John Aldridge: 'Tottenham have one crucial advantage heading into the final - I know from personal experience'
THE three-week gap between the end of the Premier League season and next Saturday’s Champions League final probably works against Liverpool ahead of their showdown with Tottenham in Madrid.
Liverpool were in great form as they won their last 10 league games and even though there were some tired legs on show in the last couple of matches, Jurgen Klopp’s men would have gone into a game against a clearly jaded Tottenham as warm favourites if the final was played a week later.
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However, a 20-day gap without a game is a long time for a footballer and it means both sides may take some time to get up to speed in the final, with a long preparation period ahead of a massive game bringing back miserable memories for me.
The Liverpool team I was a part of in the 1987/88 season had a similar scenario to deal with, as we won the league title with plenty to spare, but took our foot off the gas ahead of the FA Cup final against Wimbledon. While we played well enough to beat a bang average Wimbledon team at Wembley, we ended up failing to take our chances and coming up short.
We saw a similar scenario with Liverpool in last season’s Champions League final, as they lacked the fluency that got them into the showdown with Real Madrid in Kiev. They also lacked the big-game experience you need on nights like this as their opponents knew how to use a few of the game’s dark arts and get away with it (we haven’t forgotten Sergio Ramos). So what can we look forward to in the 2019 Champions League final, as Liverpool look to be crowned as kings of Europe for the sixth time and Tottenham aim to win the biggest trophy of them all for the first time?
There is a strong argument to suggest Liverpool deserve a trophy after an incredible season of consistency from Klopp’s players, but that is not the way football works and in a one-off game, Tottenham have a real chance to create history of their own. There is no question that Mauricio Pochettino’s men are a serious threat to Liverpool in Madrid and they confirmed as much with their performance in the Premier League game at Anfield in March. Spurs were arguably Liverpool’s toughest opponents at Anfield in the league season and if Moussa Sissoko had taken a golden chance to fire his side ahead in the second-half of that game, it could have been the away team celebrating at the end.
Tottenham took that game to a Liverpool side who were pushing forward in their desperation to keep up with Man City and it is a game that will encourage them to believe they can get what would be the greatest win in the club's history.
I am a big admirer of Pochettino and the job he has done with a tight budget at Spurs has been incredible. However, his relatively small squad ran out of fuel in the final weeks of the season and took just one point from their last three matches. In the end, they got help off Arsenal and Man United to finish fourth, which was a disappointing scenario for a team that was threatening to get involved in the title race around February.
As Spurs were struggling, Liverpool won every game to finish a point behind City in the Premier League and also produced an incredible comeback to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final at Anfield. Yet Tottenham will have spent the last three weeks eyeing up their place in history and as we saw in last season’s Champions League final, the unexpected can happen on a night when the stakes are so high.
The dreadful errors by goalkeeper Loris Karius were crucial to the outcome and the injury to Mohamed Salah was another hammer blow, but they have a chance to put a sixth Champions League trophy into the cabinet and will be desperate to take it.
If Liverpool were underdogs against Real Madrid a year ago, they have the favourites tag now and have to try and enjoy that role in what promises to be a memorable clash between two English sides who play the game the right way on and off the pitch.
Regular readers of my Sunday World column will know that I have a big problem with the methods Manchester City used to win a domestic treble this season and we should all thank Tottenham for stopping them in the one competition they really wanted, which is obviously the Champions League. Were it not for a last-gasp VAR decision going in Tottenham’s favour in an epic quarter-final at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool would be trying to halt City becoming the first team to win a quadruple at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium next weekend.
Instead we have two clubs who have built teams without the backing of a sugar daddy owner striving to become the kings of European football and we should all be relieved about that as the soul of our game is being ripped away by stories like Manchester City’s.
I will be in Madrid next weekend and you don’t need me to tell you who I will be backing for victory, with the pre-game nerves all the more intense for this game because of what this competition means to our club.
Liverpool have beaten Bayern Munich and Barcelona to reach the final, while Spurs beat Manchester City and Ajax to get there, so these two teams deserve their place on the biggest stage of them all. I would like to finish by saying may the best team win, but you all know I only mean may the best team win so long as they are wearing a red shirt!