After a thrashing by Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, it seemed like Liverpool were going to end their fantastic season empty-handed. Overturning a 3-0 lead in itself is a difficult task; doing it against the mighty Barcelona seemed impossible. The Premier League did not offer much hope either. Even with 94 points, Liverpool had to rely on Brighton & Hove Albion to take points off Manchester City to win their league title in 29 years. The Reds were facing the reality that the best season in their history would still not be enough.
To make matters worse, Jurgen Klopp’s side found themselves without Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, two of their starting front three, for the second-leg against Barcelona. Naby Keita had also suffered an injury in the first leg, ruling him out for the rest of the season. With Barcelona having La Liga wrapped up, they could afford to rest all 11 of their starting line-up in the league. Meanwhile, Liverpool were forced to play 100 minutes against Newcastle United at full strength. All signs pointed to a rested, and confident Barcelona advancing to the finals.
However, Klopp and his team essentially took that narrative and tore it to shreds. After seven minutes, they were already 1-0 ahead, and it was the start of the best night at Anfield in history. It is rare to watch a football match and not single out a man of the match, the best performer on the pitch but, by the time the 90 minutes were up, it seemed like every single Liverpool player had made a case for himself.
They beat Barcelona 4-0 that night and Liverpool charge to Madrid with hunger and heart, hoping to rectify what happened a year ago in Kiev.
Liverpool Can Overcome the Champions League Final Pressure
Line-Ups and Formation
There should be no surprises regarding Liverpool’s line-up in the Champions League final, with only one position in question. Alisson will surely be in goal, behind a back four led by PFA Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk as well as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joël Matip, and Andrew Robertson.
Jordan Henderson is expected to captain the team in his new box-to-box role, with Fabinho behind him acting as the anchor. Klopp has options regarding the third midfielder, with Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner both fit to start. Milner offers calmness, versatility, and experience. He is strong defensively, often being asked to man-mark opposition players, but is also able to create chances. Wijnaldum’s biggest strength is ball retention; his close dribbling skills lead him to rarely lose possession in dangerous areas. Both will most likely make an appearance, with one coming for the other during the match, it is just a matter of how Klopp wants to start the match.
The infamous front three almost always play when fit; it’ll come as a massive shock if Salah, Firmino, and Sadio Mané are not leading Liverpool’s attack come Saturday.
Very rarely has Klopp wavered from his 4-3-3 formation throughout his time at Liverpool. Unless he decides to set up in a way to counter Tottenham Hotspur’s style of play, rather than just play his own way, Klopp will line Liverpool up in a 4-3-3 formation.
A Familiar Opponent
For the first time since 2008, the Champions League Final will have two English teams facing off. Liverpool will be taking on Tottenham in Madrid, hoping to bring a sixth European cup back to Merseyside.
Playing a team that competes in the same league can have both its benefits and its annoyances. Liverpool and Klopp are familiar with the way Tottenham play. Unfortunately for them, it works the other way around as well.
Liverpool have played Tottenham twice this season already and beat them both times. However, this means very little in the grand scheme of things for two reasons. The first is that it’s a final. Finals are unpredictable and unprecedented. Anything can happen, whether it be wonder goals or sending offs. Liverpool have beaten Tottenham twice this season but they won’t take solace in that, nor will Tottenham feel pressured because of those losses.
The second reason is that this game will inevitably play out differently tactically. In regards to Liverpool, Fabinho did not start either league games against Tottenham. It was clear that Klopp had still not trusted him as a lone defensive midfielder over Henderson in the games against the top six. However, over the past couple of months, Fabinho has made the position his own. This has allowed Henderson to play his preferred midfield position. These slight tactical changes mean that Tottenham will have to alter the way they approach Liverpool, both defensively and offensively.
Klopp has an atrocious record in finals. There is no hiding from it. There can be context, of course, like the fact that his teams have always been the underdog in every single final that he’s been in. In Germany, it was two finals against Bayern Munich, the best and most consistent team in the league. It was also against Wolfsburg, a club who, at the time, were playing scintillating football with a young superstar in Kevin De Bruyne, while Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund team were at an all-time low.
In England, it was his first half season in charge, against a star-studded Manchester City, followed by a loss to Sevilla, the masters of the Europa League at the time. Then there was last season; the final against a Real Madrid team that was full of world-class players, looking to win their third Champions League in a row. The context shows that Klopp’s teams would always struggle in all these finals.
History doesn’t look at the context, though. It looks at numbers; in this case, the number six. Six finals lost. Six silver medals. Klopp will definitely be looking to amend that this Saturday. He’ll finally be heading into a final as the clear favourite. A more complete squad, a better record against his opponent, and a stronger league campaign.
Does being favourites come with pressure? Klopp has insisted that it does not, but it’s his job to relay that to his players so they do not get caught up in it all.
How Can Liverpool Win the Champions League?
Like mentioned above, no one can call one-off games like a final. A lot of luck and chance is involved. However, there are always things you can do to maximize your chances. Liverpool must not let the fact that they are favourites scare them. Instead, they must relish in it and play like favourites. Teams that are favourites play as if the trophy at the end is a necessity. They are aggressive, energetic and force the ball into the back of the net whichever way they can.
Teams that are favourites would look at the weakness in Tottenham’s left side of the defence and the fact that their star striker will not be match fit and use those to their advantage. Teams that are favourites show no respect and no mercy for the opposition. Liverpool have been relentless in the Champions League this season with big goals, big saves, and big performances. They now need to do it one last time.