The 2019 Champions League final is almost here and while there are still plenty of unknowns to discover, there are also lots of things which are pretty much certain to happen.
So, at the end of a season in which so much has been unexpected, let’s take a look at some elements of this Tottenham v Liverpool meeting that are comfortingly predictable.
Sadio certain to be Liverpool’s Mane man
Twelve months ago, Liverpool’s build-up to their Champions League final against Real Madrid was dominated by the importance of Mohamed Salah to their chances and, given his team’s struggles after he went off injured, rightly so.
Now, of the Reds’ enviable front three, Sadio Mane has arguably become the key figure. He shared the Premier League’s Golden Boot with Salah and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but take away penalties and Mane would have been three clear of any other player.
The Senegal forward scored Liverpool’s only goal in the 2018 final and if he nets against Spurs he will be the first player to score in the final in consecutive years since Franz Roth for Bayern Munich in 1975 and 1976.
He comes alive in the knockout stages, with 71% of his Champions League goals coming after the groups – the highest proportion of any player with 10 or more – and his expected goals total of 7.8 (excluding penalties) in this season’s tournament is exactly 2.0 higher than any other player in 2018-19 and only 1.1 lower than Manchester United managed in their entire European campaign.
As a result, all the signs point to Mane being the most important figure in the match… except one.
The man who has scored 80% of his Premier League goals within two miles of the English coast has to perform in a Champions League final being staged in one of the only major European cities not built by a river or a seafront. Will he sink or swim?
Someone is bound to pay the penalty
Talking of penalties, this will be the first Champions League final to get the luxury VAR (video assistant referee) experience, with the added bonus that it features the teams whose Premier League meetings have produced more spot-kicks (22) than any other fixture.
Will the remote referees serve up some 12-yard drama? If they do, then Spurs and Liverpool – in Harry Kane and James Milner – have some of the coolest men in the business, with only six failures between them from 42 attempts in the Premier League and Champions League combined.
It’s why the rest of the world envies England’s penalty technique…
The winner will have defied convention
Whoever wins the 2019 Champions League, it will go down as an outlier of an edition.
It’s the first final between two non-group winners since 2010, the first not to feature a team who has actually won their domestic league title in the 21st Century (Liverpool and Spurs’ combined league drought of 87 years seems, and is, a lot), and we know that the winning side will end the season with four defeats, a new record for the Champions League in its current format.
Manchester United, in 2007-08, remain the most recent team to become European champions without losing a game, while AC Milan’s poor record – at first glance at least – of three defeats in 2006-07 was skewed by losses in their final two group games when the section was won.
Liverpool and Tottenham’s progress through the group stage was anything but serene, with the Reds losing all three of their away games in the autumn and Tottenham virtually eliminated three matches into their ‘group of death’, which also included Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV. They scraped through with a negative goal difference and six months later are one game from immortality.
Whoever wins, they will have underlined how unpredictable this season, and the Champions League in general, has become.
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Test your knowledge – and then impress your friends
We all know that the hours before the Champions League final can drag, so why not use the below to make yourself feel momentarily superior as kick-off approaches.
Take our mini-quiz and show off to your mates… (answers are below, but no peeking!)
1) Which full-back on show in the 2019 final has created the most goalscoring chances by a defender in the Champions League this season?
2) The past five first-time finalists in the Champions League have not won the trophy. Who were the last Champions League/European Cup final debutants to win?
3) If Tottenham are victorious, London will have exactly two European Cup wins to its name. Name the other four cities to have two European Cups.
4) Name the only player to feature as both a starter and a substitute in Liverpool’s pair of Champions League finals in 2005 and 2007?
5) And talking of players whose last name begins with K – and with Harry Kane seemingly back to full fitness – can you name the last four players with a K surname to score in a Champions League/European Cup final?
1) Kieran Trippier. So not him, or him.
2) Borussia Dortmund in 1997.
3) Porto, Lisbon, Turin and Nottingham.
4) Harry Kewell
5) Dirk Kuyt (2007), Patrick Kluivert (1995), Ronald Koeman (1992) & Ludwig Kogl (1987)