Monday, May 27, 2024

UCL Final – Route to Madrid

“Whatever it is, cancel it!” The rallying cry of the broadcasters, urging you to cancel your weekend plans because tomorrow night sees Liverpool take on Spurs for the most prestigious trophy in club football – The UEFA Champions League. The Spanish capital is already ablaze with red flares while chants of “Y*D ARMY” fill the air. The tension is rising and the atmosphere building as we’re just 24 hours away from kick off in the biggest game of the season.

It’s been a dynamite year of European football, particularly for the English teams as both European finals were/are all English affairs. With Chelsea having already bested Arsenal in the tussle for the Europa League trophy, Gunners fans will be praying Spurs don’t win tomorrow and compound their misery.

View from the Spurs camp

This is not just the biggest game of the season for Spurs, it’s perhaps one of the biggest games of their entire 137-year history. Having never won Europe’s elite competition, the North Londoners will be praying to every God from every religion for that to change tomorrow.

The road to the final has not been any easy one, not by any stretch of the imagination. After overcoming the group of death in the first stage of the competition in a group that included Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV, the odds were stacked against Mauricio Pochettino’s side even reaching the knockout stages. Important wins against PSV and Inter, plus a point at the Camp Nou were vital as Spurs secured their place in the KO rounds of the competition.

RO16: Finishing second in the group meant a difficult draw in the knockout rounds. In the all-important round of sixteen stage, they drew the then high-flying Germans, Borussia Dortmund. With the home leg up first, a game which would be their final European game at Wembley, Spurs shocked everyone and picked apart Dortmund to come away with a convincing 3-0 win. The second leg was a matter of just holding their nerve, with many a punter backing Dortmund to bring it back. There was never even any murmurs that might be possible during the match as Spurs won 1-0 and ensured progress to the Quarters.

QF: Premier League champions Manchester City awaited in the Quarters. With the first leg being held at Spurs’ glittering new stadium under the lights, fans sang of their delight at watching their team play on a Tuesday night while Arsenal played Thursday. The stadium was beautiful, the atmosphere electric and the opposition superb, but it was Spurs who would eventually win the day. An early penalty save from Hugo Lloris coupled with a late goal from Son Heung-Min saw the Lilywhites head to Manchester with a 1-0 lead.

Nerves, excitement and belief were the overwhelming emotions as the city of Manchester awaited the visit of Tottenham Hotspur with cautious optimism. City fans believed they could do it – all they needed was a two goal swing. Nobody could have predicted what was about to happen – it was an absolute humdinger of a match, one that will live long in my memory as well as that of most other football fans lucky enough to see it. Manchester City would win 4-3 on the night, draw 4-4 on aggregate but see Spurs go through on away goals. However, Spurs came within inches of crashing out as City had a stoppage time goal overturned by VAR due to Sergio Aguero being marginally offside.

SF: If you thought the Quarters were filled with excitement, the Semi-final raised the bar even higher. Spurs were faced with the task of overcoming the young Ajax team who were fresh off the back of mauling Real Madrid in their own back garden. The first leg at the new stadium was a tough test for Spurs as Ajax showed no fear and no intention of diverting away from their attacking philosophy. The Dutch youngsters would come away from North London with a professional 1-0 win courtesy of a first half strike from Donny Van de Beek.

The second leg at the fabled Johan Cruyff arena in Amsterdam turned out to be a night that every Spurs fan on the planet will remember until the day they die. Having said that. the first half was probably one to forget as an Early goal from Mathijs De Ligt seemed to put the tie out of reach before Hakim Ziyech bagged to seal the deal – or so we thought. What happened in the second half was incredible – reminiscent of their Scouse rivals historic night in Istanbul.

Moura hat trick sends Spurs to UCL Final
Moura hat trick sends Spurs to UCL Final

55 minutes played, Lucas Moura finds himself through and goal, calmly dispatches – eyebrows raise and fists tighten as Spurs get back into the game. 59 minutes played, a goalmouth scramble sees the ball once again fall to the feet of Lucas Moura who once again beats Andre Onana – 2-2 (3-2 agg). The away fans begin to believe, the home fans fear the worst and just like that, Spurs are one goal away from the Champions League final. Half an hour of tension and nerves followed with neither side able to break the other down. Legs, hearts and minds grew tired but still they fought on. Then… the unthinkable happened.

96 minutes on the clock, Moussa Sissoko launches a desperate long ball towards sub Fernando Llorente. The gangly Spaniard heads it down to the feet of Dele Alli who turns it round the corner to Lucas Moura! The Brazilian scuffs his effort but gets just about enough on it to beat the diving Onana. Cue delirium, agony and ecstasy around the stadium. Pandemonium engulfs the away end while 50,000 Ajax fans feel their stomach sink so far they could do kick ups with it. Spurs have done it! They snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, thanks in no small part to the little Brazilian, Lucas Moura… TOTTENHAM’S HAT-TRICK HERO!

Two or so minutes later, the referee blows the final whistle and the every single Spurs player sprints onto the pitch, the injured Harry Kane included, to celebrate an incredible achievement. To be 3-0 down with 35 minutes remaining in the tie, to then come back and win from that while playing in the Lions den itself, what a night. What a win for those Spurs fans.

The final in Madrid awaits for those fans. It’ll be a totally new experience for them too as the Champions League final is something which has continuously alluded them. There’ll be at least 15,000 Spurs fans in the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday evening, but will they be smiling? This next lot sure hope not.

