It’s here. Three weeks of sleepless nights, vivid dreams, tactical analysis, statistical omens and unbearable anticipation have finally reached their culmination.
The Champions League final in Madrid between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool is set to take place this evening. It will be the first all-English final since 2008 and it could finally mark the end of Real Madrid’s unprecedented level of supremacy in the competition’s recent history.
Ahead of the game, I spoke to Football League World’s assistant editor and passionate Liverpool fan, George Dagless, and also to Harry Sherlock, Football FanCast’s London correspondent and nerve-wrangled Spurs fan.
Here’s what they’ve had to say before they settle in for 90 minutes of footballing history.
Klopp is under pressure to end his cup final hoodoo and claim some silverware to honour this brilliant Liverpool season, but Pochettino is also yet to win a trophy at Spurs. Which manager do you think is under the most pressure ahead of the Madrid showdown?
Harry: “Klopp, for sure. Pochettino has worked absolute miracles to get Spurs to the final and this is almost, emphasis on the almost, a free hit. Nobody expected Tottenham to get this far, particularly after their run through the knockout rounds, drawing the likes of Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.
“Liverpool were in last year’s final and Klopp, it must be remembered, has a pretty woeful record when it comes to showpiece finals. He needs to break that hoodoo; Pochettino doesn’t have the weight of history on his shoulders.”
George: “Both are, but Klopp is under more. Pochettino needs to win a trophy at Spurs but no-one thought it’d be this one this season, and Spurs aren’t the favourites for this game.
“Klopp needs to win one for sure but I’ll say what I’ve said every time he gets hammered for his record; he’s never had the favourite in a European final and that has some weighting. Now he does, he needs to flip it around.”
It looks like Harry Kane will be fit to start the game. Should Pochettino throw him straight into the side or trust in his quarter and semi-final heroes?
George: “He has to play. Kane is a world-class striker and makes Spurs a far more formidable opponent than they would be anyway.
“I can see the argument of bringing him on as an impact sub as what an option that is to have but what if the game is already gone? Having him on from the first whistle is the right call.”
Harry: “Yes. He’s Harry Kane and this is the Champions League final. If he’s fit, he simply has to play. Otherwise this will forever be a ‘what if’ moment, particularly if Spurs lose.
“It would be harsh to drop one of Lucas Moura, Son Heung-Min, Christian Eriksen or Dele Alli but sentiment gets you nowhere in football. It’s the final and the best players have to play; Kane is Spurs’ best player.”
Will Liverpool’s experience in the final last year benefit or hinder them?
Harry: “It’s a bit of an unknown, really, because Real Madrid were favourites last year and, this time around, the Reds are. If it were still Loris Karius in goal, I’d say they’d be hindered but it isn’t and they’re a far more complete team now.
“If anything, it should give Liverpool some extra motivation”
George: “I’d have thought benefit them. They know how much it hurts to lose this game now, you don’t want to be feeling that again – especially after actually starting the final against Madrid very well last year.
“It’s a very mentally resilient Liverpool we’re talking about now, too, so I don’t think last year’s experience will have any negative impact.”
The result of last year’s final was ultimately sealed by a moment of divine intervention from a bicycle-kicking Gareth Bale. Which player from your beloved club would you bet on producing a comparable moment of brilliance?
George: “I’d love Jordan Henderson to score a Steven Gerrard-esque winner from 30 yards but I wouldn’t be betting on that.
“The obvious two are Sadio Mane and Mo Salah with the quality they bring. Both are big game players and I thought Mane was excellent in last year’s final, so he’ll have unfinished business for sure.”
Harry: “Moussa Sissoko! No, okay, Son Heung-Min. He’s an absolutely brilliant forward player, allying searing pace with phenomenal technique and he’s already scored some brilliant goals this season.
“Think of that amazing solo run against Chelsea at Wembley or his first-time strike into the top corner against Manchester City at the Etihad. He’s an instinctive finisher and he could absolutely steal the headlines with a wonder goal.”
The last all-English final in 2008 was decided on penalties as John Terry’s infamous slip enabled Man United to clinch the cup. Which penalty taker would you particularly dread to see walk up to the spot in another final shootout?
Harry: “Kieran Trippier. Yes, he scored a free-kick and a penalty in the World Cup but did you see his effort against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup? That’s evidence enough. Keep him as far away from the spot as possible.”
George: “I’d trust most of them to be honest but if Dejan Lovren somehow finds himself on that pitch in time for the shootout the collective intake of breath around Merseyside and further afield will be more than audible.
“I like the Croatian for his commitment and desire but you just worry at times like this what could happen with him – not that I expect him to start at least. Then again it’d be rather romantic after everything if he banged home the winning spot-kick, wouldn’t it?”
Describe how your perfect Champions League final victory would look.
George: “Fast start, 3 or 4 up in 20 minutes and then see the game out – that’s what everyone would say, isn’t it? In reality, it’s going to be very tight. Just win the game by any means.”
Harry: “I absolutely don’t care as long as we win the thing. But, to answer the question properly, a 5-0 thumping where the result is absolutely never in doubt. All five goals coming in the first 10 minutes would be splendid, too, so the nerves are calmed.”
Finally, what are you score predictions?
Harry: “I’ve written this out about 12 times and I still don’t know. I’m going to go Spurs to win 2-1 after extra time. Eurgh. My palms are sweating again.”
George: “I’ve tried to dodge predicting this final as much as possible! I’ll back my team though of course, 3-2 the Reds after normal time – might as well have a cracker to completely shatter both sets of fans’ remaining nerves.”