There is a time to embrace chaos. There is a time to take caution and throw it to the wind. There is a time to try and score a second soon after your first. But maybe when a goal up after just two minutes, on the greatest stage in European football and with its greatest prize on offer, the time was not right. That, it seemed, was the calculation by the new champions of Europe.
Andy Robertson spots Mohamed Salah breaking down the touchline. The pass is rushed and inaccurate. The danger is cleared. Later, Jordan Henderson wants to attack but has no runners in front of him. His answer is to play a headed through ball to himself. It fails. It is much the same story when Trent Alexander-Arnold has the opportunity to launch a break after Dele’s miscued header at the far post. He hits the ball long, surrendering possession.
Clearly, this would not be a re-run of the semi-final second leg against Barcelona, when Lionel Messi and team-mates succumbed to the most unrelenting, merciless and quite simply the best performance Jurgen Klopp’s players have ever delivered for their manager. No, this was nothing of the sort. In fact, Liverpool have rarely looked as disjointed.
But they were not alone. Whether because the temperatures circling around 30°C at dusk, or the three-week interval between this Champions League final and the end of the Premier League season, or simply the weight of the occasion, Tottenham Hotspur struggled just as much, and not only because they conceded Salah’s penalty. This was a poor game. The first half, particularly so.
At one point during those opening 45 minutes, this final had the lowest pass completion rate of any Champions League game this season. Tottenham contributed much to that, misplacing simple passes, but they were not the worst culprits. Liverpool went in at half time having completed just 69 per cent of theirs, the lowest rate in any of their first halves since the start of the campaign.
This all-Premier League final harked back to the days when the word ‘English’ was a derogatory term in football circles on these parts of the continent. It had all the incoherence, short-sightedness and the broken, percussive rhythm associated with the game of old, but little of the intelligence and incision that Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have helped to introduce.
Tottenham, in fairness, were trying. But Liverpool appeared to take a calculated decision to have what they hold. It did not seem to be Klopp’s call. He regularly gesticulated to his players, demanding greater urgency, pulling Henderson over to relay those instructions. But Liverpool struggled still, failing to exert their usual influence. Tottenham were not hurting them at least, but they would come close.
Son Heung-min was Tottenham’s only consistently composed player and stung Alisson’s palms from range deep into the second half. He was presented with a far greater chance when Lucas Moura’s shot bounced into the ground and rose at the far post. It was difficult to divert underneath the crossbar. Son could only head over.
If Son’s header is a few inches lower, or if the bounce on Moura’s attempt had fallen more kindly, perhaps Liverpool’s gamble would have failed. Perhaps questions are asked as to why they lacked their usual vibrancy in attack. Maybe the glare falls on a midfield that often came off second-best in its battle for supremacy.
Instead, the gamble pays off. Divock Origi finds the inch of space between Hugo Lloris’ reach and his far post. Instead, Liverpool are crowned champions of Europe for a sixth time, and the fact that it did not come with the usual flair or exuberance is an irrelevance. A classic performance, in keeping with thrills of their journey to Madrid, it was not. But like Rome, London, Paris and Istanbul before, as a triumph, it is eternal.
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