The Champions League final between Liverpool and Spurs was probably as bad a deciding game as the competition has seen for years.
In terms of a neutral, it was a bland showing between two sides that had an array of attacking talent on show. Some pundits have put this down to the fact that both sides had a three-week break from their last league game, blaming rustiness as the reason for the lack of quality.
However Jurgen Klopp will not care how the final was won, nor will the players or the fans of the club who celebrated lifting ‘the big ears’ for the sixth time. In fact, judging how the Reds tweaked their system this year compared to previous, it could be said that the game went exactly how Klopp wanted it.
The heavy metal football that has been displayed over the past few years has died down somewhat, and perhaps this is what helped to get Liverpool over the line. In previous finals under Klopp Liverpool had been too open at the back. They had conceded seven goals in the previous three finals they had played in under his reign. Three in the Europa League final and the same amount in the dreaded Champions League final in Kyiv.
When you’re conceding this amount of goals in big finals it leaves the game virtually impossible to win. And although some of the goals conceded in these finals were down to personnel errors, Klopp knew that changes needed to be made to both the starting team and the system. Liverpool went from a spine of Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren and James Milner in the final against Seville to Loris Karius, Virgil Van Dijk and Jordan Henderson in the final against Madrid.
Neither of those spines were particularly strong with Virgil Van Dijk the only real world class player on show in what are vital positions on the pitch. This year that changed and the signings of Allison and Fabinho in the summer proved to be a mastermind from Klopp who now had the backbone to build the rest of the team around.
All three were immense against Spurs in the final, Van Dijk pocketed both Kane and Son. Fabinho read the game impeccably in front of the back four and Allison was rock-solid in goal. The final was won in the manner of a gnarly Italian side showing just how many ways this Liverpool team can win football matches.
And this was the key tweak that was needed to Liverpool’s system. Ever since Klopp came in, the side have been able to win open games against big teams more often than not. But it was the tight, turgid games that the Reds failed to get results in. Many of the big wins Liverpool had in both the league and Champions League in the past few years were a matter of them scoring three or four goals, yet just managing to win by the single goal.
This was something that was definitely hurting the side as on too many occasions points were dropped due to the team being unable to hold teams out and conceding disappointing goals. This is where Klopp deserves extreme credit with the changes he made personnel wise and systematically. Less talk has been made this year as to how dangerous Liverpool’s front three are. This is partially due to the rest of the team picking up their performances but also due to the fact that the extreme pressing of the past has stopped with Liverpool now playing in a much more controlled manner.
This was evident in the early part of the season right through. Both 1-0 victories over Brighton and Huddersfield in the first few games showed a difference in the team’s mentality. Last season these games would have been won by three or four goals but Liverpool took the foot off the gas this year after scoring against both. This was a sign that Klopp was almost ensuring his players conserved themselves for the long season ahead but also that the team were going to build on a solid defence.
It was this solid defence that allowed the forwards to just score the single goal yet still win the game. Something that Liverpool fans would have dreamed of a year ago. This shows the talent of the manager we have in charge and proves that he is clearly at an elite level. Liverpool can now win games in more than just one style of play. That is what has brought the team to the next level. Although it has taken Klopp time to achieve success at the club it has to be admired how he learned from his mistakes and made the key changes that were required.
The German manager has taken this side from a bleak position where success looked impossible and turned them into the champions of Europe. He has turned the fans, the board, and the players from doubters to believers and his eyes will now be on Premier League success to cement his place as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever managers.