It’s the final game of a long season for me and it’s only the biggest game in club football!
Game 55: Tottenham Hotspur 0-2 Liverpool (Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid -1.6.2019)
After months of expectation, the big day had finally arrived.
I got my hands on the tickets at the start of May and at the time things looked set for a Barcelona v Ajax Final. Then the semi-Final second legs happened and for all their drama, a much less enticing Final (for me) emerged in the aftermath.
But I’m nothing if not determined, the presence of two teams I don’t care for wasn’t going to stop me taking up my once in a lifetime chance of going to a Champions League Final (I go into a bit more detail here about why I rejected all notion of selling my ticket for a massive profit) and at least I’d have my good friend Alan, who was similarly unenthused by the line-up, there as moral support.
A long matchday began with a trip into the city centre to see the Champions Festival events in the morning, a trip down to the Manzanares so Alan could see Atlético’s old home before its demolition and then lunch at Goiko Grill on Calle Embajadores.
Wisely eschewing another trip into the city centre, Which by this stage was heaving with people, we stayed in my area of Arganzuela/Atocha which was nice and quiet and thankfully almost free of visiting football fans.
Getting out to the stadium early by way of Metro Line 2 allowed us to sample a bit of pre-match atmosphere in the bars near the Wanda. Alas, almost all of them had ramped up their prices for the day, determined to make the most of the influx of visitors, unfamiliar with how things are normally done in Madrid.
In the area around the Wanda, Liverpool fans significantly outnumbered their Spurs counterparts. Part of the reason for this was that most locals seemed to have adopted Liverpool for the weekend, possibly down to a shared love of Fernando Torres (Atlético) or the fact that they knocked out Barça (Real Madrid). But what I appreciated most was the number of other football shirts on display. There were plenty of Latin American shirts (especially Brazilian club teams), Eastern European sides, even someone in a John Terry Chelsea shirt…
I was pleased to add the colours of Coleraine to those on display, almost certainly the only way the Bannsiders will ever be represented at Europe’s showpiece game.
We soon decided that it was best to beat the queues and get into the ground nice and early. In fact, there was little to no queue when we went through the security cordon around the ground and after having our tickets checked we were free to explore the area around the stadium.
There wasn’t too much going on in all honesty and we spent most of the time sheltering from the sun. I was glad of the shade that various parts of the stadium offered because it was quite simply far too hot for me. The fact that the UEFA-approved beverages on sale inside were €5 wasn’t exactly brilliant either.
Highlight of this waiting period was probably watching a French interviewer try (and fail) multiple times to record an interview with a couple of obviously inebriated Liverpool fans.
Once inside we found that our seats were above the international TV studios, sadly we were unable to spot Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand, Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger on a quick break, but we did spot ex-Rangers man Maurice Edu getting his make-up done ahead of an appearance on American TV. So that’s something.
Our seats were at the South end of the stadium, closer to the section where the majority of Liverpool fans were seated, but there were a few white Spurs shirts dotted around our section and to the immense credit of everyone there, there was no significant bother at all during the game.
Before the match could get underway we had the dubious pleasure of the Champions League Final Opening Ceremony aka an utterly unnecessary 10 minute concert from Imagine Dragons. It could have been worse (the poor souls attending Juventus v Real Madrid in Cardiff two years ago were subjected to the Black Eyed Peas, who actually overran their slot) but wouldn’t it just have been nice to let the fans sing and build the atmosphere naturally before the game?
The game had barely got going before we had the most controversial moment of the evening. 22 seconds in, the ball struck Moussa Sissoko’s arm/chest and the referee, without even needing to ask VAR, awarded a penalty which after a slight delay was duly converted by Mo Salah. It was a harsh decision, particularly considering how early it was, but by the letter of the law, probably a correct one.
Initially it looked like Liverpool would simply overwhelm their opponents with one of the early onslaughts Klopp’s teams have become famed for, but they gradually retreated back and allowed Spurs to have the ball.
Meanwhile, Spurs contented themselves with recreating the football match from a twenty-year-old episode of The Simpsons. A brave tactical choice from Pochettino.
Half time came as a bit of a relief. The chance to go and get some extremely expensive water to rehydrate was extremely welcome given how warm it still was despite it being almost 10pm.
Initially the second half seemed to bring about an improvement in quality too, Spurs continued to hog the ball only now they were creating openings and occasionally putting Liverpool under some pressure. The big problem was that the gamble of playing Harry Kane backfired. He clearly lacked match fitness, having not played since the first leg of the quarter final in early April and looked horribly off the pace.
In fairness, he was in good company. His teammates Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen weren’t at the level they’re capable of and on the other side Roberto Firmino, himself only back after an injury lay-off, and Mo Salah, peripheral after converting the penalty, didn’t have the impact on the game you would have expected.
Any time Spurs has a half decent opening, they couldn’t find a way past Allison Becker, the Brazilian goalkeeper Liverpool paid a record sum for in the summer after Karius’ horror show against Real Madrid in Kiev.
The game was petering out, but as long as it was 1-0 there was half a chance of a turnaround. However this was ended when Divock Origi, the unlikely hero of the semi-Final comeback, converted his only shot of the night with three minutes of normal time remaining.
With the tension released, Liverpool’s fans were finally able to give their repertoire of songs an airing for the remainder of the game.
After the final whistle came the trophy presentation. First the disconsolate Spurs players trooped up to receive their runners-up medals, then the podium was slowly filled with Liverpool players before captain Jordan Henderson joined them to hoist aloft the famous old trophy.
So the final itself was a bit of a let-down. Liverpool didn’t play brilliantly, but took their chances when it mattered and in a season where they got 95 points and still didn’t win the Premier League, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t deserve to finish with some silverware. And for Spurs, it’s a case of what might have been, they never came close to producing the devastating attacking play that blew away Dortmund and dragged them back from the brink against Ajax. Will they ever have a better chance to win this?
Both took gambles on the fitness of key players which didn’t really pay off and the combination of this, the heat and a long gap since their last match close to three weeks beforehand all added up to an underwhelming spectacle.
But the experience was excellent. Madrid is a brilliant city for hosting events like this and in all honesty, it’s got me dreaming of a potential Spanish bid to host the World Cup or European Championships in the future.
And that’s that for the 2018/19 season (in Pictures). Big thanks to everyone who has accompanied me at games this season, who has read, shared and commented on these posts.
I do intend to continue doing this in some form next season, what that exactly will be isn’t 100% clear yet. What is clear is that I need a wee break from football! Pre-season back home will start at the beginning of July and I’m looking forward to a few quieter Saturdays in between now and then.
Before that, I will be publishing my end of season review, so keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks!