Would van Dijk be a worthy Ballon D'Or winner?

Things we learned from Saturday's Champions League final.

Would van Dijk be a worthy Ballon D'Or winner?

Liverpool’s newfound maturity tells

Jurgen Klopp had talked often of loving heavy metal football, full of adrenaline and excitement, all the way through six previous final defeats over the last decade in charge of Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund.

There was little of that helter-skelter attacking on Saturday in Madrid. Klopp had suggested at the pre-game conference that his team were “more mature” now, especially tactically, and the 90 minutes proved him correct.

After going ahead so early, Liverpool sat very deep and focused on keeping their shape and composure.

Their most important players were centre-back Virgil Van Dijk and holding midfielder Fabinho.

Raiding full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold also mostly reined in their attacking instincts.

It meant less exciting action, and more nail-biting tension, and Klopp’s side could have paid for their caution.

Goalkeeper Alisson made eight saves (although none super difficult) and Tottenham substitute Lucas Moura completely fluffed a great chance to equalise soon before it became 2-0.

“I’ve lost a lot more finals than I’ve won, and we always played better football,” Klopp said afterwards. “I usually have to explain how we could have lost the game.

"This time I don’t want to explain what happened, just to enjoy that we won.”

The handball rule

When Sadio Mane’s dinked cross hit Moussa Sissoko after just 21 seconds, the one person who seemed most certain it was a penalty was Slovenian referee Damir Skomina.

Replays showed the ball first hit Sissoko’s chest, then his arm.

That led Tottenham players and fans to claim it was ‘ball to hand’, not the other way around, while the Liverpool side argued the arm was raised in a clear attempt to become as big as possible.

There has been general confusion around the offside law all season — with Tottenham having calls go both for and against them in incidents involving Fernando Llorente and Danny Rose in the Champions League quarter-finals against Manchester City.

Clearly not all players agree with the current interpretations, and not every TV pundit appears up to date with the latest FIFA guidelines on the matter.

In the end, the consensus on Saturday was that experienced whistler Skomina probably got this one right.

And that the early goal was the game’s most important single moment.

“It changed our plans completely,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said at his post-game news conference.

“It had a massive impact on the team.”

Divock Origi as unlikely hero

Liverpool's Divock Origi celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League final soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid. Photo: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
Liverpool's Divock Origi celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League final soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid. Photo: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Returning to Liverpool last summer from a season long loan at Wolfsburg, Divock Origi was almost shipped off again to Huddersfield, with everyone knowing Klopp was not a big fan.

Although he eventually remained at Anfield, the Belgium international did not play in the Premier League until early December, when as a late sub he took advantage of Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s mistake to scramble a Merseyside derby winner.

Even then he remained mostly a back-up until an injury to Roberto Firmino for the UCL second leg against Barcelona.

The first and fourth goals at Anfield wrote him into club folklore, and his late clincher on Saturday [soon after replacing Firmino from the bench] means he scored three times from three shots in just over 200 minutes of pitch time in the competition.

“In life things are not always easy, but you have to keep fighting in difficult moments,” Oricki said.

“I always try and help the team, whenever I can, and to believe in myself. Today I’m just happy to have helped the team.”

Virgil van Dijk is a Ballon d’Or contender

Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 is the only defender to win the Ballon d’Or for the last four decades.

But Saturday’s official UEFA man of the match Virgil van Dijk is now in the reckoning for the 2019 award.

Van Dijk was effortlessly excellent throughout the 90 minutes at the Wanda Metropolitano, equally comfortable dealing with the physicality of (not fully fit) Harry Kane as the pace and trickery of Son Heung-min.

The Netherlands international remains the world’s most expensive defender at £75m, but it was clearly money well spent.

Van Dijk was not dribbled past even once during this season’s Champions League.

Even more importantly his assurance and confidence spread to defensive colleagues, who before he arrived at the club had tended to fold under pressure.

“Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, even if he’s not in the Champions League final, and he deserves it for as long as he plays,” a very relaxed van Dijk said when asked if he saw himself a Ballon d’Or contender.

“It’s not something I’m thinking of, but if it happens by some chance, then obviously I’d take it.”

Pochettino should look at Simeone

Picture: TF-Images
Picture: TF-Images

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino did a superb job in getting his team to the final, considering they have signed no new players in the last 18 months, due to a €1b investment in the club’s new stadium.

There are clear similarities with Diego Simeone of Saturday’s hosts Atletico Madrid.

Simeone also dragged a less fancied team to the Champions League final (twice) with little money to spend and a huge focus on togetherness and discipline.

But he has been unable to maintain that ultra-competitive level, especially as important players kept leaving, just as they settled into their new home.

Pochettino might find that example instructive — with question-marks over the futures of important Tottenham players now, and Juventus rumoured to want him to take over a team and club at a whole other level.

“It’s not the moment now to talk too much about the future, because you can interpret things in different ways,” Pochettino said on Saturday night, leaving just the right amount of uncertainty over what his next move might be.

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