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UEFA Champions League Final Preview

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What should we expect between the fight for the Champions League trophy pitting EPL heavyweights Liverpool and Tottenham?

Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp - Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Much is on the line for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Without the men’s FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championships to look forward to this summer, the UEFA Champions League final will be the highlight for many football fans. (Of course, there are the UEFA Nations League, Africa Cup of Nations, CONMEBOL Copa America, and women’s FIFA World Cup, so the summer is not barren by any means!) Let’s take a look at what is at stake and the factors that should influence how the game is expected to play out.

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A GREAT PREMIER LEAGUE CAPPER

Manchester City was the supreme team in the Premier League this season, taking an unprecedented treble by not only repeating as EPL champions but also winning the EFL (a.k.a. Carabao) Cup and the FA Cup (a.k.a Emirates FA Cup) as well. (The FA Cup triumph came recently over Watford FC on May 18).

But the Citizens crashed out of the Champions League during the quarterfinals, so they are nowhere to be seen in the final of the competition featuring Europe’s best teams. Instead, the all-English CL final pits second place Liverpool against fourth place Tottenham. Earlier in the week, the Premier League parade continued with the Europa League final, but Arsenal’s lopsided loss to Chelsea ended the dream of five EPL teams competing in next season’s Champion’s League.

Whether the Reds or Spurs emerge victorious in Saturday’s contest, the Premier League is guaranteed to win the Champions League for the first time since 2011-12 when Chelsea took the crown. This will break an impressive five year stretch of glory from La Liga, as Real Madrid won four times and Barcelona won the other occasion in that period.

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WHAT ARE THE STAKES?

Aside from the Champions League title being a major trophy that reflects very well on the Premier League, it will be an extremely important trophy for whichever team, manager and players end up pouring the champagne.

SECOND-PLACE LIVERPOOL

Getting over the hump and winning a major cup would be enormously fulfilling for Liverpool in light of memorable heartbreak. The Reds have never won a Premier League title, finishing 2nd four times. The past two occurrences have been excruciatingly close, losing out to Manchester City by two points in 2013-14 and one point in 2018-19.

And it’s not just in the EPL, as Liverpool has endured plenty of runner-up finishes elsewhere in recent memory. The Reds lost the Champions League final just one year ago, and both the league cup and Europa League finals in 2016-17. Thus, the Anfield faithful will certainly feel that this crown would shed the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” feeling of recent seasons.

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SECOND-CLASS TOTTENHAM

Like Liverpool, Tottenham has never won the EPL title. But Tottenham’s major hardware drought has been even longer than for Liverpool, which won the league cup in 2011-12. Spurs last won (and made the final of) the FA Cup in 1991, and most recently won the EFL Cup in 2007-08, finishing as runners-up in 2014-15. This trophy would be a monumentally rewarding accomplishment for Spurs as well, only in slightly different fashion than for the Reds.

For Tottenham, winning this crown would dispatch the identity of second-class “Big Six” side. From 1997-98 through 2008-09, the EPL was largely dominated by the “Big Four” of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United. In 2009-10, Tottenham crashed the party, and Manchester City did likewise in 2010-11, creating the “Big Six”. Since then, however, the Citizens have flourished, capturing four EPL titles. Spurs have remained on the outskirts of success, finishing as high as 2nd place just once (2016-17, a distant 7 points behind Chelsea).

Manchester City have famously dreamed of the Champions League title, devoting enormous resources to trying to achieve that goal, such as last summer’s addition of Riyad Mahrez who thrived with Leicester a few years prior in the competition. If Tottenham could beat Manchester City to the Champions League crown — in the season when the Lilywhites announced their ambition to compete with the world’s best in the form of their beautiful, shiny new stadium — it would emphatically knock the EPL pecking order on its head and cement the ascendancy of what has historically been regarded as a lesser London heavyweight behind Chelsea and Arsenal.

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THE MANAGERS

Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are not only among the brightest managing lights in the Premiership (along with Pep Guardiola, of course), but in the entire world. While Klopp does not boast any silverware at Liverpool, he did win two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund (in 2010-11 and 2011-12), while also taking the German Cup in 2011-12. For all of Pochettino’s well-deserved plaudits, though, he has never captured silverware as a manager.

