Liverpool etched their name onto Ol’ Big Ears for the sixth time after sucking the life out of Tottenham on Saturday night.
Worthy winners they may well be, but it doesn’t mean that the XI who won the trophy was the Champions League‘s best XI this season.
We’ve watched Ajax’s golden generation blossom before our very eyes, while there’s been magic from some of the usual suspects.
You’ll disagree with bits of the below – it’s a game of opinions after all – but hear out our reasons …
Goalkeeper – Alisson Becker (Liverpool)
If Alisson hadn’t made a save in December, Liverpool wouldn’t have been standing on the podium in June.
You could say that Arkadiusz Milik’s shot was aimed straight at his body, but that the Brazilian had positioned himself there in the first place – in the 92nd minute of a must-win group stage game versus Napoli – showed he had both the mind and frame for the big occasion.
Given Loris Karius had proven he lacked in both, the Reds could not have asked for a more significant upgrade between the sticks. Whether with his hands or his feet, he makes everything looks so easy.
Right-back – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
The youngest player to start consecutive Champions League finals is wise well beyond his years.
It hardly seems fair that at just 20, Alexander-Arnold had the nous to catch Barcelona cold from a corner and whip it in for Divock Origi to conjure up one of Europe’s greatest-ever comebacks.
Already a phenomenal passer and crosser of the ball, the Merseyside-born right-back’s defending has markedly improved this season, too. What a gem.
Centre-back – Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool)
No player managed to dribble past Van Dijk and retain possession in his last 64 games in all competitions. Not even Lionel Messi.
His dominance has been such that his name has even been cast as a possible Ballon d’Or winner, almost unheard of for anyone but a forward.
Liverpool could have all the Salahs and Manes in the world – but it this man who has been emblematic of their rise.
Centre-back – Matthijs De Ligt (Ajax)
To break the Liverpool streak we turn to Van Dijk’s countryman and the youngest man in this team – so young that he was five years old when the Reds last won the Champions League in 2005.
There’s only been one winner between boy versus men this season. The 19-year-old’s command of an Ajax backline that is asked to do so much with and without the ball has been nothing short of remarkable.
There are still some imperfections to this game, but look at what he’s achieved – his Ronaldo-esque header helped dump Ronaldo’s Juventus out of the UCL.
Left-back – Jordi Alba (Barcelona)
It could easily have been four of five Liverpool players here, but Andy Robertson’s Champions League campaign has been one of consistency over his assist-making audaciousness in the Premier League.
For audacity we turn to Alba for his assist to Luis Suarez alone, bisecting Jordan Henderson and Alexander-Arnold before reaching the onrushing Uruguayan.
He had a night to forget in the return leg, of course – as did every Barca player – but his five assists, joint-most with Kylian Mbappe, give him the edge.
Centre-midfield – Christian Eriksen (Spurs)
The Dane was neutralised in the final, but let’s not forget the form he showed in helping Spurs get there.
Chief string-puller against Borussia Dortmund before providing two Son assists across an incredible 180 minutes of football against Manchester City, the 27-year-old was able to show what the world what he has always been capable of on the grandest of stages.
Real Madrid may want Paul Pogba – they’d be better served concentrating on a perfect Luka Modric replacement.
Centre-midfield – Frenkie De Jong (Ajax)
On to an eventual Sergio Busquets replacement. The Barca-bound De Jong in one word? Omnipresent. The 22-year-old loves to collect the ball from deep, drive through midfield, and spends a lot of his time conducting play on the left side of the pitch.
Wherever he is, his pass success rate never drops. The ability to make the correct decisions – and swiftly at that – is gold dust given the breakneck speed of modern football. Banner performances against Juventus and Spurs before heartbreak struck more than justified his transfer to Spain.
🇳🇱 Frenkie de Jong picks his Top 4⃣ (👀 3 of them have played for Barça 🔵🔴) pic.twitter.com/nC3nlP6n4I— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) June 3, 2019
Centre-midfield – Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
The third midfielder was a hard spot to fill. Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were unbelievable in certain games, but didn’t play enough. Moussa Sissoko ranged from wonderful to blunder-ful. So why not give the place to Liverpool’s Mr Dependable?
