Sunday 16 June 2019

David Kelly: 'Spurs go down swinging as Pool box clever after early sucker punch'

Mo Salah scores Liverpool's opening goal from the penalty spot past Tottenham's Hugo Lloris in Madrid on Saturday night. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Mo Salah scores Liverpool's opening goal from the penalty spot past Tottenham's Hugo Lloris in Madrid on Saturday night. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

It is often said that sometimes a game needs a goal; the Champions League final, in contrast, provided us with a goal that needed a game.

After a campaign that produced so many memorable moments, so many of them in late, fate-defying throes, the final itself was effectively decided by an incident after just 20 seconds, as the penalty award, successfully converted by Mo Salah, dictated how this scrappy contest would be engaged.

It was like a rope-a-dope in reverse; with the knockout blow arriving with indecent haste at the beginning rather than the end, the champions content thereafter to remain in defensive, countering mode, ducking and weaving in relative comfort, satisfied that their opponents would prove incapable of landing a decisive punch of their own.

Unwilling to gamble - as Anthony Joshua would hours later on the other side of the world - when wantonly seeking to hammer home an early advantage only to be repeatedly sucker-punched, Jurgen Klopp and his side eschewed thrilling trademark for contented containment.

Exposed

It rarely exposed them; even if the seemingly prosaic recital of six Allison Becker saves from the moment of Spurs' first shot on target, after 71 minutes, may have hinted at toil, the actual picture painted was not truly one of anxious annexation.

The irony was that a Champions League season wherein they produced some of their best form - akin to the record-breaking pursuit in vain of the domestic champions - was ultimately secured despite producing their worst.

Liverpool could have done better, but they did enough and that is all that matters; satisfied, quite simply, that theirs was the best team with the better players, a fact they would have amplified had they been so required.

The opening salvo not only presaged the contest to come, but defined it too.

Hopeful long balls to either defensive wing, a gritty individual battle between Virgil van Dijk and Harry Kane, edged by the former, and then a shorter pass down the Spurs' right-flank which presented Sadio Mane with the glaring target of Moussa Sissoko's outrageously outstretched arm.

From the concession, Liverpool played on their terms by predominantly refusing to play; the more Spurs played, the less effective they were.

There were few passing patterns of play in a dour first-half, a congested centre admitting little possibility of precise, intricate football with the winners mostly avoiding it, while Spurs, when sucked in, became suffocated.

Hence the prevailing feature was a series of diagonal long balls from one wing to the other or straight balls down channels, both sides seeking to exploit the other's full-backs.

Success was limited; Andy Robertson seemed discomfited early on, but Spurs failed to take advantage with errant passing.

Jan Vertonghen splayed a brilliant switch to Kieran Trippier, but he would so be targeted himself. One notable passage featured a no-look pass to nobody from Sissoko, deep from left to right.

The advancing Trippier was undone by a return delivery from Joel Matip to Robertson, who would shoot over. Only once did an attack from either side produce a three-on-three; again, poor passing (Dele Alli) would undo the progress.

Liverpool passed less in the first-half than in any other this term.

They didn't need to, content that Kane, with the least amount of touches (11), was as limited a threat as his incoherent midfield and the now mostly cowed full-back raiders.

Lucas Moura's immediate impact was a reminder not that Kane's inclusion was a mistake, but that Moura's exclusion was.

The exhaustive heat opened the game up, despite Liverpool's containing subs, and chances finally flowed, but mostly from distance and all competently dealt with by Alisson.

His signing, and that of Van Dijk, offered a defensive surety absent in Klopp's previous campaigns.

Liverpool have slowly primed themselves to thrive upon this stage; Spurs had never expected to share it and can freight few regrets in either the defeat or its manner.

Questions about Kane's performance are legitimate, but not his inclusion; it would have been preposterous not to start him.

Spurs' dilemma now, as it was last summer, is not how they add quality to their squad, but how they retain what players they have, as well as their manager. Liverpool's patience is instructive.

Not a glory game, then. Just glory.

More than enough.

Keeper Kelleher sets high bar with European achievement

Caoimhin Kelleher carved out a historic niche for himself in sultry Madrid and whatever happens in his career, the events of June 1, 2019 will form a pub quiz query for years to come.

Who was the first Irishman to receive a European Cup medal before winning a senior cap for his country?

Kelleher, formerly of Ringmahon Rangers in Cork, will hope to achieve much more from his profession in the years to come – he is just 20 – but Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper will wallow in this triumph.

The 12th Irish winner in the competition, Kelleher won’t have much time to celebrate as he is in Stephen Kenny’s U-21 squad for the Toulon Tournament which begins this week.

Ireland assistant manager Robbie Keane was in Madrid as Kelleher became the first Irish player since John O’Shea in 2008 to collect a winners’ medal.

Irish Independent

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