The Champions League trophy will allow Klopp or Pochettino to cement their status alongside Guardiola, who already holds plenty of hardware with City. It will show that Klopp’s Liverpool project has arrived on schedule, or that Pochettino has finally reached the promised land with Tottenham.

Klopp certainly seems happy at Liverpool, and would use this title as a springboard for another serious EPL title challenge next season. For Pochettino, intriguingly, it could mark his exit point from Spurs. Having been mentioned with seemingly every high-profile job opening in the world the past couple/few seasons, it would give him loads of leverage if a major club — for instance, Juventus — chose to come after him. Unlike Liverpool, the question with Spurs has always been if the brass is willing to shell out the big bucks to bring in true superstars, and to commit top wages for their own players.

Could a Champions League crown supercharge Tottenham’s financial approach, influencing Pochettino (and his current star players) to remain, while attracting an influx of stars from elsewhere? Or would the team stick with its miserly pragmatism, as other teams with greater financial resources attract the attentions of Pochettino, Christian Eriksen, et al?

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THE TALE OF THE TAPE

Since both teams are from the same league, it makes for an easy, apples-to-apples comparison of EPL statistics. Sometimes the difference between second place and fourth place can be slight; other times, it’s wide. This time is most definitely the latter, with a cavernous gulf between second place Liverpool and fourth place Tottenham. Look at any key statistic — wins, losses, goals scored, goals allowed, goal differential — and Liverpool simply towers over Tottenham. The one that stands out the most is losses: Liverpool was league-best with only one, while Spurs suffered 13, the same as 7th place Wolves.

Liverpool v. Tottenham EPL Season Comparison

EPL 2018-19 STAT LIVERPOOL TOTTENHAM
EPL 2018-19 STAT LIVERPOOL TOTTENHAM
PLACE 2nd 4th
POINTS 97 71
WINS 30 23
LOSSES 1 13
GOALS SCORED 89 67
GOALS CONCEDED 22 39
GOAL DIFFERENTIAL 67 28

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RECENT EPL FORM

The Reds battled the Sky Blues up until the final day of the season in an epic, neck-and-neck fight for the Premier League title, whereas Tottenham faded badly down the stretch and barely finished in the vital top four. The Citizens memorably won their final 14 games, and Liverpool were certainly up for the challenge but fell just barely short. The Reds won their last nine EPL games, and were unbeaten in their final 17 contests, but it wasn’t enough as the nil-nil draw with Everton at Goodison Park on March 3 allowed City to jump into the top spot, which the Citizens never relinquished.

While Tottenham was a major factor in the EPL title race around Christmas, Spurs then stumbled, with Chelsea jumping into the third spot. Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United thanks largely to big struggles from those sides. Spurs won 23 games on the season, but were victorious in only one of their final five games, and just three of their last 12. That awful stretch included a home loss to 10th place West Ham and away defeats at Bournemouth (14th), Southampton (15th), and Burnley (16th).

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HOW DID THEY GET TO THE FINAL (A.K.A. ABSOLUTE DELIRIUM)?

This Champions League season has been chock full of unbelievable drama, and both of these teams have taken center stage in the theatrics.

Amazingly, both Liverpool and Tottenham were extremely fortunate to get out of the group stage. Liverpool finished behind Paris Saint-Germain in its group, tying for second place with Napoli but winning the 2nd tie-breaker (after goal-difference) by having scored more goals. Tottenham finished behind Barcelona in its group, even in 2nd with Inter Milan, and taking the 4th tie-breaker thanks to an advantage in head-to-head away goals.

