On Saturday 1st June, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will contest the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Final at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, in a clash that promises to provide a fitting climax to what’s been a sensational tournament.
Having narrowly missed out on the Premier League title this season, Liverpool will be desperate to cap their phenomenal campaign with the trophy they feel they deserve, though Tottenham, finalists for the first time in their history, will feel like they have a destiny of their own to fulfil.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important individual duels that could play a key role in deciding the outcome of the 2018/18 Champions League Final.
Virgil van Dijk vs Harry Kane
Doubts remain about the availability of Spurs’ captain Harry Kane, but if the England international is cleared to play, the 25-year old will come up against the considerable presence of Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk.
It’s fitting that the Champions League Final could pit one of Europe’s most lethal strikers against one of the continent’s best-centre halves, and a duel between Kane and van Dijk would certainly be a mouth-watering individual contest.
Van Dijk, recently crowned the PFA Player of the Year, has been outstanding at the heart of Liverpool’s defence this season, leading his team to the Premier League’s best defensive record during a campaign where he started all 38 games.
In the Champions League, van Dijk complemented his usual superb defensive displays with a regular threat at the other end, amassing 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 starts in the competition.
Harry Kane has the skillset to test van Dijk’s defensive mettle in Madrid. Spurs’ centre-forward hit 23 goals in 35 starts in all competitions this season, a haul that includes 5 goals in 8 Champions League starts.
Kane has already scored 5 career goals against Liverpool, and van Dijk will have to be at his best to stop the explosive all-rounder adding to that tally.
Sadio Mane vs Kieran Tripper
Having finished the season with 18 goals in 23 games since mid-January, Senegalese attacker Sadio Mane comes into the Champions League Final in searingly hot form.
The 27-year old’s prolific run-in shot him towards the top of the Premier League’s top scorer charts, and Mane finished the season as the division’s joint leading marksman alongside teammate Mohamed Salah and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In Madrid, Mane will be deployed in direct opposition to Kieran Tripper down Tottenham Hotspur’s right-hand side.
The wing-back will likely be pulling on Spurs white for the last time in Spain ahead of completing a move to Italy with Serie A club Napoli.
Trippier’s final Tottenham campaign was littered with suspect performances, and Spurs fans will fear that Sadio Mane’s blistering pace and intelligent movement will be too much for their beleaguered defender to handle.
Mohamed Salah vs Danny Rose
On the opposite flank, another of Liverpool’s most potent match winners, Mohamed Salah, will be hoping to cause similar problems for Tottenham’s Danny Rose.
The Egyptian hasn’t quite matched the insanely high levels he hit in his first season with Liverpool in 2017/18 this year, though Salah was never likely to match the incredible 44-goal total he hit in his first campaign on Merseyside.
The 26-year old still rattled the net an impressive 26 times this term in all competitions, and finished as the Premier League’s joint top scorer to boot.
Having been forced off through injury in last year’s Champions League Final defeat to Real Madrid, Salah will be chomping at the bit to make a more positive impact this time around.
Spurs’ defender Danny Rose will attempt to limit Salah’s influence, and the 28-year old has the physical and technical attributes to make life difficult for Liverpool’s talismanic winger.
Fabinho vs Christian Eriksen
Brazilian midfield destroyer Fabinho has excelled in recent months for Liverpool, dragging himself from the periphery of the first team right into the thick of the action for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
In the Champions League, Fabinho’s ability to break up play has been invaluable, and the 25-year old made more tackles (2.5) and more interceptions (1.2) than any of his fellow Liverpool midfielders on average per game on the continent.
Fabinho will likely be patrolling the areas and spaces of the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano pitch that Spurs’ schemer Christian Eriksen will be trying to occupy, setting up a fascinating skirmish between brawn and brains.
Eriksen has been Spurs’ most creative outlet again this season, laying on 12 Premier League goals for his teammates in 2018/19 – twice as many as Tottenham’s second most prolific goal provider Son Heung-Min.
In the Champions League, Eriksen’s powers of creation have been just as potent, and the Danish international notched 4 assists and 2 goals in 10 starts in the competition.
Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Son Heung-Min
As the archetypal modern attacking full-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold has established himself as one of the best players in his position in world football this season.
Ahead of the final game of Liverpool’s season, the 20-year old is sitting on a remarkably high 15 assists in all competitions – in fact, the 12 assists Alexander-Arnold collected in the Premier League is a record haul for a defender in a single campaign.
Alexander-Arnold’s attacking excellence helps to mask the slightly weaker defensive aspects of his game however, and Son Heung-Min will be aiming to take full advantage of that shortcoming.
Son was Spurs’ match-swinging hero their dramatic Champions League triumph over Man City in the tournament’s quarter finals, netting 3 goals over 2 legs to help Tottenham progress past Pep Guardiola’s men.
In total, Son has registered 20 goals for Spurs this season, and his penchant for shining in games of significance should make him a major threat in Madrid.