STAR PREVIEW: Tottenham v Liverpool

After the many months, thrills, spills, and perhaps two of the greatest comebacks of all time, we’ve now got the second ever all English Champions League final. With two of the most attacking teams in England contesting it, we might well be in for an absolute treat of a game – and knowing how Spurs are never out of it, a thrilling one too.

Let’s look at the teams.

Liverpool

Taken out of context, their incredible 4-0 win over Barcelona – one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history – seems like one of those mad, couldn’t-make-it-up stories which just makes football the great sport it is. However, it was simply another sign of the progress Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool have made in the last two seasons.

This is their second Champions League final in succession and it’s worth remembering that their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid last year didn’t reflect the game as whole, with those Karius errors feeling like a lifetime ago.

A year on and they come here a vastly improved team thanks to extremely wise additions over the summer, evidence borne out by their runners-up place in the Premier League, when they somehow managed not to win despite a 97-point tally, a 22 point increase on last season, finishing with a 13 match winning streak.

Going back to their semi-final, and whilst their 4-0 scoreline will be remembered, they were unlucky not to score at least once in the first leg, with Ter Stregen making a couple of fine saves to keep the score at 2-0 before Lionel Messi’s late free kick. At Anfield, they roared out of the blocks and by the time halftime substitute Georginio Wijnaldum scored twice in quick succession after a lot of pressure had been building and it was the same before the brilliantly inventive corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold that saw Origi score the fourth.

It’s also worth remembering that Liverpool have also overcome a tough road to Madrid. In the groups they had to sneak past PSG and Napoli. They then were comprehensive winners in Munich when everything was on the line in the last 16 (3-1) and their only ‘easy’ game in the tournament has been Porto, who they duly dispatched (6-1 on aggregate) before Barcelona.

Liverpool’s strengths are very clear – their tremendous attacking and pressing ability – and the news that Firmino, who has missed Liverpool’s last three matches with a muscle problem, is likely to be fit, is a huge boost to Jurgen Klopp.

The Brazilian, who has scored 16 goals but perhaps more importantly assisted eight this season, gives a different dimension if firing. Sadio Mane, who kept Liverpool close to Manchester City until the very end in the Premier League, has been unplayable for much of the season whilst Mo Salah has ended the season with a couple of goals to break what had been a dry spell towards the end of last season.

We know the Liverpool gameplan – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson bombing down the wings, Virgil van Dijk will play alongside Joel Matip – in front of Alisson, a great upgrade on Karius last year, whilst Jordan Henderson, James Milner and maybe Wijnaldum will attempt to unbalance the Spurs midfield. Will it be enough?

Strengths: Better side than last year’s runners up, 26 points clear of Tottenham; Firmino can start, Alission an upgrade on Karius

Weaknesses: Jurgen Klopp has won only one of seven finals, and huge pressure of favouritism to get something from season; Potential to maybe be caught going forward on either flank by Son, perhaps Moura

Tottenham

What’s better than one amazing comeback? Two amazing comebacks, back to back with the winner earned in the 90th minute on what is surely now Spurs’ most famous and memorable away day, when Lucas Moura completed a left footed hat-trick to book their ticket to Madrid, crushing an entire city with one movement of his boot.

That was simply one of many nail-biting moments in an incredible journey where elimination has looked more likely than progression.

Defeats of Inter and PSV at Wembley came thanks to goals scored in the 89th and 80th minute and Lucas Moura – and hasn’t he had some effect on this entire campaign – scored in the 85th minute at Barcelona to take them through.

They kicked on in the knockouts, with the absence of Harry Kane – and you’ll be reading an awful more about him later – not enough to stop them against Borussia Dortmund when they were far too good over two legs (4-0 on aggregate) and then that incredible, incredible game against Manchester City when Heung-Min Son’s two quick goals set up what was the game of the season, all decided late on by a VAR call when Raheem Sterling’s late goal was ruled out.

For all it came down to that last minute call, Tottenham played with a great deal of intelligence over those two legs, rushing City off their feet at home whilst taking the initiative given by a cagey approach from Guardiola’s men, before then using their one-goal advantage beautifully on the break in a haywire second leg, and their performance in defeat later that week showed that they were capable of going toe to toe with City.

It was another nail-biter against Ajax, when they were desperately lucky not to be completely out of the tie after 30 minutes before being lucky to escape with a 1-0 loss. After goals for Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziych, they looked really cooked in Amsterdam, but the crazily quick thinking – and feet of Lucas Moura – made it 2-2 before that goal.

Their victories against Manchester City and Ajax, both coming on away goals, came through using the counter attack as a weapon to get them back into the game when they were behind.

This leads us to Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest tactical dilemma, and one that looks set to define the game. Harry Kane, sidelined thanks to an ankle injury suffered in the quarter-final first-leg in April, looks set to recover in time to make the final. Kane is Spurs’ talisman, the scorer of 23 goals this season despite two long injuries, one of the best strikers in the world and of course, a leading aerial threat to Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip.

However, the absence of Kane has seen Spurs discover a new way of playing, with the superb Son Heung-min leading the line with a varied mixture of pace and power whilst Lucas Moura thrives when running in between the line, as well as being and an outlet to double up on opposing fullbacks with either Kieran Tripper or Danny Rose. Does Pochettino want to sacrifice that for an 85% Kane, especially with Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk presenting such a fine centreback pairing?

