Liverpool the favourites ahead of Saturday’s all-English Champions League final
The first all-British UCL final since the 2007/08 season takes place on Saturday as Tottenham and Liverpool meet in Madrid.
After Wednesday night’s Europa League final, in which Arsenal were thrashed by Chelsea, only the UCL final remains to draw the curtain on the 2018/19 European club season.
Liverpool are big favourites at the bookmakers after a record-breaking season wasn’t enough to win the domestic trophy. But Tottenham will have belief after they pulled off a last-minute escape from the grasp of elimination against Ajax in the semi-final. Both teams overcame massive semi-final deficits to make it here.
Business as usual for Liverpool
There is no denying that Liverpool have been the better team this season. The Reds had the best defence in the league, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were among the top goalscorers in the league. The Reds also have the greater pedigree in the competition, with five wins in their history. Liverpool reached the final last year and will want to make amends for their defeat in that match to Real Madrid.
Liverpool have an almost fully fit team available. Naby Keita is the unlucky man who has not recovered in time to feature, but Roberto Firmino will be available. He hasn’t started for six weeks though after a muscle injury, so he may not be at his sharpest.
Liverpool will play as they always do and it may be Tottenham that have to adapt. That means emphasis on the two wing-backs, Andy Robertson and Trent-Alexander Arnold, who have both had spectacular seasons. How Spurs handle those two, and the battle with Tottenham’s own wing-backs, will be a key aspect of this battle.
Liverpool’s other key players are without doubt Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah. Van Dijk has been instrumental to Liverpool’s success this season, leading the defence to become the best in the league. Getting the better of him will require some effort from Spurs.
At the other end of the pitch, Salah has had another fantastic season, albeit not as prolific as his first. He and partner in crime Sadio Mane will be the most likely to get on the scoresheet. If they are afforded space to get behind the Spur’s defence then the consequences could be deadly.
Questions remain about Kane and how Spurs will shape up
Spurs have had more problems in the run up to this game, and the questions about Harry Kane’s fitness means it remains to be seen how Pochettino will set his team up. Kane picked up another ankle injury against Manchester City some weeks back, but the striker has insisted that he is ready to go. It seems it is down to the manager whether to risk Kane or not.
Ironically, Lucas Moura would probably be the player to be dropped should Kane start. Moura’s hat-trick in the second leg semi-final propelled Spurs here, so it would be a cruel injustice should he not start.
Aside from Kane, Spur’s danger man is Son Heung-min. The South Korean has had an incredible season and will be raring to go here. Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen are the men tasked with keeping things ticking over in midfield. Sissoko has much improved this season and was a big influence against Liverpool earlier in the season.
Liverpool favourites at the bookmakers
The action kicks off at 8pm on Saturday. The two managers are already well acquainted but Klopp has the upper hand by far. Of the 9 meetings between them, Klopp has won four, drawn four, and lost one. Liverpool have also won both meetings between the sides this year by two goals to one, although both games were closely fought.
But those things will mean little on the night in Madrid. The bookmakers are backing Liverpool and it is easy to see why. But Spurs have the wildcard edge. They haven’t been here before, they man not again, and they have in Pochettino one of the hungriest managers around. After the miracle of the semi-final, you wouldn’t put it past Spurs to repeat that feat.
Twenty-six points separated the two teams at the end of the EPL season, but that counts for nothing here.