UEFA Champions League Final Preview
A season that has been characterised by sensational comebacks, goals, and drama will come down to an all-English battle on Saturday.
With the majestic Estadio Wanda Metropolitano as the setting, Liverpool FC will attempt to subdue Tottenham Hotspur and claim their 6th UEFA Champions League title.
This will be the first final in history to feature two sides that have failed to win their league titles for a while: 30 years for Liverpool and 58 for Spurs.
This is a statistic that will worry neither managers nor players at both clubs as they look to be fully focused on winning Europe’s biggest honour.
Liverpool’s journey to the final
Both finalists have faced more than their share of adversity in the UCL this season. Both teams, led by their very charismatic managers Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, have weathered the storms and are in the showpiece final purely on merit.
Liverpool were placed in possibly the most difficult group during the group stages. They faced PSG, Napoli and Crvena Zvezda and had to win all their home games to qualify in second place behind the French champions.
In the round of 16, they were paired with fellow 5-time winners, Bayern Munich. The first leg at Anfield had ended in a stodgy 0-0 draw. However, led by the irresistible Sadio Mane, they triumphed 3-1 at the Allianz Arena.
It was a straight-forward blowout in the quarter finals against FC Porto. Both games yielded victories for the Reds with 6 goals scored and 1 conceded.
The semi-final against FC Barcelona was one for the ages. The Reds had been the better team in the first leg at the Camp Nou, but lost 3-0 thanks to magic from Lionel Messi.
However, calling on their glorious history and backed by a vociferous Anfield crowd, the Reds overcame the odds to beat the Blaugrana 4-0, with doubles from Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Tottenham Hotspur and the road to Madrid
Nobody, not even the most ardent Spurs fans, could have predicted that the team would have the chance to compete for the UCL title.
Across Europe’s major five leagues, the Lilywhites were the only team who did not sign any players across the two transfer windows.
They were put in a very difficult group alongside FC Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven, and started on a very bad note, with just 1 point in their first three matches. These included two losses to Inter Milan and FC Barcelona.
The team responded with verve and garnered 7 points in the last 3 games to finish second behind Barca. They thrashed Borussia Dortmund 4-0 over the two legs in the round of 16.
After a 1-0 win over Manchester City in the quarterfinal first leg, Spurs came very close to going out in the second leg before a last-minute VAR call rescued them in a 4-3 loss. This ensured they qualified for the finals on the away goals rule.
In the semi-finals, they were 3-0 down in the second half of the second leg, before a Lucas Moura hat-trick rescued the tie against Ajax AFC.
This was achieved despite the move to a brand-new stadium and lots of injuries to key players like Harry Kane.
What to expect in the final
Both teams have been on holiday following the end of the Premier League. Liverpool will have been disheartened by the fact that despite their best efforts, Manchester City were able to successfully defend their league title.
Klopp and his team will want to use the UCL title as a consolation, and to banish the memories of last year’s final which they lost to Real Madrid 3-1.
The Reds have a full squad to pick from, with Roberto Firmino confirmed fit amongst others.
The situation at Spurs is markedly different, with the quartet of Kane, Jan Vertonghen, Harry Winks and Davinson Sanchez back in training.
Both games between the two sides in the Premier League ended in 2-1 wins for Liverpool. They will go into the game as favourites.
However, Spurs have not come this far to just wilt at the end. Pochettino’s men have displayed grit and determination in the face of so many injuries and a lack of spending.
It is expected to be a feast of football, and may the best team win.