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Three things learned: Tottenham v. Liverpool, Champions League Final

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MADRID — Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid on Saturday, as Mohamed Salah‘s early penalty kick and Divock Origi‘s late goal was enough to edge Jurgen Klopp‘s men past Mauricio Pochettino‘s side.

[ MORE: Klopp reacts ]

In a game lacking in quality throughout, a handball given against Moussa Sissoko which resulted in a penalty 23 seconds into the game set the tone for a game riddled with errors.

Klopp and his Liverpool players celebrated wildly at the final whistle, as the German has won his first trophy as their manager and their sixth European title. In a season where Liverpool’s defensive unit has often won them games, they held firm once again as a lackluster Harry Kane and Spurs failed to make the most of several second half chances.

Here’s what we learned from a tense, dramatic encounter in the searing heat in Madrid, as Liverpool were crowned Champions of Europe for the first time since 2005.


HANDBALL CALL HARSH, BUT CORRECT

This is the last thing any player on either side wanted to happen 23 seconds into the match. Moussa Sissoko was the unlucky man.

Sadio Mane‘s clipped ball inside first hit Sissoko’s side then his outstretched arm, and in the laws of the game that is a penalty kick whether it was deliberate or not. UEFA’s head of referees Robert Rossetti said that “if the defender is making the body bigger in order to block the ball it is not fair” and that is what referees will make the call on.

Was this moment below fair on Sissoko? No. A few years ago there would have been outrage had this penalty been given. But under the new rules and the VAR world we live in, it had to be given.

That moment set the tone for a game where Liverpool largely held Tottenham at arms length.


SALAH, KLOPP GET THEIR TROPHY IN POOR FINAL

A punishing swipe of the Egyptian King’s right foot set Liverpool on their way to being crowned Champions of Europe.

Mohamed Salah didn’t play his best game, and both teams gave the ball cheaply in one of the worst finals in recent memory. Maybe it was the pressure of such a big occasion. Maybe the extreme Spanish heat. Or maybe, and more likely, it was the fact that these finely-tuned athletes had a three-week break after a punishing 10-month season and then had to restart their engines for the grand finale.

For large parts of the game Salah was hardly anywhere near the ball. But the way he celebrated his penalty kick showed just how much that moment meant to him. After being injured early in Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final last season, this was Salah’s shot at redemption. It wasn’t the best penalty kick he’s ever taken but it wasn’t about that. It was about scoring and exorcizing the demons from last season’s final.

Salah and Liverpool didn’t know if they would get another chance to play in the Champions League final and the way Salah’s final, and Liverpool’s hopes, were ended prematurely last season suggested he may not lead them to glory like he was supposed to after a glorious debut campaign.

But after Liverpool came up agonizingly short in the Premier League title race, Salah’s general brilliance helped lead them to the final in Madrid and his powerful penalty kick won them the trophy they deserved after such a stunning campaign. And Klopp can now shut everyone up as he has delivered the European Cup after losing his first three finals as Liverpool manager and his last six as a manager.

Liverpool are the Kings of Europe once again.


KANE GAMBLE BACKFIRES

It was the call which would decide not only the legacy of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur, but likely that of the club itself.

And he got it wrong. With incredible emotions swirling around both sets of fans in the Spanish capital ahead of the game, it seems like starting Kane was a heart over head decision by Pochettino.

Harry Kane hadn’t played since April 9 when he injured his ankle against Manchester City and he looked like it. Pochettino decided to start Kane up top and leave out Lucas Moura, and that decision backfired. Spurs’ talisman looked unable to crank into third gear, let alone fourth or fifth, and his first touch was off and Tottenham’s entire attack faltered because Kane couldn’t manoeuvre himself deeper to create space for Alli and Son. Of course, Liverpool scoring in the second minute meant they could sit back and defend their lead, but Kane, as expected, just wasn’t his normal self.

Son, Alli and Christian Eriksen all struggled to impact the game and it was only when Lucas Moura came on in the second half that Spurs looked dangerous and able to get behind Liverpool’s defense but Alisson denied them on several occasions. Kane had 11 touches in the first half, fewer than any other player on the pitch. He had a few dangerous moments late on, but that was when Spurs had thrown everyone forward and had Liverpool pinned back.

The decision to start Kane will be remembered as a huge mistake by Pochettino. Not just because Kane didn’t score, but because he ruled with his heart over his head.

Report: No money in January for Mourinho

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Jose Mourinho will have to deal with the squad he has for the rest of the season, according to a report the Guardian.

The report states that Tottenham isn’t making any money available for signings in January, meaning that Mourinho won’t have the chance to add to his Spurs squad. Usually, when a new coach comes in, they’re given at least a transfer window to bring in one or two players, especially mid-season, to stabilize the squad.

