Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0 in the Champions League final as Jurgen Klopp won his first trophy since becoming the boss at Anfield
Mohamed Salah’s early penalty and Divock Origi’s late strike earned Liverpool a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League final in Madrid. Jurgen Klopp’s first trophy with Liverpool has been a long time coming but it could be just the start, writes Adam Bate.
They said this was second prize. That it was the Premier League title that Liverpool wanted. But tell that to the supporters now celebrating this sixth European Cup win. Tell that to Jurgen Klopp after he ended his run of six defeats in finals to triumph in Europe’s biggest game at the third attempt. Liverpool – Klopp’s Liverpool – are the champions of Europe.
This was no classic final, not by any measure. Whether it was the three-week wait for the game, the heat in Madrid or just the tension of the occasion, this was a Champions League final that never ignited. But this is a Liverpool team that had been accused of doing everything but win trophies. On this night, they got the important part right.
Twenty-three seconds is all it took for Liverpool to be awarded a penalty for Moussa Sissoko’s handball. Mohamed Salah converted from the spot and Klopp’s team went into containment mode. This time they had a top-class goalkeeper to help them out with Alisson named as the man of the match. They also had Divock Origi to double the lead late on.
What a campaign it’s been. Yes, they suffered a record number of defeats on their way to lifting the trophy, but that only made the highs more remarkable. The last-minute winner against Paris Saint-Germain. Going to Munich and beating Bayern on their own turf. And, of course, putting four past Barcelona in one of the greatest comebacks in European history.
When it came to the final, there was not quite the excellence of those evenings nor was there a repeat of the dramatic win in Istanbul the last time that Liverpool lifted this trophy in 2005. Klopp had anticipated a tight game and so it proved, but his side had the advantage for all but 23 seconds. They are the first team to keep a clean sheet in the final in nine years.
It was a night for Liverpool’s defence. Salah got his goal and Sadio Mane looked sharp but the forward line did not function at his maximum with Roberto Firmino looking far from fully fit. The midfield was largely bypassed and that put the onus on Liverpool’s defenders, but they were up to the challenge, repelling everything that Tottenham could muster.
Virgil van Dijk was imperious as ever, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson showed the other side to their game. Behind them they had, in Klopp’s words, a goalkeeper who was able to “make the difficult look easy” in keeping the ball out of the net. Liverpool had three shots on target. Alisson made eight saves.
This was Klopp’s vision realised, the completion of the puzzle that he has been solving bit by bit. Everywhere you looked at the Estadio Metropolitano on Saturday evening there was evidence of that. Savvy recruitment? Salah, Mane, Van Dijk and Alisson epitomise that. Training ground improvement? Look no further than Robertson and Jordan Henderson.
Culmination of a journey
It is the culmination of a three-and-a-half year journey under Klopp, one that began with a goalless draw against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham back in October 2015. That result left Liverpool behind Roberto Martinez’s Everton on goal difference and a couple of points adrift of Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace. Liverpool have certainly made progress.
The team that day included Nathaniel Clyne and Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Simon Mignolet. The centre-backs were Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel. There was lots of work left to do but the players were receptive. The trademark Klopp pressing game was adopted instantly. The passing game took a little longer to be honed to perfection.
Admittedly, there was little evidence of that in Madrid. During the first half, Liverpool completed fewer passes than in any half of football they have played all season in any competition. They had to win this one another way but they can do that now. They can counter and they can contain. They can dominate and they can defend that bit deeper.
It has taken time, money and effort. It has taken defeat – at the Europa League final in that first season and in the Champions League final last season. Klopp has a history of winning silverware, but those two Bundesliga titles with Dortmund, still the last sides to deny Bayern Munich the crown, were not enough to stop the critics styling him as a nearly man.
Even reaching a third Champions League final, all of them coming since Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho made it to their last one, was not going to be enough to silence the doubters. He had to win it. He could not endure another night like the one in Kiev last year when the mistakes of goalkeeper Loris Karius cost his Liverpool team dearly.
Bouncing back from that and taking this club one step further is no small achievement. Klopp had empathy for Karius but he was ruthless too. He made the upgrade and made light of changes behind the scenes. The first pre-season without Zeljko Buvac was reportedly among the toughest as Klopp worked hard to ensure there was renewed focus.
The recruitment was strong under sporting director Mike Edwards, head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter. Pep Lijnders returned to the club as assistant first-team coach. “I need experts around me,” said Klopp. “That’s what leadership is. You have strong people around you with better knowledge than you.”
It is the thinking of a man secure in his job and able to think long term. That should be a comfort to Liverpool and a concern for their opponents. Klopp is someone who embeds himself in the culture of his clubs – seven years as head coach at Mainz and seven more at Borussia Dortmund. On that basis alone, he is barely halfway through at Liverpool.
Who knows how much longer he could continue? Who knows how much more he could achieve? There is the makings of a back five that could stay together for many years to come. Of the players who started in Madrid, the oldest among them was Jordan Henderson at 28. They have the youngest average age of any of the top-six teams in the Premier League.