Saturday 19 October 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Origi's intervention prevents Liverpool's victory from being marked with an asterisk'

Divock Origi of Liverpool celebrates with his medal after winning the Champions League final. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Divock Origi of Liverpool celebrates with his medal after winning the Champions League final. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Divock Origi's been cast in the saviour role quite a bit this season. The Belgian's goals against Everton and Newcastle United saved Liverpool's title challenge when it looked on the verge of petering out. His brace against Barcelona saved their bacon in the Champions League semi. And in Madrid he performed the biggest rescue act of all, saving the honour of the Champions League final.

Had it not been for Origi's superb late finish, the matchwinner, in a game full of world class talent, would have turned out to be someone who's hardly even a household name in his own household.

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Slovenian ref Davor Skormina's award of a penalty to Liverpool after just 24 seconds might have been justified under some technical UEFA directive but the offence committed by Moussa Sissoko would not have been characterised as a handball by anyone familiar with football.

Origi's intervention prevents Liverpool's victory from being marked with an asterisk. For much of the game they played second fiddle to Spurs but their ability to conjure up a second goal after sustaining long spells of pressure throws into stark relief the London team's inability to make the most of plentiful possession.

Spurs' loss was the very definition of a gallant loss but Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp will feel little sympathy for them. Both club and manager know what it is to leave the field with the excuses of your fans and the approbation of neutrals ringing in your ears.

When Liverpool were in full flow against Barcelona and in the run-in to the title race it was easy to forget how different a side they've become in the last 18 months. It was easier still to think that Mane, Salah and Firmino remained the main contributors to their success and forget how the colossal figure of Virgil Van Dijk has been at the root of everything they've achieved this season.

With the flair players nervy and shackled the Dutchman came into his own with a tremendous performance at the back. Spurs had two thirds of the possession but time and again their attacks foundered on the rock that is Van Dijk.

In the 74th minute Spurs' best player on the night Son Heung-Min took on the Liverpool defence and burst into the box. As he was about to shoot Van Dijk put on the afterburners and got back to take the ball off his toe. It was just one of many such moments, most of which were made look deceptively easy by a defender who combines athleticism and intelligence for a unique degree.

When Van Dijk was beaten Alisson was there to cover. Again it was easy to forget the change wrought by the Brazilian keeper when the goals were raining in at the other end. But 12 months after Loris Karius gave perhaps the worst goalkeeping performance in final history, Alisson made you wonder how Liverpool ever thought they could have won a Champions League without someone of his calibre.

Eleven minutes from time he parried a fierce drive from Son and then, as though participating in some reflex- sharpening training routine, sprang back into position to deny Lucas Moura.

In the 84th minute he went full length to touch away a Christian Eriksen free-kick, which might have yielded an equaliser and in injury-time ensured there would be no nervous finish when diverting a Son shot wide of the far post.

Liverpool under Klopp have always been the romantics' choice but this season has seen the addition of a stern core of pragmatism epitomised by those two key men at the back. Tempting though it may be to talk up Salah's penalty conversion as heart-warming redemption from the villainy of Sergio Ramos, the Egyptian was a peripheral figure as were his two attacking colleagues. This was a night Liverpool had to dig deep and defend in depth. Spurs contributed a great deal to the final as they had done to the competition. For long stretches this decider had an uncanny resemblance to this year's Super Bowl when a tremendous competition produced a dud of a finale.

The losers' gallant late quest for an equaliser injected some much needed drama while Origi's late goal took the bad taste of the neutral mouth. It may be silly but we do like to feel justice has been done on occasions like this.

They may not have won the Premier League but to a large extent this has been Liverpool's season. It was nice that the final word went to a brilliant Belgian rather than a nervous Slovenian.

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