A poor spectacle for neutrals
There are two distinct types of difficult games to watch, depending on your preference. The first is when technical excellence combines with the magnitude of the match to produce a stalemate, neither team over-committing and instead resorting to safety-first football. The second is when the technical quality drops and thus produces a staccato encounter filled with misplaced and overhit passes and poor decision-making. Saturday’s final was the latter.
There are a number of explanations for that. The importance of the game itself produces nerves that can so often put a player off their stride. Liverpool had the pressure of last year’s defeat to weigh them down, while no Tottenham player had ever played in this fixture. Both managers dismissed the impact of a three-week gap following the end of the Premier League season but, like the Europa League final, it took too long to get going and had the feel of a pre-season fixture in the first half.
But the early goal also affected the contest. The cliche is that a goal in the first quarter of the match opens play up, but Tottenham were happy to sit back and wait until the final 20 minutes before making their assault rather than pushing forward and risk losing the match in the first hour. Liverpool were happy to let them. The result was passive football.
VAR for handballs sparks controversy, rather than ending it
Technically, it probably was a handball. Even though Moussa Sissoko was pointing rather than attempting to block the ball, and even though it hit him on the armpit before hitting his hand. As soon as referee Damir Skomina awarded the penalty, it was never going to be overturned.
Had he not awarded it, it’s unclear whether VAR would have intervened. We will never know.
But it’s hard not to be a little wary about the future of handball decisions. When the punishment is so grave and the offence so
innocuous, it does all feel a little farcical. We can’t be that far away from managers instructing their players to aim in the direction of the arms as an attempt to win a penalty. It might even be what Sadio Mane was trying to do on Saturday, given the style of his chipped cross and immediate appeal.
This then is one of the difficulties of VAR: it exposes flaws and foibles in football’s rules. There is a lack of certainty and
consistency with handball incidents that makes absolute clarity virtually impossible. And it can never have been the intention of the law to award such an obvious goalscoring opportunity for such an incidental contact between ball and hand from a short distance away.
We’re going to see an awful lot of defenders in 2019/20 who feel very hard done by.
Pochettino made the impossible choice over Kane
Unless Tottenham won, Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t win. From the moment Spurs qualified for the Champions League final with that remarkable comeback in Amsterdam, Harry Kane was aiming to be fit. These are the occasions for which you live as a professional sportsperson.
Pochettino was presented with a problem. Kane was his No. 1 striker but starting him meant leaving Lucas Moura, the hat-trick hero of the semi-final, on the bench. He was also banking on Kane hitting the ground running despite no competitive football.
Having lost, Pochettino was always going to face criticism whichever decision he had made. He insisted that Kane had proven himself to be fully fit in training, and in truth, he performed better than Dele Alli. It was the lack of service to Kane and lack of attacking pro-action that harmed Tottenham more than Kane’s individual performance.
It also wasn’t as simple as swapping Kane and Moura, given Moura’s success against Ajax came with Fernando Llorente winning headers and causing danger. Virgil van Dijk was more likely to deal with that threat effectively than Daley Blind did. In the end, Pochettino made his choice and hoped. Had he opted for the opposite plan, the result may have been no different.
Origi the Liverpool cult hero
Last August, the club made it clear that Origi was for sale, if any suitor wanted to stump up the £25m asking price. No deal was arranged, so Liverpool made Origi available for loan. Huddersfield Town came closer than most, but no deal was done. Even so, the Belgian was left in no doubt that he was a spare part.
Anfield is home to plenty of extraordinary tales of individual redemption or progress, but few can rival Origi’s. That spare part in 2018 has been a driving force in 2019. Champions League triumph would not have been possible without him or his goals. Barcelona were humbled and Tottenham broken. He had three shots in the Champions League this season; all of them went in.
Henderson’s reaction a reminder of sport’s personal journeys
It was all in the embrace. Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson walked over to the side of the pitch after the full-time whistle and hugged his father. Brian Henderson has been suffering from throat cancer, but was in Madrid to watch his kid. As one Henderson hugged the other, neither ever wanted to let go.
Jordan Henderson with his Dad after the game, look how much this means to him. Special moment 👏 pic.twitter.com/5ADsN23Fak— View of the Kop (@ViewOfTheKop_) June 1, 2019
It had all been for this. The early morning drives to matches and the evening training sessions, the pep talks and the stern words, the hard yards and the desperate hope for good fortune that had lasted two decades to get to this point. In that long hug, gratitude and relief and love was passed to and fro like 10,000 electrical impulses.
Football is a team sport, but it takes a team effort to even get there. Never forget that for every footballer and football manager you and we rate and slate is a human being just trying to do their best while dealing with the same travails of life that none of us have immunity from.