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Despite Spurs' second-half dominance, Liverpool's Champions League triumph felt inevitable

The Reds won Europe’s premier club competition for the sixth time last night.

 Liverpool players lift manager Jurgen Klopp after winning the Champions League.
Liverpool players lift manager Jurgen Klopp after winning the Champions League.
Image: DPA/PA Images

ONE OF THE most common pieces of analysis amid last night’s Champions League final was that ‘Tottenham deserved it on the night, but Liverpool deserved it on the season’.

The statistics support suggestions that Spurs were unlucky. According to the BBC, they had 65% possession, and eight shots on target compared with Liverpool’s three.

Yet there was an odd sense of inevitability about Liverpool claiming Europe’s top honour for the sixth time, and Jurgen Klopp ending a six-match losing run in finals.

Before the game, Tottenham were hailed for their supposed newfound mental strength. They had demonstrated remarkable resilience in both the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League against two of the best sides in Europe, Ajax and Man City, recovering so impressively when they looked dead and buried in both ties.

Nevertheless, Spurs went into last night’s final as underdogs, and Pochettino was keenly aware of the need to address their feelings of inferiority against a side who already knew what it was like to play in a Champions League final and, despite their mutual lack of trophies, performed far more impressively over the course of the season.

As a recent piece in The Independent noted: “For Pochettino, finals are won in the mind. That is what he has learned over his career, and even over this run. It is the emotional state of the teams in the final that decides who wins. Because emotions are the “trigger” to performance. And if the players have any fears or regrets or hang-ups – any negative mental energy – then they will not able to perform at their best.”

Much was made in the build-up to how Tottenham have not signed a senior player since purchasing Lucas Moura in January 2018, while Liverpool had the luxury of being able to recruit a number of top-class players in the intervening period, including Alisson (€62.5 million) and Virgil van Dijk (€84.7 million), who were arguably the two best players on the pitch last night.

Yet Tottenham are not markedly inferior to Liverpool in terms of the talent at their disposal — at their best, players such as Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min are on a par with Liverpool’s top performers, and they showed it last night at times, with Spurs playing the better football for at least 60 minutes of the match.

And while Alisson was increasingly busy as the game wore on, the eventual 2-0 outcome was not hugely surprising.

Rather than focusing on Tottenham pre-match, perhaps Liverpool should have been touted as the team possessing remarkable mental strength and resilience.

Consider the following stats. The Reds played 53 competitive games this season. They lost seven, drew eight and won 38. The record is all the more impressive when you consider that they lost just once in the Premier League, while two of their losses came in cup competitions that they were hardly prioritising, in addition to three defeats in the Champions League group stages and one in the knockout round (the first leg versus Barcelona).

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League - Final - Wanda Metropolitano Stars such as Harry Kane had a disappointing night. Source: EMPICS Sport

By comparison, Tottenham played 58 competitive games. They lost 20, drew five and won 33. In the league alone, they lost 13 times — 12 more defeats than Liverpool and only three fewer than their infamous 1997-98 season when Christian Gross took over as manager and they finished just four points above the relegation spots.

Just like last night, in many of those 13 losses, Spurs dominated possession, created the better chances and arguably deserved a more favourable result — the 1-0 defeat to Man United when David De Gea had a stormer is one obvious example. Yet the most pertinent fact is always the scoreline, and Tottenham cannot simply dismiss all these setbacks as pure ‘bad luck’.

Similarly, like last night, Liverpool were not totally dominant in all 38 of their victories. There were times where they had to dig out a result despite not playing particularly well, and they invariably did that. In contrast, Spurs were beaten by teams such as Watford, Burnley, Southampton and Bournemouth, meaning they finished 26 points behind the Reds in the league.

26 points does not reflect the gap in talent between the two teams — during the three times the clubs have met this season, they have looked relatively well matched on each occasion, yet the Anfield outfit ultimately secured narrow victories, winning 2-1, 2-1 and 2-0. So the 26 points, more so than ability, perhaps reflects the difference in mentality between the sides.

Liverpool are a relentless winning machine, who can scrap their way to a triumph even under immense pressure. There is a real solidity and reliability about them. Spurs, meanwhile, tend to be flaky when things don’t go their way, as they have demonstrated on numerous occasions this season. Perhaps it is a desire to score the perfect goal too often, but the sheer ruthlessness the Reds possess is conspicuously absent from the North London side’s game.

And last night was no exception. Tottenham may have played well in stages, but they also struggled with the occasion at times. Per Duncan Alexander, the pass completion rate in the first half was lower than any other Champions League match this season, indicating both sides’ lack of composure in this incredibly tense situation.

And though Spurs improved in the second half, arguably all of their star names underperformed — Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min had off nights by their standards.

Of course, you could say the same about Liverpool’s attackers, but they were a goal up inside two minutes and never surrendered that lead. They did not need to hit top gear. The onus was on Spurs to make a game of it, and following an underwhelming first half in which they rarely threatened, their subsequent dominance was offset by a failure to register a single shot on target until the 72nd minute. Between then and Divock Origi’s all-important second, Mauricio Pochettino’s men rallied, but it was too little too late, as another victory eluded them in heartbreaking circumstances.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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