[READ: Mourinho speaks for the first time as Spurs manager]

It’s certainly an unusual move from Tottenham. It leaves Mourinho in a bad spot in terms of the five first-team players who will be out of contract in June. If any of them, including Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, leave on transfer, perhaps Tottenham can use those funds towards new signings. However, it’s more likely at this point that all five will finish the season at White Hart Lane and leave, setting up a massive summer for Mourinho.

At the same time, Tottenham has shown financial austerity for the past few seasons, as it struggles to pay back the loans it took to renovate its stadium. Pochettino didn’t make a single signing for the entirety of the 2018-2019 season and while the club broke its transfer record to sign Tanguay Ndombele, there wasn’t investment throughout the squad.

Considering Tottenham’s financial behavior, it does question why Mourinho took the job in the first place. But with his reported eight-figure salary, and the chance to work with Harry Kane, Mourinho may have decided it’s worth it, even if he can’t sign his players and mold the squad in the way he wants.

Looking Ahead: Mourinho’s first 10 games

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Tottenham’s stunning week continued on Wednesday with the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager.

Taking in his first day of training, Mourinho can now get to grips with not only his squad, but what’s ahead for Spurs. Here’s a look at what Mourinho will be up against in the next two months.

[READ: 5 things Mourinho must do at Tottenham]


Game 1: Tottenham at West Ham, Saturday, Premier League

Mourinho’s first game in charge is a London derby, which is a pretty tough way to start life at the club. Coming on the road, you can expect a packed house, tons of media attention, and possibly a re-energized squad. That’s what Mourinho will be hoping for, anyways.

Sebastian Haller has struggled recently, and with just four goals in 11 Premier League games, he could be looking at this matchup as a way to get back on the scoresheet. It will be up to Mourinho to re-organize a want-away defense.

Game 2: Tottenham v. Olympiakos, Nov. 26, UEFA Champions League

Game 3: Tottenham v. Bournemouth, Nov. 30, Premier League

Game 4: Tottenham at Manchester United, Dec. 4, Premier League

Mourinho only has to wait three weeks before his first trip back to Old Trafford. Even though it’s coming soon, it’s not a guarantee that it will be Mourinho v. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is under a lot of pressure himself. Things haven’t improved at Man United much since Mourinho was sacked, and a win for him on the road would be the kind of grudge match he lives for.

Game 5: Tottenham v. Burnley, Dec. 7, Premier League

Game 6: Tottenham at Bayern Munich, Dec. 11, Champions League

If the Champions League stopped today, passed Go and went directly to the knockout rounds, Tottenham would be in. Despite all the Premier League troubles, Spurs have done well enough to stay ahead of Red Star Belgrade and Olympiakos in the standings. Should Tottenham beat Olympiakos in November, and Red Star loses to Bayern Munich, it will be set. However, if Tottenham hasn’t secured a place in the knockout round by then, it may need a result against Bayern at home. That will be one of Mourinho’s biggest tasks moving forward.

Game 7: Tottenham at Wolves, Dec. 15, Premier League

Game 8: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Dec. 22, Premier League

Tottenham opens the busy holiday period against Mourinho’s other Premier League former club, and the place where he made his name in England. At this point, Mourinho will have been with Tottenham for an entire month and if things are going well, Tottenham could challenge Chelsea in this match. If Tottenham remain at its current level, Chelsea could certainly win a match like this on the road at the new White Hart Lane. Another side plot will be Mourinho facing his former star midfielder, Frank Lampard.

Game 9: Tottenham v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Dec. 26, Premier League

Game 10: Tottenham at Norwich City, Dec. 28, Premier League

Mourinho will have to navigate some tough matches, including big six derbies against Chelsea and Man United, plus a trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, it certainly could have been worse for Tottenham. Spurs has five home games, along with matches against Burnley, Bournemouth, Norwich City and Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite 10 games in the rest of 2019, and a busy holiday period, Mourinho has a shot to turn Spurs’ season around and put them in contention for fourth place by May.

UEFA investigates player’s claim of racial abuse in Romania

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA has called for further investigations into allegations by a Sweden player he was racially abused by Romania fans at a European Championship qualifying game.

After Alexander Isak reported his claim to the match referee last Friday, play in Sweden’s 2-0 win was briefly stopped to broadcast a warning to fans in Bucharest. The stadium will host four Euro 2020 games in June.

[READ: How the USMNT found and kept Sergino Dest]

UEFA says it opened a disciplinary investigation, and also charged Romania’s soccer federation for separate incidents of an alleged “illicit banner” and “illicit chants.” Those charges will be judged on Dec. 12.

Romania faces more severe UEFA action because it was already under one year’s probation for previous incidents of offensive fan behavior.

Only accompanied children were allowed to attend Romania’s home qualifier against Norway last month.

The next UEFA punishment could affect Romania’s next game in the Euro 2020 playoffs round in March.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

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Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.