Wijnaldum has been moulded into a man of multi-purpose by Jurgen Klopp, Though the German is not averse to mixing up his midfield, Wijnaldum played in 12 of 14 games – starting 11 – but it was for the substitute’s appearance against Barca that he’ll forever be cherished by the Kop.
Two goals, three minutes, 4-0.
Left wing – Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Oh, Raheem. What does it feel like to wheel away in ecstasy only for VAR to cause such despair? Hopefully a berth here proves some consolation prize.
In truth the 24-year-old could have hardly been more effective for City in the knockouts. He was the chief destroyer against Schalke – though there were a few candidates – and terrorised Spurs at the Etihad Stadium.
His superb finish set the stadium rocking and his last-minute, would-be winner did again, only for the video verdict. It doesn’t take away from another season of elite evolution for the England attacker.
Forward – Dusan Tadic (Ajax)
Liverpool cherry-pick the best Southampton players have to offer, but they clearly let Tadic get away. After a very good – if not staggering – career in the south of England, the playmaker turned into… one of the best goalscorers Europe has ever seen with 38 from 56 games.
Though his and Ajax’s season started in July, Tadic helped pen a modern day fairytale through three qualifying rounds, Real Madrid and Juventus, before the cruel twist against Spurs.
His magnum opus? A masterclass at the Bernabeu, first supplying Hakim Ziyech, then David Neres following an outrageous pirouette past Casemiro, before adding a screamer of his own.
Could watch this spin and assist by Tadić on a loop forever. Imagine rocking up to the Bernabéu and pulling this off on your way to knocking Real Madrid out of the Champions League. pic.twitter.com/x0yy0mRU8o— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) March 6, 2019
Right wing – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
There’s no forgetting Leo, no matter how many Champions League comebacks he’s now on the wrong end of.
The maestro of maestros netted 12 goals in the process of taking free-kicks to a new art form, with his effort against Liverpool worthy of any set-piece aficionado’s collection.
He laid waste to PSV, Spurs, Lyon, Manchester United and Liverpool … before the Reds returned fire. One thing is for sure – Messi was not at fault.
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League final as the Reds claimed their sixth European trophy.
The Egyptian scored in the second minute after he converted a penalty following Moussa Sissoko’s handball. Divock Origi doubled their advantage on the 87th minute to confirm victory for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Here, we take a look at Salah’s performance.
Shots (on target): 6 (1)
Passes (success-rate): 16 (44%)
Having sustained a shoulder injury in the early stages of last season’s Champions League final, Salah was hungry to prove his mettle as a big-game player and lead Liverpool to their sixth Champions League crown.
With Spurs enjoying the bulk of possession, Salah’s role changed into a more defensive one early on following his penalty, as he helped restrict ball-playing from the back. From an offensive sense he was closely marked by Jan Vertonghen and was restricted from getting on the ball himself. Despite showing flashes, he didn’t get close to another magical moment after his penalty.
Rose to the occasion: The pressure that accompanies a Champions League final – especially when you’re the talisman of the team – is truly immense. Salah had a few nervy moments while trying to pull the trigger, but he rose to the occasion when his team needed him to. Ultimately, the night will be remembered for the indelible impact he had on the game – a goal that set the tone for most of what was a dour contest.
Threat on the counter: With Spurs pushing for a goal, it was only a matter of time before Salah’s pace began to cause serious problems. Both Sadio Mane and Salah were dangerous on the counter but failed to threaten Hugo Lloris.
Shooting accuracy: It was one of those nights for Salah when the ball just wasn’t connecting right. He hit six shots, only one of which was on target. There were occasions where he could have done a lot better given his quality, but he failed to do so. To his credit, the Egyptian struck the goal that decided the fate of the game.
Clearly, it was not the best of nights for the former Roma man, but the Champions League medal on his mantlepiece will have you believe otherwise. Salah deserves the plaudits for his early goal and diligence in a thoroughly professional display.
Stats from whoscored.com
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.