UEFA Champions League Final 2018/19: Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur's road to the final
On Saturday, June 1st, 2019, the European season comes to an end when Tottenham Hotspur face Liverpool for the UEFA Champions League trophy in the conclusion of, potentially, the most berserk season of European football ever. The two sides have mounted incredible comebacks in the semi-finals to reach the promised land of the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
Taking a look back at their season, it still boggles the mind how they got here in the first place. Their path to the final seems almost a copy and paste from each other. While their domestic seasons differ in success, they are both at the biggest continental stage vying for the most prestigious prize in all of Europe.
Liverpool, after what went down in Kyiv last year, were favorites to go far in the competition this season with all the signings and improvements they had since that maligned night of May 27th, 2018. At that point, they had just finished the season with 75 points in 4th place, 25 points behind champions Manchester City, with the European final being the outstanding achievement in an otherwise average season.
However, this time around, they finished 2nd with 97 points, one point shy of eventual champions Man City (again) where the title race extended dramatically until the very last week of matches. Though eliminated from both the FA Cup (lost to Wolves 2-1) and the Carabao Cup (lost to Chelsea 2-1), their final position in the PL and a potential UCL trophy more than make up for those losses.
Their path in the UCL wasn't the easiest to be, in fact far from it, as they lost all 3 of their away matches in the group stage (to Napoli 1-0, PSG 2-1, and Red Star Belgrade 2-0) and barely qualified to the knockout stages after a gritty 1-0 display at home against Napoli, capped by a 93rd minute save from Alisson to keep the dream alive.
Following that, results only improved with a 1-3 victory away at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich after a goalless draw at Anfield in the Round of 16, followed by a double victory over Porto (2-0 at home and 4-1 away), and finally the miracle of Anfield that saw them turn a 3-0 deficit at Camp Nou against Barcelona into a 4-0 thumping in front of the kop.
A lot of things improved at Liverpool this season, with the arrival of Virgil van Dijk being most significant. Playing a pivotal role in the side's performances that landed him a PFA Player of the year award, the Dutchman has been phenomenal for the Merseysiders all season. Also, the inclusion of Alisson gave Liverpool a strong presence between the sticks that was lacking previously.
These are not the only factors though, as the whole team grew sharper in the way they play with outstanding individual performances from the likes of Fabinho, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, and even Divock Origi, who scored the decisive goal in their UCL semi-final comeback, all thanks to Jurgen Klopp who believed in his side and pushed them to always work harder to get the best out of them.
And then we have Tottenham Hotspur, perhaps a complete 180 of their opponent's story. They started the season still playing at Wembley following a delay in the building of their new ground which certainly left its mark on the finances of the team as it meant them staying for two transfer windows without making any deal.
However, the team pushed through their season and actually started in good fashion, domestically at least. It wasn't the same case in the Champions League, as they lost two (against Inter 2-1 and Barcelona 2-4) and drew the third match of their campaign against PSV.
They continued their decent form in the PL through Christmas and beyond and were racking points and calmly getting closer to Liverpool and Man City at the top. Unfortunately, there is only this much you can do with the same squad until it's exhausted, which understandably caused their results to dip by late February. Spurs failed to win more than a point between the end of that month and the end of March.
Unexpectedly, they delivered some strong performances in the knockout stages in the UCL, knocking out Borussia Dortmund by winning home and away 3-0 and 0-1 in their last European stand at Wembley before moving finally to their new ground in the round of 16.
In the quarter-finals, they clashed with Manchester City and defeated them 1-0 at home before clinching qualification after a thrilling 4-3 affair that ended with VAR denying City a 5th goal for an offside which got Spurs their ticket to the semi-finals.
Domestically, their Champions League spot was in serious jeopardy, which was the only thing left to compete for after being eliminated from the FA Cup (lost to Crystal Palace 2-0) and the Carabao Cup. Finishing 4th with 71 points is widely considered to be a disappointment but their UCL comeback against Ajax was the shining light in a season engulfed in turmoil, injury issues, stadium issues and having to play on all fronts with around 19 players.
Finally, Spurs pulled through to the final and they have the chance now to reach legendary status in world football
Overall, the two clubs played some incredible football all season that was marked by heart, hard work and passion, and in Pochettino's case, tears. Whoever loses will be disappointed for sure but they shouldn't be ashamed of their achievement, particularly Tottenham, who head to Madrid as "underdogs".
We only have to wait and see what is almost guaranteed to be an electric match regardless of the final result, as we hope to see a final much more engaging than the one we had in Baku a few days ago.