THIS is a story in three parts. The first chapter was written in springtime Paris in 1981 in an era when English football was ascendant as its teams swept all before them across Europe.

The second took place in Kyiv and confirmed the pre-eminence of Real Madrid as the kings of the continent's premier competition. The third act will come this evening – a return to Paris – with an old order almost restored.

Where Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston Villa shared six European Cups across a seven-year spell, a win for the Reds tonight would represent a third in four and, given the untold riches of the Premier League, who knows how many more to come.

For all that grotesque wealth has shaped Europe’s major club competition in the last half decade, there is also a sense that this was how it used to be at the end of the 1970s and early 80s before the Heysel Stadium disaster brought a halt to English clubs’ hegemony over continental competition.

Tonight promises a veritable feast: between them these sides have scored 58 goals in reaching Paris this evening and when they met in the incident-packed 2018 final four goals were scored; one of them – Gareth Bale's sublime overhead kick – is among the best ever seen in a European Cup or Champions League final.

It was a far cry from that slow-moving first instalment back in 1981. Both Real Madrid and Liverpool – managed by Vujadin Boskov and Bob Paisley respectively – arrived at it carrying injuries and as weary as a marathon runner following arduous seasons. Real were not the rulers of Europe they later became. They had won the European Cup six times already but the last of those triumphs had been achieved a sepia-tinted 21 years previously.

It was little surprise that the match was played out without much in the way to stimulate the senses before left-back Alan Kennedy, playing with a broken wrist, arrowed in the winning goal for Liverpool with just seven minutes remaining.

The most significant takeaway from the 81 final lay with Paisley, who became the first manager to lift the European Cup three times, a corollary with this year's final is notable: Should Carlo Ancelotti guide Real to victory this evening then he will surpass that record with his fourth European crown. Tonight's final is loaded with significant milestones: should Luka Modric, the Real Madrid midfielder, win his fifth he would join Cristiano Ronaldo as having won the most ever.

Jurgen Klopp will win his second European Cup should Liverpool prevail while his club will equal AC Milan's seven titles. It might have been a prospective third for the German and seventh for his club had the second chapter between these sides not ended badly when the sides met again in 2018.

That night in Kyiv, the fates conspired against Liverpool or, more accurately, the dastardly Sergio Ramos did. It was the nefarious central defender who ended Mo Salah's final half an hour in. It was same player who collided with Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius leaving the German with a suspected concussion minutes before he inexplicably threw the ball against the back of Karim Benzema to give Real the lead – and then later lost sight of Gareth Bale's long-distance strike seven minutes from time to end all hopes of a Liverpool fightback.

It was a sliding doors moment for Karius and Liverpool as a club. Within days, Klopp signed Alisson for a world record fee for a goalkeeper from AS Roma, swiftly afterwards Fabinho was brought to the club from Monaco and the soft centre that had been Liverpool's weak link was suddenly filled with concrete. Eight of the team that started in Kyiv remain in situ, what's more they followed up failure with their sixth Champions League the following year with victory over Spurs.

By contrast, there are seven players who started for Real remaining at the club but likely only four of them will start this evening.

For that reason this final feels significantly different: the third act in a previously benign arms race until it acquired a new edge due to Ramos's actions four years ago, is now even more acrimonious with talk of 'revenge' in the air and Real agitated by its very mention.

“It's like disrespecting the Real Madrid badge, the players...” said Federico Valverde, the Real midfielder, this week of a rather tame observation by Salah that he would like to play “Madrid . . . because we lost in the final against them, I want to play against them, and hopefully win against them.”

The bookies think that is exactly what will happen. Liverpool are even money favourites and are playing at a level above any other team in Europe, including Manchester City despite the eventual destination of the Premier League title. Above all the final has the quality about it of two sides heading in different directions. While there had been uncertainty over Mo Salah's future, the Egyptian parked it this week by confirming that he would be staying at Anfield for another season and while the runes outlining what Sadio Mane does next may be less clear – the Senegal striker says he will announce his intentions after tonight's final – Klopp has been stockpiling replacements with Luis Diaz, Fabio Carvalho, newly signed from Fulham, and Diogo Jota all offering a glimpse of a forward line that will have the goals, guile and creativity that can sustain Liverpool's position at the top of European football.

While the English side remains buoyant, this feels like a crossroads for Real. The hero of 2018, Gareth Bale, will leave the Spanish capital at the end of tonight's proceedings, Modric is now 36 while his midfield partner Toni Kroos is 32. There are thirtysomethings everywhere you look in the Real line-up.

Karim Bezema has top scored on 15 in this season's competition but is 35 at the end of the year and Dani Carvajal, Thibaut Courtois, Nacho, David Alaba and Casemiro are all nearing or are at the age when players start to experience a drop off.

There is the sense of an ending about this Real team which is why the hierarchy felt the Kylian Mbappe snub so keenly. Meanwhile Erling Haaland chose another state-backed club despite interest from Madrid. Players are not in the habit of turning down Los Merengues and they are unlikely to let Aurelien Tchouameni, the next French superstar in waiting, escape their grasp despite interest from Liverpool.

But neither would it be a surprise if the 22-year-old did opt for Anfield instead and it speaks to the shifting of tectonic plates in the European landscape that while Real may have the grand name they no longer have the financial pull of old. As for tonight, Ancelotti holds the advantage in the head-to-head record with Klopp and Real have the memory of two improbable victories against Chelsea and Manchester City stored in their muscles.

A win for whichever side manages it will still feel like the closing of one chapter for Real rather than the continuation of an exciting new one for Liverpool.