Who will end Champions League drought, Liverpool or Tottenham?
Given the way both Liverpool and Tottenham reached Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final (3 p.m. ET, TNT), they might be forgiven for being grateful to have made it this far.
Despite a pair of extraordinary comebacks separated by 24 hours and 400 miles three weeks ago, these two English clubs know full well the opportunity to rewrite a painful modern history that awaits them, the kind of chance that may not arise again soon.
The Wanda Metropolitan Stadium in Madrid will play host to the Champions League final vs. Liverpool and Tottenham on Saturday. (Photo: Gabriel Bouys, AFP/Getty Images)
It would have taken only the slightest shift in fate and either or both teams would be on summer vacation right now, left to ruminate on another season that wasn’t everything it might have been.
Instead, they are in Madrid preparing to play for one of the biggest prizes in soccer.
In the second leg of its semifinal against Barcelona on May 7, Liverpool overturned a three-goal deficit on perhaps the most famous night its iconic Anfield stadium has seen.
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The next night, Tottenham clinched a place in the finale in similarly remarkable fashion. Dropping 3-0 behind to Dutch side Ajax on aggregate scores with 35 minutes remaining, the North London team rode a hat-trick from Lucas Moura to victory, sealed by a final goal in the waning moment of stoppage time.
And thus, naturally, two passionate fan bases dare to dream. Dramatic late goals and surging comebacks have the effect of making a group feel like they are the team of destiny. Clearly, they can’t both be right.
“It is about using the things that have brought you to the final,” Liverpool head coach Jurgen Klopp said. “We have controlled our emotions in such a good way that our feelings are just pure excitement.”
“Only the final of the World Cup is as important as this in football,” Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino added. “I know what it means to the club, to the fans. We understand it is everything to them.”
A triumph for either club would be potentially transformative. Liverpool enjoyed European glory in the late 1970s and early 1980s, winning this competition four times when it was still just the European Cup – not the Champions League. Another triumph was added thanks to a major upset in 2005 and Klopp masterminded a trip to last year’s final, where Liverpool was defeated by Real Madrid.
However, the Reds have not won the English title since 1990, a long and painful wait. This season, they finished second to the imperious Manchester City, ending with just one defeat and a total (97 points) that was the third-highest in league history.
Coming up empty after a campaign that has spawned outstanding soccer, highlighted by the offensive excellence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and just a single league defeat, would leave decidedly mixed memories.
For Tottenham, the drought has lasted even longer. Spurs were last champions of England in 1961 and have spent most of the intervening years in the shadow of local rival Arsenal. Arsenal’s defeat on Wednesday to Chelsea in the Europa League final – Europe’s second most important club tournament – gives Tottenham the potential for unlimited and long-lasting bragging rights if it is to claim the big prize this weekend.
Having continued to develop and grow under Pochettino for the past five years, this would be the ultimate fruition of promise that has gradually built.
Supporters of both teams are piling over to Madrid in full knowledge that either an unforgettable triumph or an agonizing defeat beckons.
There are forces of economics and scruples at play. When it first emerged there may be a shortage of available flights bound for the Spanish capital, prices escalated to $1,600 for a 90-minute journey.
Perhaps inevitably, opportunistic travel carriers latched on, adding more flights and thus tilting the balance of supply and demand. Those who decided to wait can now snap up fares for around $300.
In truth, for long-suffering supporters who have long awaited this moment, no price would be too much for a victory.
Some will tout the presence of two English teams in the final as being proof of an EPL resurgence. Realistically, it is much more localized than that. Victory for either team will serve as evidence that they are firm members of European soccer’s elite circle – while helping to wash away years of disappointment.
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