Friday 21 June 2019

Cool Van Dijk and collected Alisson repay faith and fees

Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson celebrates on the pitch with his Champions League medal while speaking with his wife and daughter on a video call. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson celebrates on the pitch with his Champions League medal while speaking with his wife and daughter on a video call. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Jason Burt

The European Cup is in safe hands. For Liverpool it is La Sexta - the sixth - after Jurgen Klopp fulfilled his promise to win it in the Spanish capital following the crushing disappointment of losing last year's Champions League final to Real Madrid in Kiev.

That sense of destiny, that sense of togetherness is now ingrained, which should be a warning to the Premier League and Europe.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

After Kiev, Klopp sang about seeing the European Cup, of Madrid having all the luck, staying cool and bringing it back to Liverpool and the manager has done just that because of a crucial difference: there is a hard-edged sense to them. There is game-management; there is a calmness. There is also, with Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, the epitome of cool.

Van Dijk played in Kiev; Alisson did not. Together, though, they have raised Liverpool to a new level. At a combined cost of £142m - neatly the fee that the club received from Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho - they have brought that calmness which has had such a profound influence.

That was evidenced in the final 20 minutes against Tottenham Hotspur. With Liverpool ahead only through Mohamed Salah's early penalty, Tottenham were finally applying pressure. And yet there were two moments that demonstrated the scale of their task.

In the 76th minute Son Heung-min turned and appeared to be surging past Van Dijk, but the Dutch defender tracked the forward, accelerated and poked the ball out for a corner before he could get his shot away. Then Alisson, who had already saved smartly from Son, dived to his left to push away a powerful, curling Christian Eriksen free-kick. What kind of effect does that have not just on Liverpool but on the opposition? What did it mean for Spurs who, two minutes later, conceded the second goal to confirm the result?

Mohamed Salah scores a penalty to give Liverpool an early lead. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Mohamed Salah scores a penalty to give Liverpool an early lead. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Little wonder at the final whistle it was Van Dijk and, even more so, Alisson who were mobbed. "Everyone who is connected with Liverpool, you want to make them proud and the manager definitely puts that in our heads even more," Van Dijk said. "It's something that... a togetherness there at the moment.

"I've never really experienced it like this. It's very special.

"We deserve this season to win something and to be winning a Champions League is special."

It is also born of adversity. Memories of last season's final burn for Klopp who, despite his denials, was also desperate not to suffer his seventh successive defeat in a final - his third in the Champions League - and had to draw on the frustration of achieving 97 points in the league and not winning it.

Despite his serenity Van Dijk professed to breaking his pre-match ritual. "Normally I get a little sleep before a match, but it was difficult," he said. "To see all those fans in the square - 50,000 people, I think."

Expectation and responsibility can be overwhelming and maybe that was another factor in Kiev, where Liverpool lost 3-1 and there were two blunders by Loris Karius.

The talk immediately after that final was that Liverpool planned to push ahead with a bid to bring Alisson from Roma and that proved successful. Goalkeeping coach John Achterberg spoke of what the Brazilian had brought and it was as if he was also talking about Van Dijk. "It is unbelievable the way he stayed calm in the difficult situations," he said.

So where there was chaos in Kiev, there was calm in Madrid. Not that Liverpool played particularly well but the three-week break from the end of the league seemed to work against them - and Spurs - while the heat and occasion were factors.

But Liverpool had earned the right to put in a more professional performance after the comeback against Barcelona which will be a greater memory of this campaign than the final itself.

Salah's penalty gave Liverpool no reason to push on and, while it appeared contentious, it was, by the letter of Uefa's interpretation of handball, the correct decision.

Salah dispatched it to find his own solace after being injured in last season's final. Divock Origi also scored a crucial goal with a cross-shot. As for the cup, it left the stadium in safe hands - carried out by Alisson.

Telegraph.co.uk

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