Liverpool enjoyed fairly comfortable round of 16 (over Bayern Munich) and quarterfinal (over Porto) victories, before their story turned amazingly dramatic in the semifinal against Barcelona. The La Liga champions dominated the first leg at Camp Nou, 3-0, thanks to a brace from Lionel Messi, and seemed destined to advance into the final. However, the Reds had other ideas, winning 4-0 at Anfield in the second leg led by braces from Giorginio Wijnaldum and Divock Origi. Three of the goals came in the 2nd half, highlighted by the fourth and final score when Origi finished cheekily from a brilliant, quickly-taken corner kick assist by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Even a single away goal from Messi et al. would have carried the visitors through, but the Liverpool defense held firm, sending the Anfield faithful into rapturous delight.

Spurs dispatched Borussia Dortmund easily in the round of 16, but they’ve lived a truly charmed life since then. Following Tottenham’s 1-0 win at home against Manchester City aided by a Hugo Lloris save on Sergio Aguero’s penalty kick, the Citizens knicked a wild 4-3 affair at the Etihad. But Spurs advanced thanks to the away goals tie-breaker, as Fernando Llorente’s second-half goal proved the difference. However, that only came about thanks to VAR reversal of what would have been City’s 5th goal at the death, as Aguero was ruled offside by the barest of margins (much as City’s league title repeat came down to two goal-line decisions decided by millimeters).

Tottenham made life even more difficult in the semis by losing the first tie at home 1-0 to Ajax, the dashing darlings of the competition who had just dispatched defending champion Real Madrid and Serie A juggernaut Juventus. The away task looked truly insurmountable when the Eredevisie’s finest took a 2-0 lead into halftime in the second leg in Amsterdam. A second-half hat trick from Lucas Moura — the final goal coming six minutes into added time to maximize the dramatics — pushed the jubilant visitors through thanks to the away goals tie-breaker.

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HOW DID THEY FARE AGAINST EACH OTHER THIS SEASON?

Liverpool won each of this season’s Premier League games over Tottenham by identical 2-1 scores, at Wembley in September and at Anfield in March. The March tilt was particularly painful for Spurs, as it was decided by a Toby Alderweireld own-goal at 90’ following a misplayed save from Hugo Lloris.

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WHICH PLAYERS WILL WE HAVE OUR EYES ON?

LIVERPOOL

It’s simply a murderer’s row for Liverpool, with world-class talent across the pitch. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane each scored 22 goals, sharing the Premier League Golden Boot with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Left wing defender Andrew Robertson set the all-time EPL record for assists by a defender (11)… before right wing back Trent Alexander-Arnold eclipsed him at 12 thanks to a late-season surge.

Mo Salah and Sadio Mane pose with Golden Boot Trophy - Liverpool FC - Premier League
Salah and Mane scored the goals that won them the Golden Boot, but now they want another trophy.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Central defender Virgil van Dijk also contributed on the offensive end (4 goals, 2 assists) and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, earning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. Keeper Alisson Becker led the league with 21 clean sheets and 212 throw outs. Four Reds — Mane, TAA, Roberson, and VVD — were named to the PFA Team of the Year for 2018-19.

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TOTTENHAM

The numbers were not as staggering for Tottenham, which had no players in the Team of the Year, but there are certainly several Spurs who boast tremendous star quality. World Cup Golden Boot winning striker Harry Kane tied for 6th in the league with 17 goals scored, but would have surely scored more had injuries not limited his season to 28 games. After all, he scored 25+ times in each of the prior three campaigns. Otherwise, it was a fairly balanced attack, highlighted by the contributions of wingers Son Heung-min (12 goals, 6 assists) and Lucas Moura (10 goals, no assists) along with play-maker Christian Eriksen (8 goals, 12 assists).

Like Kane, attacking midfielder Dele Alli struggled with injury, managing to play only 25 games as his numbers fell off (5 goals, 3 assists) after scoring 9+ goals with 7+ assists each of the prior three seasons. And while Moussa Sissoko certainly didn’t put up eye-popping statistics (0 goals, 3 assists), the box-to-box midfielder developed tremendously, providing a vital link in the team’s transition attack.

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WHAT UNDERLYING STATISTICS SHOULD WE BE AWARE OF?

The basic table statistics shown above (points, goals, differential, etc.), along with individual player numbers, definitely present a picture of Liverpool dominance. Many key underlying statistics further buttress that expectation, but a few others will give Tottenham a bit of hope.

