Despite appearing in two Champions League finals already throughout his managerial career, this year’s final in Madrid against Tottenham is uncharted territory for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
You may be puzzled here. How can a man who has overseen title challenges, domestic cup successes, and as many as three European finals be in uncharted grounds when he patrols the touchline inside the Wanda Metropolitano this Saturday?
Here’s the thing.
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In every European final that Klopp has been involved in, his side has been labelled with the underdog tag.
In 2016 against Sevilla, the German came up against a man who absolutely excels at winning the Europa League in Unai Emery; the Spaniard had won the previous two editions of the competitions before facing the Reds in Switzerland.
Despite going a goal down to Daniel Sturridge’s strike, Emery’s know-how shone through and he became the first manager to win the competition three times in a row.
A few years before that when Klopp was in charge of Borussia Dortmund, he took his side to Wembley where they faced Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
Jupp Heynckes’ Bavarians had already secured a domestic double and were gunning for a historic treble, and they did just that thanks to Arjen Robben’s late, late pea-roller of a strike; again, Klopp’s side were quite unanimously considered as underdogs.
As recently as last year, the former Mainz boss led his side to another Champions League final where Real Madrid stood in his way of guiding Liverpool to a sixth European title.
Given the fact that Zinedine Zidane’s men had won the last two titles, you would be factually correct in saying that, once again, Klopp’s side certainly were not the favourites to win the game.
This time around, however, it’s different. The tables have well and truly turned.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham will be making their first ever appearance in a Champions League final, and their first showing in a European final completely since 1984; make no mistake about it, in comparison to Liverpool’s rich history in Europe, Spurs are relative minnows.
Whilst it didn’t work out in this way for Klopp, the underdog tag could hand the north Londoners a major advantage. Tottenham have arguably been labelled with that same tag throughout their entire Champions League campaign so far this term – not to mention the last few Premier League title races.
They only just qualified for the knockout stages after failing to pick up a win in their first three group stage games, needing PSV to get a result against Inter and to grab at least a point against Barcelona themselves to go through – Lucas Moura’s 85th-minute strike inside the Camp Nou got them through by the skin of their teeth.
The last 16 fixtures against Borussia Dortmund were fairly comfortable in all honesty, but the quarter-finals and the semi-finals proved that Tottenham are enjoying their reputation in Europe as underdogs.
They were but an inch away from being knocked out by Manchester City in the quarter-finals only for VAR to disallow Raheem Sterling’s last-gasp strike, after Sergio Aguero was adjudged to be fractionally offside.
Having overcome that scare, their luck looked to have run out completely as they found themselves 3-0 down to Ajax with just 45 minutes of the semi-finals left to play.
As we all already know, Lucas Moura’s quite unbelievable hat-trick – his last strike coming in the 96-minute – put Pochettino’s men into the final on away goals.
If this isn’t evidence enough to prove that Spurs are fairly comfortable with not being the favourites, then I don’t what is.
Klopp must adapt to being the favourite in a European final for the first time in his career as a football manager, against an extremely dangerous side who can put Liverpool to the sword if they struggle to assert themselves.
Watching how the popular German adapts to this unprecedented experience will be one of the most intriguing narratives this year’s final has to offer. Can they embrace it without getting overconfident or buckling under the expectation? That’s what we’ll find out on Saturday.