I was almost relieved by Divock Origi’s decisive intervention in last night’s Champions’ League final. Played out by two under par sides who hardly stated a cast iron argument for the strength of the Premier League, I was at least grateful that such an occasion wasn’t settled by Mo Salah’s contentious first minute penalty, although in reality the overall standard on the night hardly deserved anything more in keeping with some of the scintillating play displayed by both Tottenham but more especially Liverpool during such an astonishing season for English sides, both domestically and on the European stage.
On for the anonymous Roberto Firmino it is unclear if Origi has the ability over 90 minutes to replace the tattooed Brazilian as part of Liverpool’s much vaunted tripartite. Whilst Sadio Mane and Salah are automatic picks for Juergen Klopp’s side Firmino has increasingly cut a frustrated figure whose integral importance to the red half of Merseyside could now be questioned. It is presumed that Daniel Sturridge, the fifth component of Liverpool’s stellar attacking quintet will be moving on, perhaps to West Ham United in the wake of Javier Hernandez’s likely departure, and with Firmino’s form no longer guaranteeing an automatic starting place for the former Hoffenheim striker, surely the time is now for Origi to push for greater recognition.
When an F A Cup or Champions’ League final fails to live up to its billing the usual default excuses are reached for by those not willing to admit that English football, whilst having its exhilarating moments, is frequently far less than the sum of its parts. Yes, both showpiece finals, as well as the Europa League’s denouement, occur after long, arduous seasons but last night in Madrid was a whole three weeks since either side turned out in a competitive fixture. It is though hard to pinpoint the true reason for such a disappointing finale, although for much of the second half I felt Liverpool ‘needed’ Tottenham to score to draw the Merseysiders’ out of themselves. In the end this wasn’t necessary, but only after Origi’s late late show finally put the tie beyond doubt.
Imperious defending that kept Tottenham’s albeit misfiring and predictable forward line at arm’s length was on this occasion the cornerstone to Liverpool’s success, not their devastating counterattacking capabilities. I cannot remember in recent times a Liverpool side that only had 35% possession whilst prevailing but with world class defenders such as Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk repelling everything Mauricio Pochettino’s side threw at them, Klopp’s side subconsciously knew that they by far had the superior tools of the trade that didn’t even afford Spurs an opportunity to lay a glove upon them. It was though a strange final, the second half in particular seeing wave upon wave of Tottenham pressure that didn’t really go anywhere, or unduly stretch goalkeeper Allison Becker. Liverpool crucially defended higher up the pitch, something both Tottenham and especially semi-final opponents Barcelona failed to do. One can posit that had Liverpool played in such a manner against Manchester City they would’ve been destroyed. The point though is well made to suggest that whilst last night was anything but easy on the eye it represented very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach by Klopp, who would have instead have used his trusted pressing philosophy to take the game to a City of this world, rather than wait to invite trouble by defending as they did last night.
Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium represented Tottenham’s last realistic chance of European silverware for the foreseeable future. Having not purchasing any players since January 2018 it is difficult to see how Pochettino can take the final step to secure a trophy, any trophy. Despite continually being talked of becoming the next manager of Manchester United or Real Madrid the Argentine has yet to take Tottenham, or previous charges Espanyol and Southampton to glory. Now, potentially hampered in the same way Arsenal’s ambitions were stymied by the need to service paying for the Emirates, Tottenham have a wonderful but debilitatingly expensive new stadium to service. Will it take player sales to fund new acquisitions, with even the likes of Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen having their price?
A Tottenham man through and through I doubt Kane will agitate for a move any time soon, but he will want indications from chairman Daniel Levy that the club’s ambitions correspond with his own. Despite relatively frequent injury concerns Kane will surely have his eye on eclipsing Alan Shearer’s all-time Premier League goal record of 260 and while just shy of halfway to reaching the former Newcastle and Blackburn man’s milestone Kane is now entering his footballing prime, the next three seasons’ being crucial to both his and Tottenham’s ambitions. By then the 25-year old could be close to 200 Premier League goals and potentially within 2-3 seasons of claiming the accolade as his own. Of his contemporaries only Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has a theoretical chance of overhauling Shearer, although time isn’t realistically on the Argentine’s side. It is though only at Tottenham where Kane will set his own Premier League records; wherever his club future may ultimately lie it is extremely unlikely that he would countenance playing for another English side.
The form of Dele Alli has taken a serious downturn, with a combined goal return from the last two seasons less than the total for the 2016/17 campaign. If Tottenham had to weigh up which player out of Christian Eriksen and Alli would be the greater loss to the club I feel the Dane, notwithstanding a very ordinary performance in Madrid, consistently gives the team more, although Alli is more likely to retained should expected interest in Eriksen be firmed up by La Liga’s big hitters.
After a campaign that arguably ranks Liverpool as the team of the season it is not envisaged that Klopp will make anything other cosmetic changes to his squad. The loss of Sturridge and Alberto Moreno can be absorbed, with perhaps one or both of Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet being jettisoned and replaced by a trusted, experienced goalkeeper. James Milner might also want to seek alternative employment that affords more regular game time but otherwise, turnover is expected to be subtle unless a supersized offer comes in Mane, Salah, or perhaps Firmino. Although both Manchester clubs will surely strengthen, in City’s case to repel a reinvigorated Liverpool, United’s to get closer to their bitter rivals, it will surely be a case of ‘as you were’ for Klopp, all the while mindful that European giants Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona will not be as relatively weak as in the season just passed.
Will Pochettino leave? Trophies, not a raft of defeats at the final hurdle are managerial pay dirt. Can though the Argentine’s true abilities be measured until he has had the spending power of Klopp, City’s Pep Guardiola and a succession of Chelsea head coaches who’ve passed through Stamford Bridge’s revolving door? I do though hope this honourable, intelligent man stays at the new White Hart Lane/Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and is given the means with which to go toe to toe with City and Liverpool.
I am not a Liverpool fan, far from it, but I believe they now set the standard for which the rest of Premier League’s top table must aspire. Chelsea and Manchester United will come again, although doubts over the ability of both to do so next season, respectively for reasons that a two window transfer embargo and whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man could stymie progress, suggests that City and Liverpool will once more battle it out in a two horse race. A Pochettino-inspired Tottenham can though get closer to make things interesting if an aggressive investment strategy is actioned. Elsewhere, Arsenal are frankly nowhere and face the possibility of being overtaken by Everton, Watford, and Leicester City.
The pre-season summer of 2019 will surely go down as one the most intriguing in recent times in both English and European football, setting the tone for not only the forthcoming season but whether a seismic-shift towards Anfield is permanent or just fleeting, and how not only United, Chelsea, and Tottenham but also Europe’s erstwhile behemoths react, effectively stung into action by failing to properly plan for both the waning of power from and eventual replacements of their untouchables. Grab your popcorn, sit back and watch what is sure to be a fascinating chain of events.