Where Will The Champions League Final Be Won And Lost?
Tottenham and Liverpool are preparing to contend the first all-English Champions League final since 2008.
While the Reds head to Madrid in search of a sixth European Cup, Spurs are dreaming of winning the competition for the very first time.
The Reds have enjoyed the better of their head-to-head record, winning 79 to Tottenham’s 48.
Perhaps more pertinently, in the nine times Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have met with their respective clubs, the latter has won just twice.
The trouble is, the two managers seem to believe in a sense of fate, a determinism that has brought them here.
They cannot both have their names on the trophy, even if it has felt that way since their remarkable semi-final comebacks against Barcelona and Ajax. Only one will see their tactics prevail on the night.
The big question: Does Harry Kane start?
Kane has returned to training and declared himself fit. Spurs’ top-scorer hasn’t featured since the first leg of the quarter-final against Manchester City on April 9. But to leave arguably the best out-and-out striker in the world out of the Champions League final? It’s almost unthinkable.
Pochettino has plenty of other options in attack, not least man-of-the-moment Lucas Moura. Either the Brazilian, or Son Heung-min could have to make way for Kane’s return.
Pochettino’s central midfield conundrum
That brings us to an intriguing dilemma facing Spurs in midfield. In their two league games against Liverpool this season, they were largely overrun in the middle.
In order to accommodate Kane, as well as Moura, Son, Dele Alli, and Christian Eriksen one option is dropping the Dane in alongside Moussa Sissoko, but that would confine Harry Winks to a place on the bench. It’s one obvious area of weakness that Liverpool will look to exploit and the north Londoners can be expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 to combat them.
Kieran Trippier vs Sadio Mane
Mane is enjoying the most prolific season of his career, scoring 26 goals in all competitions. The Senegal international will make things very difficult for Kieran Trippier, who by his own admission has endured a difficult season.
However, much like Tottenham as a collective, he turned it around in the second half in Amsterdam and this could be a chance for him to go out on a high amid interest from Napoli.
How does anyone get past Virgil van Dijk?
When the going gets tough, Tottenham have one strength that immediately turns into a weakness. The long balls that Toby Alderweireld so artfully floats up the pitch occasionally become the go-to resort, which has frustrated Pochettino immensely. At Anfield, they were rendered all the more impotent by the aerial prowess of Virgil van Dijk.
Until the introduction of Fernando Llorente, which may come late on, who is going to win those headers against the towering Dutchman? Van Dijk has earned this moment on the biggest stage to prove himself as the best centre-back around right now.
And what of the full-backs?
In some ways, Klopp and Pochettino share similar problems. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, with an astonishing 28 assists between them this season, may not be permitted to get forward to the same extent if Tottenham do go all out with five attackers on the pitch. The same restriction will be playing on the minds of Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose, as will whether Spurs opt for three at the back and allow them more freedom.
Liverpool have flown to Madrid 48 hours after Tottenham, with Klopp wanting to ensure his side’s preparations match every other European game this season. He knows, as much as anyone, that this will be a game quite unlike anything we have seen so far.