UEFA Champions League final preview: Tottenham v. Liverpool

AP
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  • Liverpool aim to win 6th UCL trophy
  • Spurs’ first UCL final in club history
  • Klopp, Pochettino yet to win trophy at their clubs
  • First all-English final since 2008, only 2nd in UCL history

MADRID – And then there were two.

Two teams from the Premier League. Two finalists for the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid, Spain. Two hugely likeable managers aiming to win their first trophy with their respective clubs. Two sets of largely likeable players who have worked for this moment for the past four seasons and have defied the odds to get to the showpiece event in world club soccer.

[ MORE: How will teams line up?

Both could have gone out in the group stage but rallied to make the knockout rounds. Both trailed 3-0 in their semifinals against but overturned those deficits with incredible victories to dump Barcelona and Ajax out of the competition. These two teams aren’t really meant to be here. But they are. And everyone connected with the clubs is making the most of being in Madrid.

Tottenham Hotspur versus Liverpool. White versus red. London versus northern England. This is all very familiar, but this time the streets of the Spanish club are overrun with the English as an estimated 80,000 fans have flocked to Madrid for the final at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, which holds 67,000.

The two teams trained at the site of Saturday’s final (kick off, 3 p.m. ET) on Friday evening, one after another going through their final preparations in the scorching Spanish sun.

[ MORE: Kane fit? | Klopp positive ]

In the 90 degree-plus heat, 90 minutes will define not only their playing careers but also those of Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, neither of whom have won trophies at their respective clubs.

Sure, they’ll get other chances to win trophies and reach finals, but the Champions League? No, no. Moments, and games, like this only come around a few times in a lifetime if you’re lucky. With fans assembled in Madrid, packed into Plazas and lining bars as far as the eye can see, the party atmosphere is strong. This is exactly the kind of occasion players, managers and fans all dream about.

Locals are laughing and dancing in the streets with fans, while everywhere you go people ask “so, who will win?” Spain’s capital city is also a soccer mad city and everything has been lined up perfectly for the Premier League clubs to give this competition a fitting finale.

But, that pressure wasn’t exactly palpable when both Klopp and Pochettino spoke to the hordes of assembled media on Friday.

Klopp has lost six of his seven major finals as a manager, including all three of his finals at Liverpool, but was relaxed and cracked several jokes. Pochettino smiled often, but kept his cards close to his chest when it came to the one piece of team news which dominated the build-up to this game.

Tottenham’s leading goalscorer Harry Kane has been out since Apr. 9 with yet another ankle injury. But he’s declared himself fit. Does Pochettino risk playing Kane from the start and upset the balance of his team? Would it be a greater risk to save Kane for a late cameo, but then be out of the game by the time he would come on? Pochettino gave nothing away about Kane, just as Klopp refused to talk about Roberto Firmino‘s fitness.

These teams know one another so well that this final may not be as much of a blood and thunder affair as we hope it will be. Liverpool edged by Spurs 2-1 in both of their Premier League encounters this season, but the second game in particular could have swung in Tottenham’s favor late on.

The margins are so fine. The teams so closely matched. The managers so similar in their ideologies. The recent trajectory of both clubs so alike.

Two great English teams do battle for the biggest title in the club game.

One will enter the history books as truly great European champions.


What they’re saying

Klopp on his poor record in major finals: “If I would be the reason for losing six times in a row, then everyone should be really worried. If that’s not the case, then we always have a chance. That is how we see it actually.”

Pochettino on the importance of a decision on Kane: “It’s not easy to make decisions for tomorrow. We have all the information, we know every single detail and we’ll make the right decision to win. It’s so painful when this kind of game arrives and you can only use 11 players, it’s the most painful situation. I asked UEFA to have the whole squad together, and tomorrow the whole squad will take a photo on the pitch together.”

Andrew Robertson on Tottenham being called the underdogs in the final: “I don’t think they’re underdogs. When we’ve played in the Premier League it’s been the toughest games we’ve played. We know we can cause them problems. Both have very good squads, it is who shows up better on the day. For me it’s very even.”

Harry Winks on what reaching the final means to Tottenham: “The occasion is massive. It shows just how far Tottenham has come as a club. It will be a special and emotional night.”


Prediction

Liverpool are the overwhelming favorites and rightly so. They won 97 points in the Premier League but finished second behind Man City for a reason. Klopp’s side lost in the final last season and do not appear to have a weakness. As for Spurs, they have upset all of the odds to be in this final. Kane’s fitness is their main concern, but they know the majority of the pressure is on Liverpool. Expect an upset to end what has been a season of upsets in the Champions League. Tottenham to win, 2-1.