Champions League: How Tottenham can beat Liverpool and win the title
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The Champions League final is here and we can't keep up with the excitement and hype. Tottenham and Liverpool have both pulled off miraculous comebacks, with incredible performances in the second legs of their semifinals.
The stage is set for both the teams to contest for the most challenging trophy to in club football and become Europe's elite football club. While Liverpool might look to get their hands on their 6th Champions League trophy, Tottenham is in the final for the first time in the club's history.
For Liverpool, who ended a fantastic domestic season trophyless, the Champions League could prove to be retribution for Jurgen Klopp's team. Mauricio Pochettino would also want to make the most of this opportunity to register a maiden Champions League trophy for him and for his club.
Hence, the Champions League final will be an epic battle with lots of entertainment and excitement.
Liverpool is certainly favourites to win the final and also have a better side than Spurs. If you look at the Premier league stats when these teams have faced off, Pochettino's Spurs have won just 1 match against Klopp's Liverpool in 9 games, losing 4 and drawing 4 since 2015.
Clearly, the stats do not favour Spurs, and neither does the superiority of the Liverpool side. But Tottenham can still beat Liverpool in the final.
Cup games are far different from league games and the final will be decided on how both teams and managers can produce a tactical masterclass. Any team can win on their best day if they play their cards right and Tottenham certainly does have the ability to cause an upset.
Spurs and Liverpool have played extremely close matches this season. Liverpool won on both occasions by an extremely tight margin of 2-1.
The latest match at Anfield can still provide hope to Spurs supporters before the Champions League Final. The game saw Liverpool lining up with their usual 4-3-3 set up and Spurs opting for an extra defender, lining up with a 3-5-2. Pochettino instructed their players to be more pragmatic so as to minimise the attacking threat posed by Liverpool trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
However, Liverpool dominated on the ball and had 56% of the possession, even if they could only register one shot on target. Spurs were able to nullify the Liverpool attack to some extent but their inability to retain any possession in the final third made it very difficult for the players to cope with Liverpool's continuous waves of attack.
Pochettino identified this problem and made some tactical changes in the second half, which saw Spurs moving from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3, allowing Danny Rose to move to midfield and Jan Veronghen to occupy Rose's left back position. Vertonghen freed up Rose to get high up into the attack and support the midfield in possession. The Belgian also did a great job in shielding Salah who was only able to receive four passes in the entire second half.
The formation tweaks made by Pochettino saw Spurs attack with 6 players with a lot of open areas in the final third to maneuver, exposing the spaces within Liverpool's backline. Sissoko was instrumental in the 2nd half and dominated the midfield. His ability to drive and carry the ball at Liverpool's defence with speed alongside Rose caused much distraught among Liverpool defenders. Spurs were much more dominant in the 2nd half as their possession statistic spiked to 64% with 6 attempts on goal out of which 2 of them were on target.
While Klopp did not make any changes to his 4-3-3 formation given the threat it poses in attack, Pochettino, whose team saw more of the ball and an increased number of chances created could have taken all 3 points on any other day. The highlight for Spurs was the second half Lucas equaliser and Sissoko's wasted chance late in the game when he was 1 vs 1 with the keeper. Spurs have a chance to replicate their 2nd half performance at Madrid to create problems for Liverpool.
Keep an eye on....
The good news for Tottenham is that Liverpool's attackers bar Sadio Mane are either recovering from an injury or not in their best form. Salah has the same number of goals (4) as Son and he is not in the same scintillating form as he was last season, when he scored 10 goals in the Champions League.
Firmino had also suffered an injury and does not seem to be at his devastating best this season. Firmino was deployed in a far deeper position at stages this season to carry the ball forward and to play it into paths of Salah and Mane. He went from three goals in three games to the same tally in 20 matches, 17 of which he played for more than 60 minutes. Firmino may be fit to play, yet he might not be in peak condition and would be hoping to rediscover his scoring touch ahead of the final. Naby Keita has also added himself to the injury list when he suffered an abductor issue in the early stages of the Reds’ trip to Camp Nou.
It is important for Tottenham defenders to contain Mane and Salah (or any other attacker) as much as possible. Spurs have a pretty solid defensive unit and they can rely on their back line to nullify the Liverpool attack. To counter the Liverpool threat, Spurs need to pick their fastest centre backs who could move and flow with Liverpool formation. Isolating Liverpool central defenders will also be a tough ask, they are rarely beaten in the air. It is essential for Llorente (or Harry Kane if fit) take the battle to Van Dijk from the start.
Tottenham was also without their main attacker Harry Kane who is back in the team and may start from the bench. Kane injury could be a blessing in disguise as his absence from the starting line-up might be the key for Lucas Moura and Son to continue their outstanding form in the final. Spurs are also hoping to have Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sánchez and Harry Winks all available for the trip to the Wanda Metropolitano.
The "Son" X factor
Versatile, lightning-quick, two-footed and lethal in front of goal, Son Heung-Min - the hero of Tottenham's Champions League quarter-final victory over Manchester City - has proved to be a frightening attacker and has the ability to ruin Liverpool's party. Son could be instrumental against Liverpool with Spurs employing a counter-attacking threat every time they go forward. Spurs should look to press deep and launch counter-attacks at every opportunity they get.
They can soak up all the pressure in the middle and try to win the ball back with the high press, instantly pushing forward to attack, making the central defender and full backs isolated or out of position. Spurs won't get a lot of chances but if they capitalise on any given opportunity early on then that would certainly put pressure on Liverpool. Having lost the league just under a month ago, an early goal for Spurs would not play well with the mentality of the Liverpool players, which could put them under pressure and force some errors. Tottenham should be aware and diligent to grab on every goal scoring opportunity they get.
Tottenham have a huge chance of winning the final and making it the most important day in the history of the club.