Mohamed Salah‘s involvement in the Champions League final came to a premature end last year but it took less than two minutes for him to put things right this time around as his early effort was integral to Liverpool lifting their sixth European title.
It wasn’t a scintillating display against Tottenham from the Egyptian but a debatable penalty decision saw him convert from the spot early on and put Liverpool in the driving seat, a position they simply refused to surrender.
Spurs struggled to comeback from that devastating blow and offered little of note going forward. An 87th minute strike from Divock Origi then put the tie to bed at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The Europa League final’s first half was a bit of a non-event and that of the Champions League followed suit – apart from the startling moment of controversy barely 30 seconds into proceedings of course.
Mane’s cross struck Sissoko yards away from him inside the penalty area and referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot, much to the surprise of all onlookers. Replays show that the Spurs midfielder indeed had his arm extended but the ball appears to strike him on the armpit before possibly rolling onto his hand.
Even after VAR reviewed the incident, the original decision stood and Salah slammed home from 12 yards to give Liverpool a dream start.
For Spurs, the early setback was a shock they struggled to recover from. It was evident in their play that they were rattled while the Reds were naturally the more settled outfit having secured the early lead.
The Londoners were sloppy with their passing and when they did get into dangerous positions, loose touches or poor decisions saw them fluff their lines.
The dubious nature of the decision coupled with the timing of the goal impacted Spurs heavily.
DRAB AFFAIR BUT DEFENSIVE MASTERCLASS
Unfortunately, that start – however controversial – was the best part of this final. The early goal gave Liverpool something to hold on to. They weren’t exactly sitting deep but there was a certain passivity and caution about their play that Rafa Benitez would’ve been proud of.
Spurs were eventually forced to push ahead and take risks but Liverpool were under no such obligation and it told. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino’s side had eight attempts on target, Jurgen Klopp’s had three and they scored twice.
For two sides that emerged victorious from exhilarating semi-finals second leg fixtures, they managed to produce the polar opposite for the ‘showpiece’ event.
Credit though must be attributed to Liverpool’s outstanding defence. Under no pressure to press ahead, the Reds maintained their shape well and comfortably dealt with any threat the opposition posed.
For all the celebrated attacking play and the plaudits the front three are regularly bestowed with, it’s the defensive improvement that’s been most telling and it’s what made Liverpool champions here.
Even when the lively – if erratic – Son Heung-min when on a sharp run through the middle and burst into the box, he couldn’t escape Virgil van Dijk who kept pace with every stride before thwarting him with a final lunge.
NO SPARK FOR SPURS
There’s a fair bit of sympathy for Spurs after that nightmare start and it was always going to knock them back onto the ropes. But where was the fight they showed against Ajax that dragged them into this final.
It may sound harsh but for many of these players, this was the game of their lives and it may have passed them by. Harry Kane, rushed back from injury, could only muster touches in the first half – no one had fewer. Harry Winks failed to pass the ball with authority and Kieran Trippier endured one of his worst performances of the season.
Lucas Moura, the hero in Amsterdam, started on the bench and failed to be the catalyst Spurs needed when he was introduced.
Make no mistake, the north London outfit were dealt a bad hand to begin with but what of the remaining 88 minutes plus injury time? They showed more intensity in the majority of their Premier League games this season than they did on this, the most important of nights.
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