Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham: Liverpool goals either side of Tottenham dominance

June 3, 2019

Liverpool won their sixth European Cup after a disappointing final when neither side played at their best.

Roberto Firmino was declared fit to start, while Jurgen Klopp selected Gini Wijnaldum over James Milner in midfield.

Mauricio Pochettino used a 4-2-3-1 formation and started Harry Kane and Harry Winks, who had both been out for several weeks. Lucas Moura, the hero of the semi-final, was only on the bench.


Mane v Trippier

The game started in dramatic fashion – Liverpool won a penalty within 30 seconds, which was slammed home by Mohamed Salah. The penalty was awarded when Moussa Sissoko handled a Sadio Mane cross, after Mane had burst in behind Kieran Trippier.

That was precisely the area where Liverpool seemed most likely to cause problems: their most consistent attacker against Tottenham’s weak link. Long balls over the top for Mane has proved effective against both Bayern Munich and Barcelona in this season’s competition, and in the opening 15 minutes it was the either side’s most promising avenue to a goal. Shortly after the penalty incident, Virgil van Dijk hit a long ball over the top for the onrushing Mane, leaving Trippier frustrated that Hugo Lloris wasn’t sweeping outside his box. Mane was the only attacker that looked genuinely dangerous here, and as the game continued he increasingly drifted inside to create from central positions.

With Liverpool ahead almost instantly, it was inevitable that Tottenham would feel compelled to dominate, and for the vast majority of the game they were superior. The game descended into a scrappy mess, featuring plenty of long balls, spells of head tennis in midfield, a particularly high number of throw-ins and a staggeringly low pass completion rate. There was little midfield battle to speak of, and neither side won the ball in advanced positions. The temperature in Madrid – and perhaps the unusually long three-week break since the end of the league campaign – meant both sides looked fatigued at an early stage.

Vertonghen and Alderweireld diagonals

Liverpool’s front three pressed aggressively – probably taking up even narrower positions than usual – but Spurs bravely played around them, with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld both happy receiving the ball under pressure, and Winks dropping deep to help them. Winks was the midfielder who showed most guile on the ball, although his passing was generally very safe.

The two playmakers here were effectively Alderweireld and Vertonghen, who both demonstrated their ability to hit pinpoint diagonal passes out to the flanks. Trippier and Danny Rose generally controlled these passes well and brought the ball forward down the wings, although created little in terms of crossing. Spurs looked more likely to create chances directly from their centre-backs, particularly Alderweireld. Although his passes didn’t always find the intended target, he hit a fine ball to Son Heung-min, who was flagged offside in a very tight call, and later knocked a dangerous diagonal that Alexander-Arnold lost in midair, and was fortunate that the ball hit his heel. With Son and Dele Alli both threatening to run in behind in the inside-left channel, that diagonal switch was constantly on.

Alexander-Arnold sometimes had problems with Son’s movement – on one occasion, shortly after he’d taken a throw, he then conceded possession carelessly with a blind left-footed pass straight to Sissoko, then didn’t recover his position quickly enough. Sissoko motored forward with the ball, and then his attempted pass into the channel for Son was intercepted well by Joel Matip – a better pass, and Son would have been in on goal.

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Pre-match attention, and therefore post-match analysis, concentrated on the issue of Kane and his fitness. He wasn’t at his sharpest, but then neither were the vast majority of players on the pitch. Kane often performed his job well – coming towards play, dragging centre-backs up and encouraging midfield runners forward with simple passes or flick-ons. After 19 minutes he did precisely that, drawing Van Dijk out of position, playing the ball onto Eriksen, who set Son and Alli away on a two-versus-two break. Son played the wrong pass, and Alexander-Arnold won the ball well. On 33 minutes Kane was first to a loose ball, nodded it over Van Dijk, and Alli broke in behind – his poke across the box, towards Son, was intercepted by Matip.

Kane never offered a threat in behind, but then that’s been true of his performances over the past year, and much like at last summer’s World Cup, his movement created space for runners who should have done better. Spurs actually created a succession of three-versus-three and four-versus-four situations here, but Son and Alli made wrong decisions or their touch let them down.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the game was how little Liverpool created on the break. The second half started with both Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson whipping good crosses into the box, but there were only two other attacks of note. Mane provided some individual magic in the build-up to a shot from the edge of the box from substitute Milner, while Alisson’s excellent clearance released Salah into the channel, and his ball into the box saw both Sissoko and Alderweireld stopping Mane from finishing. But Liverpool’s transitions were poor, with too many hopeful balls rather than genuine searching passes. Alexander-Arnold finished with a pass completion rate of just 29%.

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Spurs changes

Pochettino switched his attackers at the break – Son went right, Alli went left and Eriksen played as the number 10, perhaps trying to give Spurs more incision from central positions. This resulted in arguably the game’s best chance, on 53 minutes – Eriksen lofted the ball over the top for Alli, making his usual run in behind. Alexander-Arnold, who covered in behind his centre-backs well throughout this game (despite struggling in more traditional full-back situations) made a crucial block.

There was another notable incident on 69 minutes when, for the first time, one of the diagonal passes from a Spurs centre-back really caused Liverpool problems. Vertonghen hit the ball for Trippier, who got in behind Robertson, and then he flashed the ball across the six-yard box. Here, Kane probably made the wrong run – he darted across the near post, where there probably wasn’t sufficient space anyway, whereas if he’d continued his run behind Van Dijk he may have had a tap-in. Kane also hit a fine diagonal out to Trippier, prompting a cross and Alli heading over.

By this point Pochettino had introduced Lucas for Winks, with Eriksen dropping back into a deeper midfield position. He then brought on Fernando Llorente for Alli – essentially a static target man in place of a late runner. Spurs did have a decent spell of pressure, and a couple of long-range efforts that (finally) brought Alisson into action.

But it was Liverpool’s substitute who sealed it: Firmino was sacrificed early on, and Origi had taken his place. In truth, Origi’s hold-up play was poor, and he barely helped relieve the pressure, but in the aftermath of a set-piece situation he finished excellently into the far corner, taking his Champions League record this season to three shots, and three goals.

My book Zonal Marking – about the development of modern European football – is out now!

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