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.
Mohamed Salah fittingly dispatched a penalty – from a contentious Moussa Sissoko handball – in the Spanish capital, helping to banish painful memories of last year’s defeat to Real Madrid.
Tottenham were never truly in it as a superb Liverpool rearguard bottled up the Spurs attack, before the Reds’ super sub Divock Origi fired home late on to take the club’s remarkable European record to even greater heights.
Here are our Liverpool ratings …
Hugo Lloris – Could have saved the penalty, generous height and right by his hand. Problems went far deeper than him, though 5
Kieran Trippier – Can finally say goodbye to a personally poor season. Out of position numerous times, as were his crosses 3
Jan Vertonghen – Went down early on with elbow injury. His calamitous header in danger area led to Origi goal 5
Toby Alderweireld – Could have got far tighter for second goal. Sluggish passing from back did not help Spurs one bit 5
Danny Rose – Quietly enhanced his reputation as one of the best left-backs in Europe. Wasn’t much invention in front of him 7
Harry Winks – Saw a lot of the ball and was tidy with it, but Spurs needed a more dynamic player to help break Reds down 6
Moussa Sissoko – Does he have a right to feel aggrieved? Maybe. But in the box, arm outstretched … just don’t do it 5
Dele Alli – The Dele who took games by the scruff of his neck has disappeared over the last 18 months. Will we see him again? 5
Christian Eriksen – Spurs were crying out for his magic with Liverpool so disciplined. One decent free-kick all to show for it 5
Son Heung-min – Strange game. At the centre of most Spurs attacks, for better or for worse. Better in second half 6
Harry Kane – Whether it was defensive brilliance or not, a bottled-up Kane wasn’t anywhere near his sharpest 4
Lucas Moura (66′) – Should have started in hindsight, but didn’t light the Wanda on fire during his 25-minute cameo 6
Eric Dier (74′) – Desperately poor clearance alongside Vertonghen error handed Origi the chance to clinch it 5
Fernando Llorente (82′) – Afforded very little time to assert his physicality up top N/A
Kane has not played since the quarter-final first leg against Manchester City in early April when he suffered a “significant” ankle ligament injury.
The England captain has declared himself fit for the showpiece clash with Liverpool and trained without problem at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on Friday night.
Kane would likely replace Lucas Moura – the hat-trick hero of Amsterdam – if he was to start and Pochettino is preparing himself for a “painful” decision.
“We have one training session now and then we’re going to decide,” Pochettino said.
“It’s normal that you are asking me, it’s not easy, it is not going to be easy to make that decision tomorrow.
“But it was difficult the last game that we played, the semi-finals, the quarter-finals, the last 16.
“Every single game we need to take a decision. Tomorrow is going to be another decision, a decision when we have all the information and we know every single detail, we are going to take the best decision to win.”
Watch the Spurs superstar train ahead of the final in the clip above