5 questions that will decide the final

Five questions that will decide tomorrow's final at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Madrid.

5 questions that will decide the final

Do the full-backs just fly?

The single biggest tactical development in the Premier League over the last five years is the rise of full-backs as creators.

In 2013/14, Aleksandar Kolarov was the highest provider of assists from full-back, with seven. That total was bettered by ten players, and no full-back outside of Manchester City provided more than four.

Liverpool’s flying full-backs have helped changed all that. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson contributed 23 league assists between them this season.

No longer is central midfield a rich source of chance creation; it’s all about the overlapping wide players.

Assuming Mauricio Pochettino selects Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier, Tottenham have their own pair of attacking full-backs.

But while Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have proven their capability to surge forward without being caught out of position in their own third, doubts remain about Trippier’s ability to do the same.

It is instructive that he has been dropped for Alexander-Arnold in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.

So does Pochettino tell his two full-backs to proactively push high and try and pin Alexander-Arnold and Robertson back, a risky strategy if they get it wrong, or sit back and invite pressure in the hope of standing firm and picking off Liverpool on the counter?

What is Tottenham’s defensive plan?

One of Pochettino’s greatest strengths is his tactical flexibility. We can be certain that Jurgen Klopp will pick a 4-3-3, but that certainty is absent with Tottenham.

In the Premier League alone this season, Spurs started with a 4-3-1-2, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 5-3-2. They have the option to play with wing-backs and three central defenders or a flat back four.

The former would seem the most likely. Pochettino has picked a three-man central defence for Spurs’ last three games against Big Six sides (Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal) having lost 2-0 to Chelsea with a back four in February, and it covers for his lack of central midfield options.

Despite losing 2-1 at Anfield on March 31, Tottenham restricted Liverpool to three shots on target. Only once in a home league game last season did Klopp’s team have fewer.

Pochettino would take a repeat, and hope to avoid the defensive mistakes that cost Spurs in that defeat.

Who gets the nod from Klopp in central midfield?

It is the tale of two extremes. While Pochettino has seen Mousa Dembele depart, Harry Winks succumb to persistent injury problems and Eric Dier suffer a worrying loss of form to leave him with precious few central midfield options, Klopp is spoilt for choice.

Liverpool’s manager sprung a surprise in the semi-final second leg by recalling James Milner on the left of the midfield three; his experience at left-back provided perfect cover for Robertson to attack.

That left Fabinho in the most defensive position of the three and Jordan Henderson in his new box-to-box role, but the tie was turned on its head after Georginio Wijnaldum’s introduction at half-time.

The most likely option is probably for Wijnaldum to take Milner’s place for a game during which Liverpool will hope to have more of the ball, with Fabinho remaining in the centre and Henderson right, but Klopp does appreciate the intensity and hunger that Milner guarantees.

Someone is going to be left bitterly disappointed.

Can Eriksen get high up the pitch?

Christian Eriksen is a marvellous player who has been honed by Pochettino, but he has suffered for the lack of options around him.

Not only does Tottenham’s thin squad mean that Eriksen has been run into the ground, but the issues in central midfield mean that Eriksen has often been pushed slightly deeper to make amends.

And then there’s the effort: Eriksen runs further per game than any other Tottenham player, carrying out his manager’s demand for intense pressing without the ball.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Eriksen as worker bee, but it does erode his creative influence.

Over the last four seasons, his total of chances created in the league has fallen from 115 to 112 to 95 to 73.

With Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min able to support Harry Kane (and Lucas Moura can feel rightly gutted if he misses out on a start), the onus on Eriksen to create chances has diminished.

But there are few players better in Europe at threading through balls and playing the final pass.

If Spurs can get Eriksen to operate closer to the final third, he can be the difference-maker.

Do Tottenham have to change their shooting strategy?

Only two teams in the Premier League scored a higher percentage of their goals from outside the area than Tottenham (21%) but eight teams took a higher percentage of their shots from outside the area.

That suggests that Tottenham do not shoot from distance out of desperation, but as a deliberate strategy.

Drill down into the players, and that stacks up. Of the 32 players to score 10 or more Premier League goals this season, three of the top nine ranked by percentage of shots taken from outside the box are Tottenham players (Son, Kane and Moura).

The top three on that list are all midfielders (Paul Pogba, Luka Milivojevic and Gylfi Sigurdsson), which you might expect.

But even Tottenham’s forwards shoot from long range.

That’s interesting, because conceding from distance is one thing Liverpool have improved dramatically on following the arrival of Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho.

Klopp’s team conceded one goal from outside the penalty area in their entire league campaign. Are Tottenham better off trying to get players closer to goal rather than their shoot-on-sight policy?

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox