One all-Premier League European final down, one to go. The Champions League final pits Liverpool against Tottenham on Saturday, and there is plenty to lap up across the 90 minutes or more.
1. Liverpool looks for redemption
Liverpool has fallen just short of reaching a few monstrous pinnacles, and supporters have had to endure brutal second-place finishes over the past 12 months.
First, they lost last year’s Champions League final to Real Madrid 3-1 on a Gareth Bale brace to break the deadlock. Many Reds fans feel they were slighted after Sergio Ramos tackled Mohamed Salah and forced him off injured just 31 minutes in with the game still scoreless.
Second, the Reds put up a vicious fight in this year’s Premier League, giving defending champions Manchester City a battle to the wire, but came up just short despite a record points haul for a Premier League second-place finisher. It was a season that would have won the title in almost every other English top-flight season, but with Manchester City up to the task, Liverpool has been forced to accept the consolation prize.
“I took a lot of experience from it; hopefully I can use that,” Virgil van Dijk said to BBC Sport in reference to last year’s loss to Madrid. “Losing a final is painful.”
Which brings us to our next storyline…
1a. Jurgen Klopp hoping to break his finals streak
Dating back to his days with Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has lost six straight Cup finals. The Reds are hoping that Klopp’s brutal record in silverware games does not become intertwined into a larger club narrative of second-place finishes.
Finishing as runners-up can be sustainable for only so long, and the Reds will not want to waste this window of opportunity completely. Despite the fabulous season bringing Man City to the final week and reaching the Champions League final, finishing the year with nothing to show for the fight would be painful for players and supporters alike. It has undoubtedly been a fabulous campaign, but no trophy haul would severely dampen the luster on the season and bring Jurgen Klopp’s ability to lead Liverpool to the pinnacle of their ascent into question.
2. Mauricio Pochettino searches for accelerant to his Spurs project
The Argentine took over Spurs in 2014 hoping to mold the London club into a perennial Premier League challenger. While they have yet to become a consistent title contender in the Premier League, a Champions League crown would no doubt boost those plans and give Pochettino a tangible sign that his project is speeding along.
It’s clear that turning even a consistent European participant into a Premier League giant takes years of planning and sustainable squad growth, but success in a top-level tournament setting would boost the club’s pedigree significantly and turn it into an even more attractive destination for incoming players who wish to prevail in Europe’s top competition.
Amid reports that Pochettino could leave to take a bigger-name job like Manchester United and Juventus, Pochettino could cement his status as the usher of the club’s next chapter with Champions League glory, and in doing so, giving him the unique opportunity to stay in North London long-term as a Wenger-esque club legend in a league familiar with managerial turnover.
3. Club talismans Eriksen, Salah battle for tangible justification
Christian Eriksen and Mohamed Salah share a lot in common. They both serve as the face of the club’s attacking threat, and they both have nothing to show for their time at the club aside from fan admiration. That will change as one of them will win a Champions League winners medal, solidifying themselves as more than just a bunch of goals and fan favorite status.
For Eriksen, it could mean even more as the Dane is rumored to be leaving the club this summer. With Tottenham reportedly chasing Giovani Lo Celso, it could signal that Eriksen is off to the greener pastures (literally $$$) of Real Madrid, ending a sparkling six-year run in West London. What a way to go out on top and leave your legacy at a club.
4. Harry Kane‘s return
Imagine suffering an injury and thinking your season was over, only to come back for the biggest game in club history.
It has been seven weeks since Harry Kane hobbled down the tunnel in London, out with ligament damage to his troublesome ankle. His ability to impact the game is a complete unknown, and it’s not even a guarantee he will make the starting lineup. Still, should Spurs need a goal either early or late, what a story it would be for Kane to come back and provide a landmark goal in the club’s history.
Kane defiantly declared himself fit, having returned to training and saying, “at the moment I feel good, I feel strong.” A rest may have done Kane well, as he struggled early this past campaign after a long previous season and busy World Cup summer, but has been successful in the past after coming back from injury layoffs. This season, Kane scored in three of his first four games back from his January ankle problems, and two seasons ago the story was the same. In November 2016 he scored five goals in four Premier League games back after missing a month, and later that year he missed three matches in early April before coming back to finish the season with 10 goals in the final eight matches. With just 90 minutes to make his mark, can Kane provide the same goalscoring threat he has so many times before for Tottenham?
5. First time finalists
Tottenham has reached the finals of the Champions League for the first time in club history, and that doesn’t bode well for Spurs. Each of the previous five first-time finalists have tasted defeat, with Borussia Dortmund the last club to reach the pinnacle on its first try back in 1997. Will Liverpool’s experience from last season be the key to victory for the Reds, or can Spurs develop a game plan to take down Klopp’s juggernaut and prevail in the club’s first go?