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The Champions League: What just happened?

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Now seems a better time than ever to pull out that classic Sir Alex Ferguson quote: ‘football, bloody hell!’ 

The progressions of Liverpool and Tottenham to the Champions League final this week has, even by the lofty standards of the competition, involved some unprecedented drama. 

On Tuesday night, the Reds kicked off our feast of ludicrous European delight with their home tie against Barcelona. They looked to overturn a 3-0 deficit from the first leg and did so with the most dogged single-mindedness. 

 

Jordan Henderson was a driving force that epitomised the Liverpool team that night, one without Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Indeed, they were even an Andy Robertson down after half time, with James Milner having to reprise his previous role of filling in at left back. 

But it did not matter how patchwork the Liverpool team was, with two forwards in Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri who had been seriously lacking in game time. They knew their four goal target for that night and pursued it with unmatchable hunger. 

Barcelona, meanwhile, seemed unsure of what their purpose on the night was. Should they have gone on the hunt for a tie killing away goal, or sat back on a seemingly unassailable lead, using their metronomic passing ability to take the sting out of the game?

Apparently, nobody had made this decision. Barca appeared to be hovering in some strange middle ground between attacking and sitting back. And when they did manage to find space going forward, their finishing lacked any notion of clinical. 

Lionel Messi lacked that magic spark to inspire the rest of his team, and they dragged like dead weights throughout the night. Luis Suarez was panicky and sloppy in the final third, while Phillip Coutinho appeared to have not even boarded the plane to England. 

They were no match for the imperious force of Liverpool that night. After being battered with Jurgen Klopp’s relentless gegenpress all match, Barcelona were finally dealt a killing blow thanks to the incredulous quick thinking of 20-year-old Trent Alexander Arnold. Youthful imagination or wisdom beyond his years? 

After the Reds’ spectacular 90 minute spanning come back, Tottenham knew they had something to live up to. 

Trailing to a measly single goal deficit going into their second leg, Spurs consequently spent the first 45 minutes of the tie ensuring that their deficit matched Liverpool’s three goal one. Only then could they hope to pull off a comeback to match their Premier League rivals. 

And pull off that comeback they did. 

 

The battering ram of Fernando Llorente was utilised to help Lucas Moura to a second-half hat trick. His third goes down as the latest Champions League knockout stages goal to change the result of a tie. 

After out-playing Spurs for the first half of the match, the Ajax players were left strewn on the ground. It was a chaotic moment bordering on comical, with Mauricio Pochettino sobbing his way onto the pitch and embracing/rugby tackling everyone with a Spurs badge on their chest in sight. 

On Tuesday night, there had been the twinge of smug satisfaction as a European giant of the past decade was toppled ungraciously. On Wednesday, however, there was a hint of sadness about the whole ordeal. 

As incredible as Tottenham’s comeback was, it was tough to see the Ajax players so devastated. Their journey of thrilling football and the exorcism of Europe’s pedestrian elite in Real Madrid and Juventus was one that had proved endlessly endearing. 

Atletico's newly built Wanda Metropolitano, host stadium for the final.

Image Credit: Fernandopascullo on Wikimedia Commons

Their defeat in the semis, though, sets up a match that will prove to be a great conundrum for football’s truism spouters. 

They find themselves in the paradoxical nightmare of a final between the manager who doesn’t win anything, and the manager who bottles finals. The result will shatter one of those illusions immediately. 

Such truisms are, of course, ridiculous and needlessly degrading of two excellent managers in Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp. Regardless of the size of their trophy cabinets, they are both, unarguably, brilliant managers. 

It is refreshing to know that one of them will be able to break the hoodoo that mindless click bait churners like to whip up. Whoever the victor may be, come the 1st June, they will most certainly be a deserving one. 

Lead Image Credit: El Ronzo via Flickr




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