As Liverpool and Spurs prepare to duke it out for club football's biggest prize on Saturday night, we took a look at six surprising stats that shed some light on how they got here.
Kane, Son, Eriksen And Ali Have Featured Together For Just 231 Minutes All Campaign
More often than not, Spurs have done this with a second string. Tottenham reaching the European final is remarkable. To have done so with their best XI fit and firing all season would have been one of the great fairy tales of Champions League footy, but the truth is they’ve had to do it with odds, sods and outcasts.
To say Spurs’ best line-up features Kane, Son, Eriksen and Alli is without doubt. Between them, the foursome netted 177 (77%) of the 230 goals the club scored between 2016-18. Yet in this season’s Champions League, injuries and suspension mean Kane, Son, Eriksen and Ali have featured on the pitch together for just 231 minutes all campaign, just 21% of the available game time.
Instead, Spurs have done it by conjuring unthinkable performances from unloved bench fodder and squad members destined for the door come July. The names Moura, Sissoko and Llorente are writ large across Tottenham’s journey to Madrid, yet few fans would have batted an eyelid last summer had all three been sold.
Like the Mourinho we once saw at Porto, Pochettino has mastered the art of extracting every last drop from the players at his disposal. Quite what he’d be capable of achieving with a fully fit squad or, god forbid, any sort of transfer kitty, remains to be seen.
No One Has Ever Lost More Games Than Liverpool & Spurs En Route To The Final
The odd reality is that both teams find themselves in the final despite losing four European games already in this campaign. Only once has a team lost as many and made it this far - Bayern Munich in 2010 - and never has a team lost more in the current format.* The other semi-finalists, Barca and Ajax, only lost one and two respectively.
Spurs progressed out of the group by the skin of their teeth after a sluggish start. They took just one point from their first three games and required a whopping great favour from PSV to hold off Inter in Milan in the final match.
Their poor results in September and May are down to two clear factors – a frightful World Cup hangover and the club’s refusal to sign a single player in the last two windows. No club had more men involved in the final week of Russia 2018 than Spurs with 8 players, this early season exhaustion has only been exacerbated by a wafer-thin squad stretched to its limits as the injuries started to bite come spring.
Malnourished Victorian chimney sweep, Oliver Skipp, padding out the Spurs bench as Riyad Mahrez, Jesus and Leroy Sane looked on from Man City’s dugout was the starkest indication of the meagre rations Pochettino is working with.
As for the Scousers, their Champions League form suffered through the autumn as they took the league seriously and the fixture schedule dealt them a couple of cruel hands. Failure in Napoli was sandwiched between Chelsea (a) and Man City (h), the shock loss in Belgrade to Red Star came three days after facing Arsenal at the Emirates whilst their loss to PSG came with one eye on a vital Merseyside Derby immediately after.
However you look at it, both sides have shown remarkable cajones to bounce back from these setbacks and prevail when faced with do or die situations.
*Juventus, Leverkusen and Valencia actually lost 5 games, but all those came during the brief experiment with a second group stage, when finalists would play a whopping 17 games in total, compared to the 13 we see now.
No Team Since Bayer Leverkusen (2002) Have Conceded More Goals Than Spurs En Route To The Final
It’s hardly a surprise that they’ve lost so many - Spurs have been shipping goals like they’re going out of fashion. In years gone by a miserly backline has been Pochettino’s calling card but they’ve plucked the ball out of their net 17 times in getting to Madrid.
Juggling the aforementioned fatigue and injuries in a small squad has meant some inventive line-ups from Poch (Vertonghen left wing back anyone?) and more game time for the likes of Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters than he would have preferred.
It’s also meant bouts of smelly form have had to be ignored.
Most notably, Kieran Trippier’s performances have fallen off a cliff since the dizzying heights scaled in Russia. Domestically, he’s made more errors leading to goals than any outfield player in the top half of the Premier League (level with Granit Xhaka) and recently lost his place in the England squad completely. For a man considered so vital last summer and who’s set to start in a Champions League final, that’s a remarkable state of affairs.
It also didn’t help that Hugo Lloris also started the season very much pissed at the wheel, in more ways than one. The frantic frog’s worst game in a Spurs shirt came when Barca rolled into town and his demented charge left Philipe Coutinho with an unguarded net early doors.
Barça’s opener for your perusal: Coutinho goal here: pic.twitter.com/8vkgj6bbe2
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 3, 2018
Lessons weren’t learned and the skipper repeated his brainless antics at Eindhoven a fortnight later, this time seeing red for the misdemeanour.
The result has been a gung ho approach at the other end with Pochettino being forced to embrace the chaos. And good lord it’s been entertaining.
Liverpool Last Conceded At Home On September 18th
Despite a few wobbles on the road, Liverpool’s success has been built on a foundation of some sensational home form. Alisson has only been breached twice at Anfield all season in Europe with both those goals coming against PSG all the way back on Matchday 1.
A quick reminder of who they’ve donuted since then – Napoli, Bayern Munich, Porto and Barcelona.
There’s been no parking the bus here either, they’ve been utterly dominant at home whilst still attacking with thrilling abandon - only City and Barca have scored more at home in this season with both facing far kinder draws. Always thought of as an attacking coach, this year Klopp has found the perfect balance to his side and assembled an outstanding defensive unit.
Master in charge at the back has been the infallible Virgil van Dijk – the most complete centre half we’ve seen since on these shores since Rio Ferdinand was at his peak. He and Alisson are shining examples of when splashing the cash on the right man is an absolute no brainer.
Finally, much has been made of Liverpool’s flying fullbacks but a word for Joel Matip. A freebie who looked no more than squad padding last season has seized his opportunity with gusto, raising his game considerably and twice being named Man of the Match in the tournament this year.
Sadio Mane Has Committed More Fouls Than Anybody In This Season’s Champions League
While you could easily be deceived by his infectious smile and warm demeanour, be under no illusions that Sadio Mane is a cynical bastard. In the age of high pressing and tactical infringements, the genuine former Saint is the leader of Liverpool’s hunting pack, drawing the referee’s whistle a tournament high 22 times.
This season is no anomaly either – Mane registered more fouls in last season’s final than the entire Real Madrid team combined. Crucially, this competitive edge is one that’s measured too.
Everyone loves a shithouse but they’re no use to you suspended. Despite Mane’s commitment to the dark arts, he’s picked up just 2 bookings this season. This mix of tactical sense, aggression and control make him the perfect man to implement Klopp’s streetwise game plan.
It’s not all one-way traffic though. Always involved, he’s been on the opposite end of a fair share of rough treatment himself - only Luis Suarez and Neymar have been fouled more often in this season’s competition.
Liverpool – The New Arsenal?
With just 29% of their shots coming from outside the box, a Champions League low this season, the Redmen are more scrupulous about their end product than a Rolls Royce production line inspector. Selling old ‘Row Z’ Coutinho may or may not be a factor in this.
The fact they haven’t managed a single long-range goal in the campaign demonstrates their desire to walk the ball in these days. Their favoured route to goal is up close and personal - no team has scored more from inside the six-yard box.
When you’ve got two rapid full-backs in Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, so adept at getting to the by-line, it would be silly not to do anything other than pull it back for a teammate to roll it into an open net. This approach has allowed the pair to notch 28 assists between them across Europe and the PL this season.
A whopping 40% of Liverpool’s attacks have come down the right-hand side which makes sense when you think about just how much Klopp loves getting his wonder-kid, Trent, teetering up and down the touchline. Danny Rose is the lucky, lucky man tasked with keeping England’s new No.2 quiet on Saturday.
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