As the two teams prepare to meet in an all English final in Madrid we look at the tactical battles that could determine the outcome.
Most football fans across the world wait for this day when it’s not a World Cup or Euro Cup year – the Champions League final. The grand meeting between the two biggest and the most resolute clubs in Europe glorifies the status of the world’s most loved game and this time, the onus falls upon two English clubs – Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
Both clubs have their different, and yet similar, histories. While Liverpool have tasted a lot of success in the past (pre-90s era) and were regarded as one of the best sides on the globe on several occasions, Tottenham, too, were celebrated in phases. The Lilywhites, as they are fondly called, have been on a roll in the last five-odd years, with Mauricio Pocchettino transforming them into a force to be reckoned with some shrewd buying and positive football ideology.
Liverpool have, meanwhile, been transformed with the arrival of manager Jurgen Klopp from Germany. Helped by the passion of the unsurmountable Kop, Klopp has rallied a team of players that give their everything on every occasion, mixing it with wins into their DNA. This, probably, has been their major reason for revival and the success they have accrued in recent times.
Here, we take a look at the three key battles that could define the final of the Champions League, with the Reds vying for their first continental title after a 15-year hiatus, and the Whites would hope to end a 57-year long drought.
3. Lucas Moura Vs Virgil van Dijk
The Brazilian who hs been instrumental in Spurs’ European campaign faces arguably the best defender in the Premier League
A lot of the world has already been goosebumped by the imminent resurgence of the Dutch national team, stapled with the fast-yet-planned development of AFC Ajax. A late, late comeback at the hands of a Brazilian outcast from PSG, though, prematurely killed those dreams. Will Lucas Moura complete what he started at the Amsterdam Arena? In between him and his club’s dream stands arguably the Premier League’s best defender this season, Virgil Van Dijk.
Van Dijk and Matthijs De Ligt are certain to become the Dutch backline for the foreseeable future, and Dijk would be hoping to do his compatriot and Liverpool a favour by stopping the Brazilian matador. It would be key to the game, as both Heung-min Son and Moura will lead Spurs’ attack on their young-yet-capable shoulders.
In the absence of Harry Kane (who may or may not make a heroic return for the final), the responsibility grows even further. Moura, in that scenario, will have to create as well as score to put a brake on the Merseyside juggernaut that pushed Barcelona out of the tournament in a comeback that would make Sir Alex Ferguson proud.
For the first time, Moura and Tottenham will be taking part in a Champions League final. Whether they can work their way to the trophy or not will depend on the wizardry of the Brazilian thunderbolt.
2. Christian Eriksen Vs Georginio Wijnaldum
The Dane will look to pull the strings in midfield for his team but the Dutchman will need to contain his influence in order to win the battle of the midfield
They may not come in each other’s way too often, but their positioning on the pitch and how this couple plays the 90 minutes in the grand finale could well decide the outcome of who’s at the podium at the last whistle. Naby Keita is out of the system, and Dele Alli hasn’t showed promise of what he’s capable of this entire season. Thus, the midfield falls on their able shoulders, something both the players are very capable of handling.
Eriksen has been doing everything for Spurs for sometime now – he creates, he scores and he defends like his life depends on it. His nonchalant approach and yet the brilliance he produces at such consistency is a sight to behold, but the Champions League final is a different breed altogether? Can he do it for the Champions League challengers – well, they’ve been exactly that for seasons now, and if they’re to move up from that level, this match is key, and so is Eriksen. His Barcelona rumours, too, have been in circulation for sometime now.
Wijnaldum, another one from the reinvigorated Dutch genus, has been key for Liverpool in the link up from defence to attack, and will have a key role to play – again. The 28-year-old scored two crucial goals in Liverpool’s comeback against Barcelona in the second leg, and the midfielder will draw immense confidence from the performance.
The pair will be vary of each other, knowing full well that the other one can be a deep, deep wound if given space to spear. Both of the midfield maestros will have dual roles of keeping the other one in check, as well as taking their respective teams forward on the pitch.
1. Mohamed Salah Vs Danny Rose
The full-bacxk will have his hands full as he tracks the dynamic runs of the Egyptian talisman
Arguably, Salah had a better season last term than he has had this year, but he’d take two Champions League finals anyday, and with fellow forward Sadio Mane on form, the Egyptian might get second-time-lucky. He has had a stellar season himself, scoring 21 times to share the Premier League’s Golden Boot with Arsenal’s Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Mane, something that hasn’t happened too many times in the past.
Rose has one thing that most full-backs fear Salah for – speed. The English thoroughbred left-back is very traditional in his defensive style, and waits for the winger to take him on. He then covers space and reacts to body feints and adjusts to the sudden change in pace and movement. Rose, though, bombs forward as well, and creates an added outlet for his side. This may open space for Salah, but the Egyptian might be asked to contribute to the defensive duties as well.
Salah operational position is going to be key. The former Roma winger has a tendency (and it suits the Klopp style as well) to move central beyond Roberto Firmino, a witty Brazilian forward who plays the role of a false 9 like fish takes to water. Firmino pulls a defender or two, and that has time and again opened up spaces for the African duo of Salah-Mane to exploit. How well the pair operates is going to decide the game – period.
Rose, though, has it in him to stop the menace of Salah. He’s fast, as fast as defenders come. He’s strong on the ground. Ben Davies may be an option, but Rose is a more experienced, powerful, and proven performer. This duel may well influence the game and could affect mindsets. A lot rides of the messenger and the flower, literally.