IN LIVERPOOL’S FAVOR

  • While Liverpool was #3 in shots (575) just ahead of Tottenham at #4 (537), the Reds were far more dangerous in effectively putting those shots on goal; Liverpool was #2 with 226 SOT, far ahead of Tottenham’s 5th place 189.
  • Liverpool was #1 with 19 headed goals, considerably more than Tottenham’s 14, even though Spurs actually ranked 2nd.
  • The Reds also led the league with 84 goals from inside the box, whereas Spurs were 6th with 53.
  • Liverpool ranked #5 with 721 crosses, a good clip ahead of #10 Tottenham’s 643.
  • The Reds were #2 in earning 249 corner kicks, well above #10 Spurs who had 194.
  • Liverpool tied for 3rd with 7 penalty goals, while Spurs were 11th with only 4 scores from the spot.
  • While Tottenham tied for 6th fewest penalties conceded (5), Liverpool allowed the fewest (1).

IN TOTTENHAM’S FAVOR

Tottenham tied for 2nd in the league with 14 goals from outside the box, while Liverpool tied for 12th with only 5 scores from distance.

TOO CLOSE TO CALL

  • Both teams look to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, as Liverpool ranked #3 and Tottenham was #4 in both touches and passes.
  • Liverpool ranked #3 with 98 through balls, while Tottenham was #5 with 87.
  • Both sides are also dangerous on the counterattack: Liverpool ranked 3rd with 6 fast-break goals, and Tottenham tied for 4th with 5.

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INJURIES/SUSPENSIONS

There are no suspensions, but absences due to injury are an issue.

LIVERPOOL

While midfielder Naby Keita (2 goals, 1 assist in 25 EPL games) will miss out injured, Liverpool should have a fully fit squad otherwise. Importantly, forward Roberto Firmino (12 goals, 6 assists in 34 games) has recovered from injury and will be available after missing time at the end of the season. [Source: Squawka]

TOTTENHAM

Spurs have endured more injury concerns than Liverpool recently, with late season absences from star striker Harry Kane, defensive midfielder Harry Winks, and central defenders Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen. According to Football London, all four have shown great progress in returning to training and should be available for the final, although who will start and who will serve in a bench capacity remains in doubt.

Harry Kane - Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League
Harry Kane took part in the post-game celebration at Ajax, but will need real match fitness to make an impact against Liverpool.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

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WHERE IS THE GAME TAKING PLACE?

Since two EPL teams are competing for the final, the perfect location would have been London’s Wembley Stadium, which hosted finals in 2010-11 (won by Barcelona) and 2012-13 (Bayern Munich). But given that La Liga’s Real Madrid or Barcelona has won each of the past five years, nobody will blame the high mucky mucks for awarding the honor to Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano.

Arsenal and Chelsea fans largely stayed away from traveling to Baku, Azerbaijan for Wednesday’s Europa League final, but Liverpool and Tottenham supporters are expected to pack the stadium in Madrid. However, there have been complaints regarding price-gouging on plane flights and hotel stays targeting the traveling English guests, particularly once Barcelona was eliminated.

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ULTIMATELY, WHAT RESULT SHOULD WE EXPECT?

Liverpool is not only clearly the superior team but also in far better form, so the Merseysiders will stride into Spain as a fairly heavy favorite. The Reds will expect to win, and in doing so successfully shed the second place label unfortunately adopted in recent seasons. After being removed early from last year’s final defeat due to injury, Egyptian superstar Mo Salah would love to lead the way.

But by beating Manchester City and Ajax in gritty fashion, Spurs have proven that they should not be taken lightly. While a breakthrough victory from the North London side would come as a bit of a surprise, it would not be a shock by any means, particularly if Tottenham talisman Harry Kane is judged fit enough to start and is able to play in prime form.

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What do you think will happen in the Champions League final pitting EPL stalwarts Liverpool and Tottenham? What players will prove the difference, and which team will emerge with the trophy? Can the unbelievable drama continue, or will it be a one-sided affair? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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