- Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC fight for the right to be champion of Europe in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday, June 1.
- The industry is overwhelmingly siding with tournament favourite Liverpool to emerge triumphant at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain.
- But there is a case to be made for Spurs.
- Business Insider spoke to European trophy winner Danny Murphy and tactics expert Michael Cox to find out how Tottenham can spring an upset.
- And it all comes down to exposing one glaring Liverpool weakness, and making a calculated gamble in attack.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
With a self-described “big balls” style of soccer, Liverpool FC dumped FC Barcelona out of the UEFA Champions League semifinal with a stunning four goal comeback last month and positioned itself as tournament favourite.
Jurgen Klopp’s team now tackles Tottenham Hotspur in the final on Saturday, June 1. It is the second consecutive final Liverpool has played in, and the ninth in its history. But for Spurs it represents the biggest match it will have ever played.
The industry is overwhelmingly siding with Liverpool in the build-up, with former Champions League winners Ronaldo, Davor Sukur, and Alessandro del Piero all picking the Reds to win at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain, according to UEFA.com.
The former UEFA Cup winner Danny Murphy, an alumnus of both Liverpool and Tottenham, is no different, telling Business Insider at a pub in London on Friday that “Liverpool are the better team, generally.”
Promoting Greene Kings’ Summer of Sport campaign, he said: “Liverpool can dig results out over the 90 minutes with Liverpool’s tenacity, fitness, and quality. The whole occasion might just get to Tottenham, and it won’t for Liverpool.”
Michael Cox, author of “Zonal Marking: The Making of Modern European Football,” agrees. Cox told BI that Spurs “start second favourites” because of the great points differential between the two sides in the 2018-2019 Premier League table, and the fact they have already been beaten twice by Liverpool this season. “Liverpool are a very outstanding team and yeah, strong favourites for me,” he said.
But this does not mean Spurs cannot spring an upset.
[Kane’s game] will be about him creating space for others … it’s a gamble worth taking.
Tottenham has two advantages it can exploit. First, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino must decide on whether or not to gamble by giving a starting role to club striker Harry Kane.
The Englishman has not played competitive soccer since April, when he left Tottenham’s stadium on crutches having injured himself in the team’s 1-0 win over Manchester City. He was not expected to return before the end of the season but after the miraculous comeback win over Ajax last month, said he’d be healthy enough for the final.
If Kane starts, how match fit is he? For Murphy, regardless of how long he would be able to compete on the night, he is a player who simply must start. This is because he’ll be able to cause the Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk “more of a problem than he would if Kane didn’t play.”
Cox added that it has starting Kane has tactical advantages. “It’s a difficult task for Kane but he’s a player defenders have to dedicate a lot of their focus to, and it will be about him creating space for others.
“His all-round game, touch, and hold-up play is excellent and it will be about him bringing the best out of other people. He may only play 50 to 60 minutes, but I definitely think it’s a gamble worth taking.”
Elsewhere, Spurs could exploit a glaring Liverpool weakness.
Alexander-Arnold ‘has switched off defensively’ at times
Kane’s inclusion means Tottenham will get runners in behind Liverpool’s defensive system, something “they’re very good at,” according to tactics expert Cox.
“Even if Kane’s fit, I don’t think he’s going to be up to sprinting behind Liverpool’s defence too much, so I’d be looking at Heung-min Son and Dele Alli as players who can exploit Liverpool’s high defensive line.”
Cox added that this could reap benefits because Liverpool has a full back who, for all his praises, does have one glaring weakness.
Trent Alexander-Arnold stole the semifinal show when his cunning corner kick caught Barcelona napping, adding a crucial quickfire goal that eliminated the La Liga champion from European competition.
Watch it again here:
SIMPLY GENIUS ????
Trent Alexander-Arnold spots Barcelona napping and Divock Origi makes no mistake!!!
4-0 Liverpool ????
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 7, 2019
Or here if you’re in a different region:
But Alexander-Arnold’s attacking prowess has, at times, come at the expense of defence and Tottenham’s big-game player Son has the ability to expose this.
“As much as Alexander-Arnold has been good going forward this campaign, he has switched off defensively against Barcelona in that second leg. Barça got in a few times past him,” Cox said. “I think it will be Son up against him – and he’s the player to make some openings.”
Elsewhere, as great as van Dijk has been, for Cox, it is Tottenham who have “probably the best center back combination in the league” thanks to Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.
But even they are not error-free. “In the most recent Liverpool vs. Tottenham meeting, they let Roberto Firmino in for a header opener. The one area you don’t think Firmino will get the better of you is in the air, so that was something of a surprise.”
Mane can make himself a hero
One player battle Murphy expects Liverpool to dominate, is Sadio Mane against the Spurs full back Kieran Trippier. “Mane’s been sensational for Liverpool this season. He’s got that pace and he drifts. Sometimes he’s wide left, sometimes he’s in the middle. What does Trippier do? Does he stay with him, match him one-on-one, or does he get help and where does he get the help from?”
There are many tangibles in this all-English encounter.
But while Murphy expects Mane to make himself a hero for a triumphant Liverpool, neither Murphy or Cox would be surprised if Tottenham sprung one final surprise.
And if Tottenham did, it would be a surprise that would arguably be the greatest this unpredictable tournament has produced all season.
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