Fatigue worries teams for the Champions League final

For a footballer who does not consider himself a striker, Mohamed Salah is the envy of many with his goalscoring record at Liverpool.

“I don’t play as a nine, I play as a winger,” Salah said. “It’s completely different when you play as a winger.”

And yet the Egyptian reaches the Champions League final on Saturday with 31 goals in 50 games this season and as the best attacker in English football.

An impressive number of goals, but dwarfed by the true nine that Real Madrid will resort to for their attack in the clash at the Stade de France. Karim Benzema’s loot stands at 44 goals, achieved in just 45 matches for the merengue team.

Maybe less can be more.

The climax of the European club season could well be determined by who arrives the least fatigued after a two-year stretch of coronavirus-affected schedules with few significant breaks.

Such is the concern about the players’ workload that, as clubs traveled to Paris, members of the world footballers’ union met in the French capital on Thursday to discuss the burnout of soccer’s top stars.

“Obviously, it’s the time of year when the players are really focused on winning,” said FIFPRO Secretary General Jonas Baer-Hoffmann. “I’m sure they’re going to put all their energy into putting on a good game on Saturday, but over time they’re going to pay for it. It’s really worrying for us at the moment, the risk of injury now, but also in the long term.”

Benzema, who at 34 is five years older than Salah, has only played 52 games since August last year for Real Madrid and the France team.

In addition to their trips to the African Cup of Nations in January, Salah and Senegalese striker Sadio Mané are set to play their 70th game of the season.

Liverpool have played every game possible this season and something has been played in each of them. The Premier League went down to the wire – with Manchester City winning the title by one point on Sunday – and Liverpool lifted the FA Cup the previous weekend and the League Cup in February.

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Madrid had the luxury of winning the Spanish League with four games to go a month ago. Coach Carlo Ancelotti’s hopes of capturing a domestic cup ended in a quarter-final loss in the Copa del Rey in February.

“I don’t think we’re going to fight. We’ve had a full week of preparation,” Liverpool defender Andy Robertson said. “They have had a little more relaxed preparation. They finished the League… and have been able to relax and not hold so many games at maximum pace. We wanted to fight for everything and we knew what it would do to our bodies.”

Jürgen Klopp is still chasing a treble with Liverpool. Publicly, at least, Ancelotti doesn’t talk about trying to exploit the weariness of the Liverpool elements.

“They may not have trained to the fullest in recent days, but that’s not going to affect the outcome of the match. It’s the last game of the season and they’re going to give it their all”, commented Ancelotti regarding the rival. “Liverpool is going to plan an intense and very vertical game. In the end, the match is there. Whoever shows the quality of him, he will win.”

Like the recovery power of Madrid.

The record holders of 13 titles as European champions faced elimination in the round of 16 before two of Benzema’s 15 continental goals this season turned the match around against Paris Saint-Germain. It took a 10-minute draw against Chelsea to stay in the quarter-finals before eliminating the defending champions in extra time. Madrid reached the 90-minute mark against Manchester City with the aggregate score against them in the semi-finals until Rodrygo was once again the savior with two goals that crowned another incredible comeback.

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