine a season where your first-choice goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, and stalwart defenders Eder Militao and David Alaba are all sidelined with ACL injuries. Then add the absence of your talismanic striker, Vinicius Jr., for almost two months. Add to that the fact that Karim Benzema was never adequately replaced and Rodrygo Goes struggled to be effective in front of goal throughout the first half of the season. For most teams, this would have been a chance to fold; melt into the circumstances. For Real Madrid, it was a call to arms, an opportunity to reinvent itself and produce new conquerors.

Andriy Lunin stepped up in goal, Dani Carvajal and Antonio Rudiger helped form a resilient backline, and Jude Bellingham's superhuman efforts, both in attack and defense, became the cornerstone of the team – especially to start the season when his goals were desperately needed.

When Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouameni were injured simultaneously before Christmas, Carlo Ancelotti rearranged the plan to pair Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde in a double pivot. It worked wonders. The duo had arguably their best seasons to date, anchoring a team that had the best defense and most potent offense in the league.

When Vinicius Jr. returned, he returned with transcension in his boots. His magic raised the team's ceiling.

Farewell to Toni Kroos

Toni Kroos, who is playing his last match with Real Madrid, arrives in the final as the competition leader for passes in the final third (106). His vision, verticality and resistance to the press were instrumental in Madrid's journey to Wembley. His defensive contributions were also crucial, adding an extra layer of security to the midfield that the team needed during the knockout stages. As he dons the white jersey for the final time, everything that made him so instrumental to the team in midfield will be needed again – especially as he looks to throw dagger passes in behind Dortmund's defensive line.

What to do for a curveball hero: Joselu

Although the spotlight has rightly been on the stars, don't rule out Joselu making the difference off the bench if things are cagey in the second half and Real Madrid need to score. Although he was not prolific, Joselu's impact was significant, particularly in crucial moments. Joselu's stats are a bit, uh, crazy: he's taken 9.78 shots per 90 in the Champions League this season – by far the most of anyone. Lautaro Martinez, second on the list, holds a rating of 5.58. Joselu also has the most goals per 90 in the competition, including his brace off the bench against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final catapulted the team to Wembley. The urgency of his presence will be determined by the effectiveness of Vinicius and Rodrygo tomorrow, but either way Joselu should feature, as he is the team's best aerial threat in response to the aerially dominant Matts Hummels and Niclas Füllkrug, who will retreat. defend from set pieces.

Dortmund's journey, also heroic

Like Madrid, Borussia Dortmund traveled a difficult path to the final. Although their Bundesliga campaign was inconsistent, their Champions League run was marked by their tactical flexibility and defensive solidity. Mats Hummels is having a career year, leading the tournament in tackles, interceptions and clearances. Behind him, goalkeeper Gregor Kobel was transcendent, boasting the best Post-Shot xG-GA in the competition while having the most clean sheets and the most saves.

Dortmund can shapeshift and have no single identity, which is part of what makes them dangerous. Throughout the season, they have shown that they can counter-press, run in transition, defend in a low block, punish teams from set pieces or have an effective possession-based build-up structure.

That said, they can pose a threat to Real Madrid in two ways in particular: 1) set pieces (or crosses); and 2) and transition attacks. Dortmund have scored 10 set-piece goals in the Bundesliga this season, and striker Niclas Füllkrug has won the most aerial duels in the Champions League (and Real Madrid's set-piece defense has been poor all season ). Dortmund can also quickly emerge in terms of numbers. They quickly move from a low block to a lightning-fast attack, and a large number of players quickly reach the opponent's half. Sabitzer has been an excellent ball carrier and leads the Champions League in assists. Jadon Sancho is dangerous and can exploit the space behind the defensive line.

Quotes to take away from today's pre-match press conferences at Wembley

As both teams prepare for the showdown, I found these quotes from the pre-match press conferences interesting:

“Everyone puts us among the favorites, but that’s not the case. I see it between 50 and 55%. Dortmund are a great team who had a good season in the Champions League and who will make their task difficult. We have to concentrate and show it on the pitch. -Luka Modric

“The priority is to convey clear ideas to the players. Be as direct as possible because the more nervous the team is, the less nervous they will be. I'm going to be tactical. Emotions come later and everyone manages them according to their character. Before the match there will be negative emotions, but fear is an important element in doing things well, you have to know that. We demonstrated quality and collective sacrifice. Both will be key tomorrow. -Carlo Ancelotti

“We are the team that has kept the most clean sheets in the competition, and the goal is to keep Madrid away from our goal.” -Edin Terzic

“We are a very different team than in September, stronger now. We have improved a lot and we must continue like this. -Edin Terzic

“Yes, we talked about Real Madrid's weaknesses with the team, but I'm not going to talk about them here. There are a lot of things I like about Madrid and there are other things we will try to fix enjoy. -Edin Terzic

How will this unfold? Real Madrid are favorites, but finals tend to be cagey, and Dortmund have the ability to draw and frustrate Real Madrid.

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