The UEFA Champions League final is right around the corner as we all prepare for Liverpool to do battle with Tottenham Hotspur.
The road to get here has been long and hard for Spurs, who were staring elimination in the face on no less than three occasions only to save themselves with late, late goals (or a late goal being disallowed in one instance). Liverpool meanwhile completed a historic comeback against Barcelona to qualify for their second consecutive final, and they will be looking to go one better than last year’s loss to Real Madrid.
The two sides know each other well from domestic competition of course, and Liverpool have come out on top in their recent clashes. The Reds won both Premier League matches this season by a 2-1 scoreline and finished a whopping 26 points ahead of Spurs in the table. But this is a cup final, and anything can happen – but what do we think will happen? Read on and find out!
1. The pressure will tell
These games should be open and free-flowing, after all that’s what epitomises Premier League football – an overwhelming lack of control. It’s like diving into and playing around in a ball pit. The mad flailing of limbs is a bit silly but magnificent entertainment all the same. And to be sure, Spurs and Liverpool produced monumental comebacks in the second legs of their semi-finals, so they’re capable of translating that intensity madness to the European stage.
But here’s the thing: they only did that when their backs where against the wall. When they were staring elimination in the face. Otherwise they have been decidedly cautious, with Spurs playing the percentages (their genuinely exciting games, away to Borussia Dortmund and Man City, owed more to the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses than any action on their part) and Liverpool building off Virgil van Dijk rather than that mesmeric front three (as they did last year).
So with the pressure already telling, come the final, where they have everything to lose and nothing to gain, the pressure will be like standing on the surface of Jupiter. Liverpool run the risk of “doing a Valencia” and losing back-to-back finals whilst Spurs risk becoming the subject of ridicule, with defeat making all their tears following the semi-final win look absurdly premature. No, neither team will want to lose this, and the game will thus be cagey and far from the spectacle it should be.
2. Mané to take a step closer to the throne
Sadio Mané has as many goals in the knockout rounds of the Champions League (10) as Samuel Eto’o. Those two, and Didier Drogba (14), stand atop the game as the most prolific Africans in the latter stages of Europe’s premiere competition. Drogba has won the Champions League once, Eto’o on three occasions (including back-to-back Trebles with different clubs – truly a king among men); Mané has no medal.
But in Madrid, Mané has the chance to put himself up there among African icons. On the first level, he has to win the final, and on the second, he has to score. Winning is down to more than just him but he will play his part, just as he did in the Premier League when it was his goals during Liverpool’s January blip that kept their title challenge alive and allowed them to mount a spring offensive.
More than just help Liverpool win the game (which he will do), Mané will score, probably the opening goal, to become the second-greatest African goalscorer in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. That he will have done this after just two years playing in the competition is absolutely and utterly remarkable.
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3. Crocked Kane unleashing Lucas
Harry Kane is racing to be fit for the Champions League final, and everyone is pulling for him to make it. But should they be? Obviously Kane is a world-class striker and goalscorer. A deadly player and one any team on the planet would be lucky to have, but that’s all when he’s 100% fit. Kane isn’t a player blessed with great pace, so when he’s not at 100% it’s definitely noticeable.
This happened at the 2018 World Cup with England. Kane clearly hurt himself midway through the Colombia game and, despite scoring six goals in the group stages, didn’t notch a single goal beyond that stage and moreover never even looked like scoring all the way until the end of the third-place playoff. He was playing hurt and it told.
Now Spurs will probably trust in their striker again. How could they not? But it will backfire just as it did for England. Kane may be physically fit but he’ll be so far from sharpness as to be a liability for Spurs, but Mauricio Pochettino will realise this and take him off in the second half, unleashing the semi-final’s hat-trick hero Lucas Moura into the game.
Only Lionel Messi has completed more dribbles than Lucas in this season’s Champions League, and the Brazilian will utterly energise the Spurs attack and help Spurs to peg Liverpool back. Whether Lucas will score the goal himself or not is irrelevant, it will be his presence that will give Spurs the belief that they can win. Oh, and he’ll probably be the first man to dribble past Van Dijk this season because that streak is just begging to be ended in a dramatic and memorable way.
4. Alexander-Arnold to make history
Trent Alexander-Arnold will make history by stepping onto the field from the start against Spurs, as he will become the youngest player to start consecutive Champions League finals. Yup, even younger than the Ajax lot from the mid-90s (Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert were younger but the former left after the first final and the latter came off the bench both times).
But that’s not the only way he’ll make history, oh no. In the history of the Champions League final, and all the geniuses that have played in it, there have been just two players that have managed two assists in a single game: Henrik Larsson for Barcelona in 2006, and Marcelo for Real Madrid in 2018. Alexander-Arnold, with lethal crosses and place on set-piece duty surely confirmed after his brilliance beat Barça at Anfield, will in fact become the youngest player to create two goals in Europe’s showpiece. Both Marcelo and Larsson were 30+ when they created two, Alexander-Arnold turned 20 earlier this season. Think about that.
5. Lloris will slip to set-up Salah’s redemption
In last year’s Champions League final, the whole game was shaped by Loris Karius throwing the ball onto the feet of Karim Benzema and gifting Real Madrid the lead. It was a hideous, catastrophic error. So bad that it ended Karius’ Liverpool career.
What’s crazy is that just a couple months later, Hugo Lloris did the same thing in the World Cup final, and no one talks about it! Obviously the difference between the two is that Karius’ error cost his side, whereas Lloris’ mistake came with France already 4-1 up and ended up changing nothing. But it did highlight Lloris’ capacity for clangers.
The Frenchman has mostly played well this season but his campaign has been full errors that pop up like weeds. Just when you think you’ve seen the last of them–BLAM! He drops an easy cross. One such error occurred against Liverpool when, in the closing stages of the game with the scores level, Mohamed Salah headed the ball across goal and rather than leave it to his defenders or, y’know, grab the ball, Lloris instead slapped it out into Toby Alderweireld who could do nothing but watch the ball trickle into the back of the net.
It handed Liverpool the win, a huge win that ultimately didn’t amount to anything as Manchester City won the Premier League title by a single point anyway. Again Lloris got away with it. Well it’s going to be third time unlucky for the Frenchman in Madrid, as late in the game Mohamed Salah will connect with a shot (from an Alexander-Arnold cross) and it won’t be a good shot, it may even be a scuff, but Lloris will make an absolute clown of himself and somehow let it into the net, handing Liverpool the win and Mohamed Salah, the magical Egyptian who was so cruelly robbed of his chance to win the Champions League last year by Sergio Ramos’ judo skills, the ultimate moment of redemption.