When Real Madrid and Liverpool face off tonight in the final of the UEFA Champions League, the premier club football competition in Europe, they will represent many contrasting narratives. Like a place in history: the ultimate European footballing empire (Madrid) versus one that aspires to build its own (Liverpool). Like managerial styles: understated Carlo Ancelotti versus impassioned Jurgen Klopp. Like footballing styles: well-rounded versus hard press. Like colours: white versus red. Beyond these contrasts, Madrid and Liverpool have one thing in common. The two clubs represent countries that have been the most successful in the competition over the past three decades — Spain and England.

Concentration at the Top

While the Champions League (earlier European Cup) has been around since 1955, it underwent a branding and format overhaul in 1992-93, the philosophy of which has continued to the present day. Out went the full knockout format. In came a preliminary group stage, and a…

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