The Champions League is coming to England

It has now been 11 years since the last all-English champions league final, contested between Manchester United and Chelsea in 2008 which saw United run out winners via a penalty shoot-out. 

Liverpool had won the competition three years prior to this, before Arsenal finished runners-up in 2006 and Liverpool finished runners-up in 2007, with United suffering the same fate in 2009 and 2011. 

Against the odds, Chelsea undid their penalty heartbreak of 2008 by overcoming Bayern Munich in the final in 2012 in the same fashion, but despite being the first English champions since 2008, English football was already clearly in decline. 

7 years on from Chelsea’s triumph, we have seen a Spain-dominated competition: 1 win for Barcelona, 4 wins for Real Madrid and 2 final appearances from Atletico Madrid.

The likes of Bayern, Juventus, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have dominated European football and English teams have been nowhere to be seen. 

However, in the last couple of years many of the top English sides have made vast improvements; Manchester City and Liverpool would now easily be considered two of the best teams on the planet.

Led by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp respectively, both sides have been playing dazzling football all year and they achieved a staggering combined total of 195 points in this season’s Premier League, blowing away almost every team in their path.

Under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham have also made impressive improvements – no longer competing for a top 4 spot every year, Spurs have considered themselves reasonable title challengers every season since 2016. 

English football has now more than just matched the standard of Europe’s heavyweights, going by this season, it has surpassed it. 

The Europa League final featured two London sides, Chelsea and Arsenal, whilst tonight’s Champions League final will feature Tottenham and Liverpool, who both fought back from seemingly irreversible deficits in their first legs of their semi-final ties. Liverpool overturned their 3-0 first leg defeat to Barcelona by winning 4-0 in astonishing fashion in the second leg at Anfield, whilst Tottenham were left needing 3 goals without reply in the second half of their second leg with Ajax, the third goal coming in the 96th minute. 

The fact that England’s strongest side, back to back Premier League champions Manchester City, failed to make it to the final, shows just how strong England’s elite sides now are. 

A painfully trophy-barren spell for Tottenham means they will be more than desperate for glory in Madrid, but Liverpool themselves have gone far too long without a trophy and despite it being clear that Jurgen Klopp has done an outstanding job on Merseyside so far, his lack of silverware puts Liverpool under an immense amount of pressure in this final. 

Klopp himself has lost his last 7 finals, the most recent being last season’s Champions League final in Kiev where they lost in incredible circumstances to Real Madrid, a game that saw two shocking errors from Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius and an iconic overhead kick from Gareth Bale. 

However, Klopp’s sides have often gone into finals as the underdogs – this season Liverpool are certainly favourites to win. 

All the pressure is on Liverpool, and although Tottenham will be feeling far from relaxed, whatever the outcome of tonight’s match may be, Mauricio Pochettino has done an excellent job in charge this season.

Daniel Levy’s insistence on not paying the players as much as other players of similar qualities at football’s elite level could easily create unrest amongst the group, but Pochettino has maintained a formidable team spirit amongst his men.

This wage policy has also made it hard for Spurs to bring in new players as potential signings have not been willing to take a pay cut in order to join. This resulted in not a single signing being made in last summer’s transfer window for Tottenham, another reason why Pochettino has done such a good job.

Furthermore, there has been plenty of drama surrounding the extended delay of the opening of Tottenham’s new stadium, which they didn’t play in until well into the second half of the season even though they were supposed to play there as early as August, and this has been a constant distraction for the side throughout the season. 

Add to this confusion injuries to a number of top players such as Harry Winks, Dele Alli and Harry Kane, it seems an almost impossible task for Pochettino and Spurs, yet here they are in their first ever Champions League final. 

With regards to the game itself, the main talking point is whether or not Tottenham’s top scorer, Harry Kane, will be fit to start.

The England international striker suffered an injury during the first leg of their quarter final victory over Man City in this competition and has not played since, but he has declared himself fully fit in the lead up to the game.

Whether or not Pochettino elects to start him is a different matter altogether. Tottenham have an abundance of attacking options in the likes of Lucas Moura, Fernando Llorente and Heung Min Son who can all play through the middle and have all been key in their run to the final, but Kane is truly a world-class talent and would always be a useful presence on the pitch for any side, 100% match fit or not.

Tottenham are likely to be responding to Liverpool who will look to dictate the game in the opening stages, and Liverpool’s main source of chances could well come from wide positions through their full backs, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, as they so often have done this season.

This could mean that Tottenham employ a defensive-midfield pairing of Moussa Sissoko and Victor Wanyama in order to provide extra protection in wide areas, but stopping Liverpool from doing damage from crosses is easier said than done. 

However, Liverpool’s strength could become their downfall if Tottenham exploit it effectively; if Dele Alli and Heung Min Son occupy the areas vacated by the Liverpool full-backs when they push forward, they will have plenty of space to cause Liverpool problems on the counter attack, a method which could be very effective due to the pace of Lucas Moura and Heung Min Son. 

Hope for Tottenham will also come in the form of Lucas Moura stretching Liverpool through his pace. This could provide Spurs with plenty of chances as Lucas can create room between the Liverpool midfield and defence, giving creator in chief Christian Eriksen extra space to operate and create chances. 

The introduction off the bench of Fernando Llorente, as has happened frequently throughout the season, could also be a ray of hope for Spurs who would then have the option of playing a more direct game, looking for Llorente with longer balls rather than having to break Liverpool down through short passes through the thirds. 

This method worked perfectly for Lucas’s decisive hat-trick goal in the semi-final, where a ball was aimed to Llorente who headed to Dele Alli who found Lucas before the Brazilian fired Spurs into the final.

Still, whilst there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Tottenham fans, Liverpool remain strong favourites.

In both Premier League encounters between the two teams this season, Liverpool finished 2-1 winners. 

Their front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have rarely been stopped and to consider they brushed Barcelona aside 4-0 without Firmino and Salah shows just how dangerous they can be.

A win tonight for Liverpool would arguably put Virgil Van Dijk in pole position to win the 2019 Ballon D’Or, although Sadio Mane could certainly lay claim to having a reasonable shot at winning the prestigious award, especially if he gets his name on the scoresheet in Madrid.

So will Tottenham finally win a trophy? Will Klopp end his cup final hoodoo? Whatever happens, the Champions League is coming to England.