Football Features

Redemption has two faces: Five things learned as Liverpool conquer Europe again

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:33, 1 June 2019

In a tight and tense final, Liverpool squeezed past Spurs 2-0 in the Champions League final.

The Reds avenged last year’s final defeat to Real Madrid and are now six-time Champions of Europe. What did we learn?

1. Salah and Origi, redemption has two faces

Mohamed Salah was mesmeric in 2017/18, scoring 44 goals in all competitions including a record 32 in the Premier League. He was the man and headed into a Champions League final where he would take on Real Madrid. Then a crude tackle from Sergio Ramos ended his night through injury (and Liverpool were subsequently defeated), he was heartbroken.

Divock Origi was a striker who was considered by pretty much everyone to be a joke. He had bombed out of Liverpool (despite scoring in a Europa League semi-final win), been underwhelming on loan in the Bundesliga, missed out on Belgium’s 2018 World Cup squad and no one took him seriously. He was so out-of-favour Liverpool couldn’t find someone to buy him.

Then the 2019 Champions League final came along, and Salah stepped up to rattle home a second minute spot-kick and give Liverpool the lead. A huge moment after last year’s agony. Then Liverpool were jittery, relying on the defence, one mistake away from disaster. Then with three minutes to go, up stepped sub Origi to thump in a beautifully crisp finish (to go with his miraculous brace against Barcelona in the semi-final) to put the result beyond doubt and seal his place in Liverpool folklore.

Redemption has two faces: one Egyptian, one Belgian. All you can do is be happy for them.

2. Mighty Moussa Sissoko

After 30 seconds or so of the Champions League final, Moussa Sissoko had conceded a penalty. A minute later Salah had converted the spot-kick and Spurs were losing. It would have been very easy for the Frenchman to implode and have a terrible night, others have played worse after smaller mistakes. But no, Sissoko stood tall.

The Frenchman put on an epic performance in the final. Well, maybe epic is overselling it but he was certainly the best player on the pitch. Sissoko was everywhere, constantly putting out fires on the defensive end. No player on the night made more than his three tackles, and he carried the ball forward so well too. He was Spurs’ Mr. Everything in midfield and Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to take him off robbed Spurs of a lot of their urgency and perhaps contributed to Liverpool being able to handle the pressure of Spurs’ assault.

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3. Kane and Firmino: nah

Both centre-forwards came to the final as fitness doubts. Neither man was ready to start (even if they were technically fit enough). They both offered nothing to their side. Roberto Firmino is useless without his frenetic energy, movement and interplay which was understandably all missing tonight. And Harry Kane was clearly just on the field in case Spurs could conjure a chance from 10-20 yards for him.

Watching these two contribute absolutely nothing was immensely frustrating and played a huge part in the final being such a dud. To his credit, Jurgen Klopp saw this and removed Firmino for Origi before the hour mark whilst Pochettino took off his two best performers and left Kane on. In the end, the way these two managers treated their star strikers both led to this terrible final and then also showed us why only one of these two sides actually deserved to win the Champions League.

4. Harry Winks was born for the big stage

Real Madrid. Barcelona. Liverpool. Every time Harry Winks is faced with an enormous challenge in the Champions League he rises to it with no bother at all. The Hemel Hempstead Xavi Hernández has Spanish ancestry and you can definitely tell. He plays the game with the assurance and composure of a La Liga star.

Winks was sensational in the final, despite only recently returning from injury himself, Winks was comfortably one of the two best players on the pitch in an offensive capacity. Despite playing just 66 minutes, only the two Spurs centre-backs played more passes than Winks who routinely looked the only midfielder capable of maintaining possession.

In the end he was sacrificed as Spurs looked to save themselves and Winks had already subdued the Liverpool midfield to the point that they weren’t going to be much of a threat. Of course without Winks, Spurs had more shots on goal but had no control of the game, and couldn’t complete their comeback. But even with the loss, there is no doubt that Winks has a luminously bright future.

5. Too much Premier in this Champions League

When two Premier League sides meet in Europe there is always the hope that the helter skelter madcap mentality of the English top division will filter out onto the European stage and lead to a tie that is frenetic, end-to-end and full of action. There’s also the great fear that the lack of midfield quality and cautious, safety-first mentality that pervades so much of England’s top flight will take over.

And unfortunately we got the latter in 2019. This match played like a Premier League noon kick-off. One side with all the ambition and none of the quality to actually do anything with the ball in the final third, and another side happy to sit back and defend. Liverpool got an early goal through a nonsense decision, and rode their rock-solid defence to victory.

They did try and extend their lead, but their midfield was so shockingly bad that short of punting it long to their forwards they didn’t really have a gameplan to speak of. Beyond a showcase of centre-backs clearing the ball, it was a slap-fest, and BT Sport picked the wrong boxer to promote it. Tyson Fury is charismatic but this match was more fitting of David Haye’s nonsensical bout against Nikolai Valuev. Agonising to sit through.

In the end, Liverpool are worthy European Champions because of their incredible comeback against Barcelona in the semi-finals and the fact that they managed to reach consecutive finals in this competition. This final was an eyesore, for sure, but the Reds had already done the hard work this season (and finishing with 97 points and not winning the Premier League is so harsh) so all you can do is take your hat off to them.