Following a lengthy three-week build up, Tottenham Hotspur’s chances of winning the Champions League were significantly damaged within just 22 seconds of the first whistle on Saturday night.
After Liverpool had raced forward in an attempt to get their noses in front early on, Moussa Sissoko was penalised when Sadio Mane’s cross struck his outstretched arm. Sissoko may have been a little unfortunate to see the ball ricochet off his chest and then hit his arm, but extending it away from his body to that extent was a needless risk that gave Mohamed Salah the opportunity to draw first blood in the second minute.
That strike made Spurs’ task harder, but there was still plenty of time to get back into the match and they will have drawn inspiration from their sensational comeback from three goals down on aggregate in the semi-finals against Ajax. This time, though, there was to be no dramatic turnaround. Mauricio Pochettino’s men enjoyed plenty of possession for the remainder of the encounter without ever sufficiently testing Alisson in the opposition goal. And although Liverpool, who made sure of victory with a well-taken goal by Divock Origi in the closing stages, did not play particularly well either, the onus was on Tottenham because of the scoreline.
Games as big as the Champions League final often lead to sweeping conclusions, and although Liverpool can legitimately point to the result and argue that the end justified the means, the Madrid showpiece could have turned out very differently had Sissoko kept his arm by his side. That is not to say that Tottenham would have triumphed but for that incident – who knows, they could have lost by an even bigger margin had Liverpool needed to chase the match – but it is important to remember that minor episodes can have major effects and it would be wrong to lose perspective with regards to where Tottenham are currently at.
In Pochettino’s first campaign at the helm, Spurs missed out on Champions League qualifications. They then finished as runners-up to Leicester City in 2015/16 and Chelsea in 2016/17, before securing two more top-four finishes in the last two seasons. This represents a phenomenal stretch of consistency given that Tottenham’s net spend and wage bill are substantially lower than the teams they are competing with, namely Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and, their victors this weekend, Liverpool. Despite the disappointment of defeat in Madrid, it is important to remember that the north Londoners are still well ahead of schedule.
“Now it’s impossible to talk and we will all be very disappointed,” Pochettino told reporters at the Wanda Metropolitano. “The season was fantastic. We need to feel proud. I feel so proud of all the players, the fans and the club. We can’t give the last moment, the last game of the season, a massive reward for our fans.
“It’s not about tactics and today before 30 seconds a penalty that changed the plans completely. It had a massive impact for the team which we had to manage but the team was great, because of course it was difficult after.
“When that happens, it’s so painful but at the same time we need to be calm in the way that we talk and analyse the things because the season was fantastic and we need to feel proud. To finish in the top four and play in the Champions League final for the first time in the history of the club. It’s a thing that is going to be painful because we lost the final but in the same time we need to be positive.”
Pochettino later refused to commit his future to the club when invited to do so, but it is likely that he did not want to discuss such a big question in the immediate aftermath of the game. It would be a surprise if the Argentinian departed at this stage, but he is right to seek assurances from Daniel Levy about the club’s objectives going forward. Tottenham have had a fantastic five years, but they must ensure that their first ever Champions League final appearance is the start of something, not the end.
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