Because the Premier League tends to be that bit more physical and feisty than many of its continental counterparts, it often appears that English clubs are left at something of a disadvantage in the Champions League. Not only are those from particularly La Liga and Serie A of a far more theatrical nature, drawing fouls with overly exuberant tumbles to the turf, but few referees allow Premier League teams the same aggression and power when making challenges that they’re accustomed to domestically.
Ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final with Real Madrid then, Liverpool fans are likely fearing the worst. Not only is Milorad Mazic indeed a foreign referee, one that hasn’t actually officiated any games involving English clubs this season, but he’s also got a bit of history with the Reds. He officiated the second leg of Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Manchester United in 2016 and controversially awarded Anthony Martial a penalty for a challenge from Nathaniel Clyne, which the Frenchman calmly converted.
But statistically speaking, the Croatian is actually one of the more balanced referees to work in Europe’s top competition this season. Out of the 37 to have done so, he ranks pretty much in the middle of the table for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and yellow cards per game. Compare that to the Premier League’s very own Michael Oliver for example, who ranks in the top three for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and yellow cards per game in the Champions League this term.
That suggests it won’t be a final in which an English club is continually punished for essentially being an English team, although Liverpool have averaged more fouls per match than Real Madrid in Europe this season. Nonetheless, Los Blancos still give away over ten per game and only Porto have scored more goals from set pieces in the Champions League than Liverpool, so winning a few in the right areas could prove to be decisive. That’s actually something the Reds need to improve on overall though – their average of 8.6 fouls won per match is the second-lowest return in the competition this season.
The other potential boost for Liverpool is the fact Mazic is yet to award a penalty or a red card this term; in other words – he’s due one. And looking around both teams, if there’s one player liable to a sending off, it’s definitely Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos. The Spaniard has already incurred seven red cards throughout his career, including one in the Champions league, and just like Saturday’s referee is due one – still awaiting his first this season. Could it come at a key moment for Liverpool?