In midfield, the battle with Liverpool will be fearsome. Attacking dynamos Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli will aim to find space but perhaps even more important to the cause are Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko, the latter having proved vital in stemming the tide against Ajax in the first leg especially.

Strengths: Three-week rest since the end of the season for stretched squad, and can match Liverpool for midfield and attacking dynamism; Return of Kane major mental boost to team, and underdog factor also a big positive – Will be impossible to truly put away, having scored very late goals in both quarter and semi-finals, and won nine games with goals in last 10 minutes

Weaknesses: Ended season weakly in Premier League, lost twice to Liverpool in Premier League; Pochettino record in semis, finals, also perhaps a bogey to get over; Kane will not be fully fit if starting and tactical dilemma for Pochettino to consider in unbalancing side.

Verdict

Given the gap between the two sides in the league, and the fact Liverpool won both head to head contests, it is understandable that they are favorites to win not only the game in 90 minutes but also the trophy. However, the market can overestimate the gaps between two sides and Liverpool might be too short at 17/20 to win the game.

The last time the two sides met the Reds were lucky to be 2-1 winners after Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris failed to hold Mohamed Salah’s late header and the ball bounced into the net off Alderweireld, and previously Moussa Sissoko had blazed over in a one on one when they’d been the stronger side for much of the second half.

Spurs ended the season limply but a three week gap should allow them to show something closer to their best and when on their game, they are capable of matching the Reds in a one off encounter. The brilliance of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino (if he the latter is going) spells trouble for Spurs fullbacks, but when Liverpool come forward there will be chances for Eriksen and Alli on the break in a game when two managers will try to out press eachother, whilst there will be at least one wild-card on the bench if Kane starts, most likely Lucas Moura.

All in all, it looks a closer contest than the match odds of 17/20 for Liverpool and 10/3 for Tottenham suggest and if either side are to win this then it might have to go further than 90 minutes. Both teams have scored in every final since Inter beat Bayern 2-0 and if Spurs get on the scoresheet at some stage, they’ll feel they can take this to extra time.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
UEFA Champions League Final
20:00 BT Sport 2 / BT Sport YouTube / BT Sport 4K UHD

HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
SEP 2018 PREMIER LEAGUE Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool
FEB 2018 PREMIER LEAGUE Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham
OCT 2017 PREMIER LEAGUE Tottenham 4-1 Liverpool
FEB 2017 PREMIER LEAGUE Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham
OCT 2016 EFL CUP Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham
AUG 2016 PREMIER LEAGUE Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool
APR 2016 PREMIER LEAGUE Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham
OCT 2015 PREMIER LEAGUE Tottenham 0-0 Liverpool
FEB 2015 PREMIER LEAGUE Tottenham 3-2 Tottenham
AUG 2014 PREMIER LEAGUE Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool
MAR 2014 PREMIER LEAGUE Liverpool 4-0 Tottenham

Specials

Of the many specials markets, the one that makes most appeal is the Man of the Match market. Harry Kane is the shortest Spurs player in this market and should the Spurs striker play an integral part then 5/1 will look big. However, he’s having his first start since April – should Mauricio Pochettino choose to start him – and it’s possible there’s better value than him.

In Kane’s absence, Son Heung-Min has stepped into his shoes magnificently. When Kane suffered his first injury of the season he scored in four straight games and in December – when Spurs looked as if they could launch a title challenge – he scored eight goals in eight games.

In Europe he has also played a crucial part, scoring the only goal in the first leg and then two goals in the first 10 in Manchester, and he played a big part in the semi-final second leg too in giving Spurs an extra attacking outlet to use on the counter. Kane can occupy the spaces that he’s in sometimes, but Son should still get chances to make a mark.

One man who may not start is Lucas Moura, which is remarkable given that without him Spurs would not have escaped the group. Moura has ‘only’ scored 15 goals this season but they have been some crucial ones, including the equalizer at the Camp Nou that took them through, one of the two goals in the draw with PSV. His hat-trick at the Amsterdam Arena needs no introduction and it’s interesting that he scored the equalizer against Liverpool at Anfield.

At 15/2 and 10/1 they are big, especially given that they have the most pace of the Spurs forward bar Kane, and both will be fit.

Of the Liverpool players, many will fancy Salah and Mane, both of whom scored 22 goals in this season’s Premier League and four in the Champions League. Mane makes more appeal at 5/1 but Liverpool’s defense has been a key part of their progress this season and Virgil Van Dijk might be the one. Liverpool’s centreback was named the Premier League Player of the Season after missing only 35 minutes of the Reds’ 38 matches, notching 20 clean sheets and scoring four goals, and if this is tight he could play a big part in this.

Both teams have scored in the last eight Champions League finals, so the Star Special of Both teams to score, both teams to take a corner and both teams to receive a card in the 2nd half is of interest – it’s entirely possible things will get heated late on.

Previous Finals

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Tottenham/Draw 5 pts at evs with starsports.bet
BACK Son Heung-Min UEFA Man Of The Match 2 pts at 15/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Lucas Moura UEFA Man Of The Match 1 pt at 10/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Virgil Van Dijk UEFA Man Of The Match 1 pt at 7/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Both teams to score, both teams to take a corner and both teams to receive a card in the 2nd half 1 pt at 5/1 with starsports.bet


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