Madrid has often been where Champions League legends are made, and that proved to be the case for Liverpool. This year’s Champions League final won’t go down as one of the best, indeed in many aspects, it was among the worst, but Liverpool won’t mind one bit.
This side have battled their way back throughout the Champions League this season, and it was no different in the final. The natural rhythm, tempo and desire were lacking from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Instead, they had to battle, scrap and find something much deeper to ensure they were lifting a sixth European crown by the evening’s end. This Liverpool side have transformed under Klopp this year. The swashbuckling, cavalier team of the past has made way for one that has much more about it.They can still play that way when they want to, but now there’s more. Now, Liverpool can bunker down, weather the storm and scrap for the win should the situation require it.
The reason they can do that is because of two men who form their defence. Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk have been sensational for Liverpool throughout this campaign, and it was more of the same in Madrid. The world-record fees that the Reds paid for both players now look like bargain prices. No players have transformed the performance levels of a club and team in such a short space of time like they have.
The difference between Alisson’s performance in this final and that of Loris Karius in Kyiv a year ago could not be more staggering. Karius’ performance against Real Madrid on that fateful evening has been well documented. The German wilted under pressure in Kyiv, his whole performance a shaking, nervous display. If that was at one end of the scale, Alisson’s in Madrid was the other. The Brazilian stood tall, as he has done for the entirety of this campaign. It was a world-class display from a world-class goalkeeper. At various points in the game, Liverpool found themselves under severe Tottenham pressure, but the waves of Spurs attacks coming their way crashed and broke upon the rocks of Liverpool’s defence.
There were no loose ball, no spills, no signs of nerves or tension on the biggest stage. The Liverpool goalkeeper was calmness personified and when the situation required it, stood up and made himself counted. His flying, fingertip save to turn Christian Eriksen’s fierce strike over the bar was a moment of sublime goalkeeping quality. It spread calmness through the entire Liverpool team, who went about their business confident that even if Tottenham found their way through, Alisson had no intention of surrendering his clean sheet.
Not that finding their way through Liverpool’s defence was in any way a simple task. Virgil van Dijk put in another performance to confirm his status as the best defender in world football. The Dutchman has stood tall and transformed into the leader this Liverpool side long needed. He leads and commands from the back, setting a new standard that the rest of the squad strive to match. His display in Madrid will stand among the best he’s ever put in.
Harry Kane, albeit not fully fit, was reduced to an observer at best. He could not influence the game because Van Dijk had decided he wasn’t allowed to. The same can be said of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, as well as Lucas Moura when he finally made it onto the pitch. Van Dijk was determined to ensure there would be no repeat of the heartbreak in Kyiv and his performance personified a man who wouldn’t leave Madrid without a Champions League trophy under his arm.
The only Tottenham player to both him was Son Heung-min. Even then, Van Dijk swatted the Spurs forward away like a predator waves away an annoying gnat. No moment exemplified the level he had reached than midway through the second half. Son, driving through the middle, engineered his way past several Liverpool men and got a step ahead of Van Dijk. Other defenders would have panicked in that situation, but Van Dijk simply stepped up his speed, closed down the angle and saw off Son with minimal effort. It was a moment of world-class made to look simple.
That is what Van Dijk, and Alisson, have been all about this season. The saying goes that if you’re good at something, you make it look easy to do. These pair make defending, and goalkeeping, look like the most straightforward jobs in the world.
It was more of the same in Madrid. Tottenham toiled and battled with Liverpool, but they didn’t have players like Van Dijk and Alisson leading them through. They didn’t have the driving force that these two give the Reds. Madrid made legends out of every player in red, but Van Dijk and Alisson deserve the lion’s share of the credit.
Liverpool wouldn’t have found themselves in the final if it weren’t for those two, nor would they have lifted the trophy if it weren’t for the immense, world-class performances both put in at the Wanda Metropolitano. Like Liverpool, the duo is undeniably the best in Europe.
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