Tottenham or Liverpool?

Champions League Final Preview: Liverpool or Tottenham?
The Premier League rivals meet Saturday in the Champions League final in Madrid. Rory Smith makes the case for each side.

Why Liverpool wins?

Jürgen Klopp does not feel cursed. He does not, as he made plain during his Friday evening news media call in Madrid, even feel unlucky. He might have lost every final he has reached with Liverpool, and six of the seven he has contested over all, but he does not see that as a harbinger.

The reason for that, put simply, is that this is the possibly the first time — and certainly the first time with Liverpool — that he has gone into a final in charge of the favorite. The bald fact of the Premier League table illustrates that Liverpool has been significantly more consistent than Tottenham this season: Klopp’s team eventually finished 26 points ahead of Spurs.

Throw in that Liverpool had England’s best defense and two of its three top scorers, and then add that it went through the pomp, circumstance and attendant emotional sweep of a Champions League final 12 months ago, and Liverpool’s quiet, unassuming confidence is understandable.

For Klopp, unlike his Spurs counterpart, Mauricio Pochettino, there are no selection dilemmas or tactical alternatives: He, his players, and his opponents all know how Liverpool will try to play. Klopp rarely changes; he is not the sort of manager to try to spring a surprise.

This season, he has not needed to. For the most part, what Liverpool does works: Even Barcelona, even with a 3-0 lead, even with Lionel Messi, could not resist. Klopp will feel that if his players do not freeze, if there are no individual mistakes or moments of inspiration from Tottenham, Liverpool is strong enough to overcome Spurs, and finally see off even the mention of a curse.

Though Klopp’s record against Pochettino is good — one defeat in nine games — Spurs and Liverpool’s meetings tend to share a pattern. At some point, Pochettino will tweak something, do something unexpected, and as a rule, Liverpool will struggle to react. That happened, certainly, in the last encounter, which Liverpool won by 2-1, but only thanks to a Hugo Lloris mistake and a Moussa Sissoko miss. Spurs dominated for long stretches at Anfield. That will give Pochettino’s team hope.

Not that hope is in short supply. There is a weightlessness about Spurs, thanks, in part, to the chaos and wonder of the team’s run to its first European final in 35 years — the comeback in Amsterdam, the heart-stopping drama of the quarterfinal with Manchester City, even the fact that, after only three group games, the team seemed likely to be eliminated. By meeting every challenge, by surviving every scare, Tottenham has cultivated an air of invincibility. Destiny, Pochettino might call it.

Partly, though, it is because Spurs is not expected to be here. Liverpool has the pressure of its failure in the league and its defeat in Kiev; Spurs has only the opportunity to become the least likely champion of Europe since — probably — Liverpool in 2005. Over a season, it has been unable to compete. Over 90 minutes, there is little between the two teams. Spurs only needs a little luck, a little belief, a little something. It has had that in spades in this tournament so far.

Rory Smith is the chief soccer correspondent, based in Manchester, England. He covers all aspects of European soccer and has reported from three World Cups, the Olympics, and numerous European tournaments. @RorySmith

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