Reds Bag a Sixth as Spurs Stutter


Reds Bag a Sixth as Spurs Stutter

Jurgen Klopp got his gong at last after so many final defeats and that is how history will remember last night's UEFA Champions League Final. The big question mark hanging over one of the game's top managers is no more.

The first-minute penalty was the key. After Mo Salah had converted it with lethal aplomb, Liverpool had an excuse to absorb Tottenham's possession in the hope of releasing their full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, whose barnstorming charges up the flanks have been a delight to watch this season.

Unfortunately we saw little of their exciting wing play and Liverpool had to wait until the 87th minute to apply the coup de grace.

Both managers erred in their starting elevens. Roberto Firmino was not match-sharp and lasted less than an hour for Liverpool while Spurs' Harry Kane was even rustier. Lucas Moura, hat-trick hero against Ajax, must have felt doubly aggrieved, until he finally got his chance, albeit for only 24 minutes.

As Spurs' slick passing from the first 45 gave way to long punts and diagonal lances in the second, the case for bringing on target man Fernando Llorente became louder, but the Spaniard who like Moura had been so useful against Ajax, was called upon with only nine minutes to go.

Tottenham fans trekked back to London somewhat nonplussed their stars Dele Ali and Kane both failed to fire and Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min had not found the net.

Despite having more of the ball before the break, Spurs' attack was blunter than the Reds' and supersub Divock Origi only sharpened the trident alongside Sadio Mane and Salah.

Spurs' lack of concentration for twenty seconds following kick-off cost them the trophy one could argue, as the immediate goal wrecked their game plan.

There was plenty of time to recover of course but their final balls were poor and frustration increases chasing a game. When that chase lasts an hour and a half you leave yourselves vulnerable to a sucker punch.

The entire game descended in the second half and was not up to the standard of the top half of the Premier League, let alone the Champions League, a fact not lost on anyone watching.

Why was this? The heat, the occasion, the lag from the end of the league season? Or maybe the super-early score which destabilised the players' mindsets.

It was not all bad. There was no Sergio Ramos to concuss Liverpool's goalkeeper this time and Alisson played well. Virgil Van Dijk confirmed his world-class defensive prowess and after so much talk of English football losing its soul, Spurs began with five Englishmen while Liverpool finished with four.

Klopp, a vocal pro-European, is by now as much a Scouser as Scotsman Bill Shankly was and like Manchester and elsewhere in English football, the city of Liverpool has embraced the world. The club which dominated Europe in the '80s with British players is now an international brigade.

Off-field too the tens of thousands of Englishmen seem to have left Madrid in good nick and in good spirits. The vast street parties in the Spanish capital and overflowing fan zones stood in stark contrast to the Europa League final and UEFA's insane decision to award Baku that final.

How Spanish fans must have wanted a Real Madrid v Barcelona clasico when the final venue was first announced by UEFA and how Dutch fans would have relished a first Ajax participation since the mid 1990's. How Liverpool fans deep down would have preferred to have won the league.

Alas the English Premier League served up a rather bland and undercooked dish but that meant little to the winners. As with Spain in the 2010 World Cup Final, the better team came out on top when playing badly.

A win is a win and Klopp has his cup.

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(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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