Ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final, we’re looking into our crystal ball to predict what will transpire in club football’s showpiece contest.
Spurs will force Alisson into an error
Loris Karius had perhaps the most memorable performance by a Liverpool player in last year’s final against Real Madrid – for all of the wrong reasons – and his two goalkeeping howlers surely left their mark with supporters. The German shot-stopper was swiftly shipped to Besiktas in the summer and Alisson was brought in from Roma for a hefty fee.
The upgrade between the sticks has been noticeable, though not even the most infallible ‘keepers are perfect.
With three errors leading to goals this season in the Premier League (tied for third worst in the top flight of English football), Alisson is primed for a gaffe in Madrid. Tottenham averaged the sixth-most efforts (15.4) of any knockout-stage team in the Champions League and also fire 5.6 shots on target per match, so the Brazilian will have his opportunities to make a costly error.
Starting Kane over Moura will thwart Tottenham
Mauricio Pochettino has a squad conundrum on his hands.
He has to decide whether to start talismanic striker Harry Kane or stick with Lucas Moura, the forward responsible for all three goals in the second leg of the stunning semifinal victory over Ajax.
Kane said he’ll be fit for the final despite the latest in a laundry list of ankle ligament ailments, though the Englishman does have a history of rushing back from injury. Without Kane, Moura started up top for the second leg in Amsterdam as the focal point of a 4-2-3-1 formation, and the former PSG outcast bagged a treble after the interval as part of a well-rounded display that also included four aerial duels won and four successful dribbles.
Kane might be best used as a super sub at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Origi makes an impact off the bench
Integral attacker Roberto Firmino is expected to return from the groin injury that kept him out of the enthralling semifinal comeback against Barcelona, with manager Jurgen Klopp saying this week that he’s “pretty sure” the Brazilian will be in the starting lineup Saturday.
“All we’ve seen so far looks really good,” the bench boss added.
Firmino’s recovery will relegate Divock Origi to the bench, but the Belgian – who’s made a habit of popping up with goals at critical times this season – could still play a key role coming off the bench in Madrid.
Even if Firmino is fit enough to feature from the opening whistle, throwing him into the deep end after he’s missed multiple matches comes with the inherent risk that he won’t be able to last the full 90 minutes. Training sessions simply can’t imitate the intensity of game action. Especially not this game.
As such, Origi could very well get one more chance to make his mark after famously scoring twice in the triumph over Barca, including the decisive fourth tally. Racking up yet another winning goal would be a fitting conclusion for someone who started the season as an afterthought at Anfield.
This will be Pochettino’s last match with Spurs
Pochettino doesn’t want to discuss his future until after the Champions League final. And rightfully so.
Ahead of the biggest match of his life, any talk unrelated to events on the pitch against Liverpool would just be an unwelcome distraction; the Argentine went so far as to say it would be “embarrassing” to muddy the waters with speculation about his next move before Saturday’s contest.
But that won’t stop the rumors from swirling; Juventus, in the wake of their decision to part ways with Massimiliano Allegri, have been heavily linked with a move for the 47-year-old tactician.
Pochettino has made it clear that financial backing in the transfer market is crucial if he’s to remain in north London. If Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is unwilling to make those assurances, the revered manager could be swayed by the Italian champions, who will likely invest heavily in their squad after their latest Champions League failure.
There’s also the question of just how much better things can get for Spurs, both domestically and on the continent. Challenging Manchester City and Liverpool for Premier League titles appears a monumental task for the foreseeable future, while Europe’s biggest sides will all splash copious amounts of cash in their bids to reclaim Champions League superiority.
Win or lose, is this as far as Pochettino can take Tottenham?