Real Madrid face Liverpool for historic third straight Champions League title

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    (CNN)Trying to define what makes a team truly great can be thankless task.

    Most will point to a footballing legacy left behind or the number of trophies won. The current Real Madrid side certainly boasts the latter.
    Though, despite continued European success which has brought the club to the brink of an unprecedented third consecutive Champions League title, many still retain doubts about bestowing the title of "great" on Zinedine Zidane's team.
      The sense that individual quality and moments of brilliance get them through, rather than tactical nous and performances as a cohesive unit, persists.
      Zidane himself admitted as much.
      "Tactically I'm not the best coach, the press say it themselves," the Frenchman told reporters at the club's media day. "But I have the drive and passion and that means a lot."

      Making history

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      It's almost a perfect description of what this Real side has become in Europe over the past five years; not always the best team on the pitch but somehow always finding a way to win.
      Last season, they became the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the European Cup, and the first in Champions League history to do so.
      You have to go all the way back to 1976 -- to a truly great Bayern Munich side which contained the likes of Gerd Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Franz Beckenbauer -- to find a team that won in three consecutive years.
      The team standing in the way of an historic "three-peat" is Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, arguably the antithesis of this Real side.
      "These are kind of, I wouldn't say dysfunctional teams, but these are teams that have a very uneven balance of quality," German football journalist Raphael Honigstein told CNN Sport of this year's finalists.
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      "Real Madrid have a fantastic midfield, have great guys up front and also have some wonderful players at the back, but collectively don't really play that well together.
      "They have very high individual quality, slightly low collective quality and slightly low tactical quality as a team."
      Liverpool's strength, conversely, comes from the team being greater than the sum of its parts.
      Players, such as Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson and Loris Karius, who had previously struggled significantly for Liverpool, are now excelling in Klopp's system.
      "Collectively they are quite strong and they play in a way that makes fairly ordinary players pretty effective," Honigstein says. "But they're lacking quality in key areas.
      "They have the quality all up front, so I think that kind of uneven distribution will only benefit the game as a spectacle."

      Ronaldo vs. Salah

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      Ronaldo and Salah have been central figures in the two most prolific attacking teams in Champions League history.
      This season, Liverpool's front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have scored a record 29 goals, eclipsing the previous best of 28 set by Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema during Real's victorious 2013-14 campaign.
      But while Liverpool's attacking trio have shared the load in front of goal this season -- Salah and Firmino have 10 goals and Mane has 9 -- Real are heavily reliant on one man.
      Ronaldo has 15 goals for Los Blancos in this season's competition, with Benzema a distant second on four. Left-back Marcelo is the team's third-highest scorer with three goals.
      "Liverpool have a more even distribution of goals than Real Madrid have," Honigstein says. "They obviously have one way of scoring and that's through Cristiano and if he's not there, they have to work a little bit harder.
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      "Whereas with Liverpool they have a variety with the three guys up front.
      "So I don't necessarily think it will be a straight shootout between Salah and Cristiano, but of course if one of them has a good game then it becomes immediately more difficult for the other team to win."
      Salah, Mane and Firmino have terrorized opposition defenses, both domestically and in Europe, all season, playing a scintillating brand of attacking football that has drawn praise from all over the world.
      Few teams have been able to withstand the dizzying exchanging of passes, or keep track of the fluid interchanging of positions and Honigstein believes the deadly trio are like nothing Real's defense has faced this term.
      "I think Liverpool are very, very hard to defend against," he says. "The players are kind of uncontrollable when they start running at you so I think they will pose the kind of questions and problems that Real Madrid have not come up against this season, with perhaps the slight exception of the PSG game and two games against Barcelona.
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      "But even this Barcelona are not quite as fluid as this Liverpool team are when they attack.
      "It's one thing to watch these guys but once you're up against it there will be a moment of sharp intake and Real Madrid thinking: 'Oh my god, what is going on here?'
      "And while they may not panic, maybe they can unsettle them enough to maximize their opportunity."
      Regardless of the result on Saturday, the debate as to whether this Real side deserve to be added to the pantheon of greats will continue.
      But should they win their fourth Champions League title in five years, it will become increasingly difficult to deny them a place.