Champions League – The All English Final
Its finally here. The 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League Final will be held Saturday, March 1 in Madrid Spain. For only the second time in UCL history, the Final will feature to teams from the English Premier League in Liverpool and Tottenham. The previous occurrence was in 2008 when Manchester United defeated Chelsea.
Its no secret that I believe that the EPL is the best league on the planet, in fact I wrote a piece on that subject recently. Not to diminish at all the other big leagues (German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, and French Ligue 1), but having a final of two EPL clubs just adds to the excitement. So lets break down the final and what to look for.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Who Wins the Final?
Form – Liverpool finished the recent EPL season in second place. And they set an EPL record for the most points in a season by a team finishing in second. During the regular EPL season Liverpool won both matches by the same 2-1 score. Liverpool had a season goal differential of +67 compared to +28 of Tottenham.
During the UCL Group Play both Liverpool and Tottenham advanced by finishing second in their respective groups. In the Round of 16 Liverpool advanced knocking out one of the pre tournament favorites in Bayern Munich. Tottenham advanced bested another top club in Dortmund. In the Quarterfinals Tottenham had the much more difficult draw in facing Manchester City while Liverpool had the much easier Porto. But it was the Semifinals where these two clubs really showed their mettle.
Tottenham opened the round at home against Ajax and to the surprise of many they fell 1-0. So they had a bit of a hole to climb out of in the second leg. And in that second leg things went from a hole to a crater when the Spurs fell down 2-0 going into the half. But the second half was all Tottenham and more specifically all Lucas Moura who tallied a hat trick with the last goal in the 6th minute of extra time. Fans got the sense that the Spurs were a team of destiny.
Then other side had Liverpool facing perennial UCL stalwart Barcelona. And Barcelona stung Liverpool at Camp Nou 3-0. A double whammy in that not only was Liverpool down three goals they failed to score that all important away goal. So about the only thing they had going for them in the second leg was that it was at Anfield. But this is why they play the games on grass and not paper. Somehow, beyond any realistic chance, the Reds found a way scoring a massive 4-0 upset to advance to the final. One last point. Liverpool only lost one match the entire EPL season. One. seems like they are also a team of destiny.
Advantage – Liverpool
Coaching – Liverpool is managed by Jurgen Klopp. According to Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, Klopp is “the best manager in the world at creating teams that attack.” Pretty high praise from the manager who just took Manchester City to the EPL title. On the other side will be Mauricio Pochettino. Pochettino has taken the Spurs to top three finishes in the EPL three of his first four seasons at the helm. Both of these managers are top flight professionals and favor attacking, high pressing football. Their styles should make for a very entertaining final.
Advantage – Even
On the Pitch –
Goalkeeping – At this level clearly all players are good. Make that really good. But in a one off match there are few positions in team sports where a single player can dictate the outcome. Goalkeepers in soccer are one of those positions. A hot hand for 90 minutes can take a team to a result they had no reasonable expectation to achieve. And these two clubs feature two keepers who can play incredible in the moment. However, they are also the kind of keeper who seem to have moments of lapses where they concede goals they probably shouldn’t. Liverpool’s Alisson allowed an average of one goal for every 155 mintues played. His save percentage was 8%. Tottenham will have Hugo Lloris in the nets who allowed an average of one goal for every 90 minutes played and had a 75% save rate. But here is the discriminator. Alisson had three errors on the season that lead to goals. Lloris had but one. While Lloris can be a wildman he also makes a bunch of incredible saves. Plus Lloris was on the winning end of World Cup 2018 so he is ready for the pressure.
Advantage – Tottenham
Defense – Liverpool allowed an EPL low of 22 goals this season. Tottenham was certainly respectable allowing 39 scores. Liverpool’s back line is lead by Virgil Van Dijk and Trent Arnold Alexander. They just happen to be two of the top 10 rated defenders in the EPL at #1 and 4, respectively. But Tottenham has Jan Vertoghen and Toby Aderweireld rated #6 and 7. But as strong as Tottenham’s defense is they are clearly not as strong as Liverpool. Van Dijk might just be the best central defender in the world right now.
Advantage – Liverpool
Midfield – Any breakdown of the midfield requires a further breakdown between attacking midfielders and defensive midfielders. Certainly all midfield players are expected to contribute to both ends of the field but their role is typically defined as more of a defensive posture or to aid the attack. And in the attacking realm there are few better than the Spur’s Deli Alli and Christian Eriksen. They are a formidable tandem and make it very difficult for opposing defenses. Its hard for defenses to both maintain their structure to keep opposing attackers in check and not allow attacking midfielders too much space. On the other side Liverpool has Roberto Firmino. For the more defensive tasked midfielders Liverpool has two of the best in Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum. Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier provides the most defensive support. And while he is solid he is not quite in the class of Liverpools dmids. This is probably the area where the game will be won or lost. Outside of the keepers having some insane game the team that controls the midfield will likely get the result.
Advantage – Toss up. Liverpool has the better dmids but Tottenham has the better attacking mids.
Attack – It would be tempting to try and further break this down into wingers and strikers. But with these two teams and the tactics they employ that’s just not necessary. Simply put the front runners for both these clubs can be found out on the touchline, in the center up top, or in a withdrawn attacking position. And this versatility and movement off the ball is what provides an extreme test for defenses. Liverpool will run Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. Last season Salah was the top ranked winger in the EPL. This year Klopp switched Liverpool from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 having Salah as their striker. So how did he respond? Simply to be the #1 rated striker. Tottenham will feature Heung-min Son and Harry Kane. Kane is one of the best strikers in the world and he is supposedly match fit. But he hasn’t played in two months. If he can’t go then he will be replaced by Lucas Moura the hero from the semi-final game against Ajax. All of these players are world class and will provide plenty of entertainment in the final. In many soccer tournament finals it often comes down to who scores first. After what we saw in the semi-finals that may not be the case here!
Advantage – Liverpool
In the end this may come down to the tactics and decisions made by the respective coaches. No Its decision will be bigger than the one facing the Spurs. Does Pochettino start Kane or bring him off the bench? Its awful hard to start a player who may be physically fit but hasn’t played in two months. But we are talking Harry Kane here. The top goal scorer from last summer’s World Cup. Tough call.
Oddsmakers have the Reds as the favorites by a fair bit and given the season they have had its hard not to predict that Liverpool takes the title. But like we saw back during the semi-final round, sometimes soccer balls take funny bounces.
Prediction: Liverpool 3 – Tottenham 1
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O's. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.