View from the Liverpool camp

For Liverpool, a European final is nothing new. This is Jurgen Klopp’s third in his time at the club, as well as Liverpool’s second consecutive Champions League final. Last season, Klopp’s men went into the game as the underdog, this season, they will be playing the part of Real Madrid. Whether or not they can keep their nerve is another matter entirely.

The road to the final for the Redmen has not been an easy one, much like that of their cockney counterparts. They faced a tough group that included a European heavyweight in PSG, as well as Italian giants Napoli and Red Star Belgrade of Serbia who Liverpool would learn are also no walkover. Defeats in all three of their away games in the group made it hard for the Reds, at one point it looked as though they may not get through at all. In the end though, they had to settle for second place and the tougher side of the draw.

RO16: Again, much like their Cockney counterparts, the round of 16 saw Liverpool take on one of Germany’s elite teams, perhaps THE elite team, Bayern Munich. A hard-fought affair in the first leg at Anfield saw both sides cancel each other out. Perhaps one of the biggest compliments of the season for Liverpool was the defensive style Bayern adopted on Merseyside, proving that even some of the worlds best are cautious of Klopp’s men’s attacking threat.

The second leg saw a tactical masterclass from Klopp’s side. They went to the Allianz Arena and not only beat Bayern, but outclassed them from start to finish. The 3-1 win was more than enough to see Liverpool progress through to the Quarter-finals where an interesting dose of deja vu awaited them.

QF: The Quarter-finals saw all four English sides still in the competition and on paper, it looked as though there would be no easy draws. Perhaps the “easiest” draw for any of the sides would be Portugal’s QF offering, Porto. The Portuguese side, although a former winner of the competition, are not considered one of Europe’s elite sides and looked a likely win for whomever was lucky enough to be pulled from the hat alongside them.

Fortunately for Klopp, it was his side. They played, and obliterated, Porto in the competition last year too. Sadio Mane helped himself to a hat-trick at the Estadio Do Dragao in a 5-0 mauling at the Ro16 stage. This season, the opposition proved to be light work once again as Liverpool won both legs at a canter to win 6-1 on aggregate and progress to the Semi-finals.

Liverpool beat Barcelona to reach UCL Final
Liverpool beat Barcelona to reach UCL Final

SF: The semi-final stage is where each player needs to step up. One of two things will happen in the semi-finals of such a prestigious competition, you either step up to the plate and bat your heart out, or you go down swinging – Liverpool somehow managed to do both. There are no easy draws in the Champions League semi-finals, as Liverpool and Spurs both found out, but Liverpool had to test their wits against the most formidable outfit in world football, Barcelona.

The first leg saw Liverpool travel to one of football’s ultimate cathedrals in the Camp Nou. Barcelona were more than up for a scrap and despite Liverpool missing some glorious chances through Sadio Mane, James Milner and Mo Salah, Barca ran riot thanks in no small part to the little magician, Lionel Messi. The GOAT bagged himself two goals, including an absolute peach of a free-kick and all but eliminated Liverpool – not that anyone told them that.

As the second leg at Anfield drew closer, the red side of Merseyside grew more and more confident that they could get something out of the tie. It seems as though that confidence resonated at Melwood too as the team turned up at Anfield on match-day with a fire in their belly like no other. As the game kicked off, there was an undeniable tension in the air. However, that tension was eased remarkably quickly as Divock Origi got the comeback underway after just seven minutes, turning in a rebound from inside the six-yard box.

All English UCL Final

The game went on and although Liverpool had scored, the main challenge was always going to be keeping Barca out. That looked unlikely too as Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi were combining well to make chances, but just couldn’t quite take them. The second half came around and the game seemed to be going a little bit stale, until, that was, Klopp brought Gini Wijnaldum off the bench. Gini came on in the place of the injured Andrew Robertson and within ten minutes of his introduction, he scored two great goals to pull Liverpool back on to level terms with their visitors.

However, the moment of the game was still yet to come. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been having the season of his life and in the 79th minute he provided the moment of not just his, but Liverpool’s season. Liverpool were attacking, looking for that fourth goal – they managed to force a corner. It all seemed fairly innocuous until the youngster spotted that not one single Barca player was looking at the ball, they were all trying to get each other organised. Taking advantage of their lapse in concentration, Trent whipped in the corner quickly taking everybody off-guard. It found the ready and waiting Divock Origi who lashed home to make it 4-0 (4-3 agg). Cue pandemonium.

Liverpool pulled off (another) one of the greatest comebacks of all-time in the Champions League to seal their place in the final for the second consecutive season. Surely now they have a great chance to win their first bit of major silverware under Jurgen Klopp – they’re going to do it… right?

With these two comeback kings involved, nothing is for certain. Except, that is, that this game will certainly be a cracker. Kick off is at 8pm GMT tomorrow evening. You can see the game either Live on BT Sport on your television, or via their YouTube channel which will be streaming the game for free.

For more like this, visit our dedicated football page here. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook for more opinions and analysis right to your timeline.

The Greatest FA Cup Quarter-Final Moments

With the FA Cup Quarter Finals on the slate for the weekend. We take a look back at the greatest Quarter Final moments over the years.

Premier League: Who Will Go Down?

We're getting down to squeaky bum time in the Premier League. Who will go down and who will manage to eek out just enough points?

Man United Impress As They End City’s Run

Manchester United ended City's impressive run with a 2-0 win at the Etihad. It's not made a dent in the title race mind.

Vivianne Miedema: The Best Striker in the World

Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema is the best striker in the world and she is only just getting started.