Saturday 1st June, 2019, will live long in the memory of the millions of people who witness the spectacle of football. The Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid will host the Champions League final as Tottenham and Liverpool come face-to-face for the third and final time this season in what promises to be an exceptional match. Liverpool prevailed 2-1 both times in the previous meetings between the two teams this season, and the evidence suggests that the final will be a hard-fought, tense, tactical encounter.
Pochettino’s Legacy and Klopp’s Final Troubles
Tottenham are undoubtedly the underdogs but the narrative surrounding Mauricio Pochettino ahead of his first major European final is wholly favourable. If Tottenham prevail on Saturday, Pochettino will be lauded for his principal role in masterminding the North London club to the greatest prize in club football. In any case, Pochettino’s immense coaching qualities are unequivocal; it is no wonder that some of the world’s richest and most successful clubs, such as Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid have attempted to lure the Argentine away from N17. Spurs are on the brink of an unforgettable achievement and Pochettino will be a Tottenham legend regardless of the result.
Although Pochettino has previously faced criticism from fans and pundits for repeatedly asserting that he is not interested in winning the FA or League Cup and for never having won a major trophy in his managerial career, there is no question that the philosophy and attitude he has inculcated at the club has led to the greatest period of sustained success since the 1950s and 60s. Tottenham’s squad is too thin to compete on all four fronts, therefore it is no wonder that Pochettino has focused on the two most significant club competitions.
Prior to Pochettino, Tottenham’s history of having only won two major trophies since 1991 (2 League Cups) underlied the club’s reputation for ‘bottling’ and being a ‘nearly’ team. There is a strong sense in and around the club that Pochettino’s meticulous management, combined with mindful investment from chairman Daniel Levy to introduce dazzling new training facilities and stadium, has led to the instillment of a winning mentality that had been lacking at Tottenham for too long. The 47 year-old Argentine has indicated that a result in Tottenham’s favour could spell the end of his 5 year stay at Tottenham; he recently stated it is unlikely he will be able to repeat a victory of this magnitude for the club and is therefore open to moving on and seeking a new challenge elsewhere.
Harry Kane’s role in the game as well as whether Tottenham can handle the big game pressure and the inexperience of winning finals will be crucial. The latest word from the Spurs camp is that Mauricio Pochettino and his staff will delay telling their players the starting line-up until Saturday afternoon in order to give themselves the more time to assess the fitness of the England captain. Surprising though it may seem, some of Spurs’ best performances this season have occurred without their star striker. It has been argued that this could be due to other players in the squad upping their game in order to account for the loss of Kane’s supreme talent. Nevertheless, everyone can agree that having Kane fit for the final gives Spurs a huge boost.
Pochettino’s equivalent on Saturday evening will be none other than Jürgen Klopp. Klopp has already experienced managing a Champions League final in 2013 and 2018; the former saw his Borussia Dortmund side suffer a 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich after a late Arjen Robben goal eventually penetrated Dortmund, who had been astutely tactically organised until the 80th minute mark when they were caught out of position as they began to take more risks.
In the time since, Klopp has lost 5 successive cup finals, leading to questions over his big game management. There is a tendency for Klopp’s sides to lose their shape towards the end of games if they are eagerly attempting to score late in the game. If Spurs are to pull off an upset, they must recognise that in the few games Liverpool have lost this season - such as against Manchester City, Barcelona, Chelsea and Napoli - the Reds have typically conceded goals beyond the 80th minute mark. Nonetheless, the context and reality of Klopp guiding his teams to such a large number of cup finals is testament to his eminent coaching abilities.
Comparisons can be drawn between Liverpool’s and Spurs’ recent histories. Klopp is bidding to win his first trophy as Liverpool manager, and he has ably reintroduced the consistency needed for success at Anfield. Before his arrival, the Scousers were to failing to compete in the major competitions. It is easy to see why Liverpool are favourites among bookmakers to become Champions of Europe for the sixth time in their history; Klopp has turned Liverpool into a leading European powerhouse once again: the upturn in performances over the last two seasons has been astounding, culminating in reaching two successive Champions League finals and finishing second with 97 points and 1 loss (to champions Manchester City) - no mean feats. The German recently described his current team as the best squad he has worked with in his managerial career.
New signings Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho, Alisson and Shaqiri have all played their part in Liverpool’s excellence and they are subsequently a well-rounded elite team wholly capable of competing among the very best. In the same time period that Liverpool made these formidable signings, Tottenham chose not to spend a single penny across 2 transfer windows. Furthermore, although the pressure on Liverpool to win is greater than their adversary, the Reds have shown many times over that they are able to perform masterfully under pressure.
May the best team win.
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