Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are aiming to make up for several recent near misses while Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham can dream of winning the Champions League for the first time as the two English clubs meet in Saturday’s final in Madrid.
The Spanish capital is being taken over by a sea of English supporters on a searingly hot weekend ahead of the 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) kickoff in the Metropolitano Stadium.
For Liverpool, it is a chance to become European champions for a sixth time and end the season on the highest of highs after they agonizingly missed out to Manchester City in the Premier League title race, despite losing only once all season.
A year ago Liverpool lost the Champions League final 3-1 to Real Madrid in Kiev after Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah was forced to go off injured and in tears.
Underdogs then, they are the clear favorites now against opponents appearing in their first final in this competition since it started life as the European Cup in the 1950s.
Liverpool defender Andy Robertson said Liverpool were not taking anything for granted against Spurs.
“Personally, the games I’ve played against them in the Premier League have been the toughest games we’ve played,” the Scottish left-back said.
In terms of European pedigree, Liverpool are clearly ahead as they prepare for a ninth appearance in the final of this competition. Their last win was the memorable come-from-behind victory over AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.
In contrast, it is 35 years since Spurs were in any European final, so just being here is a huge achievement — and it comes only weeks after they moved into a sparkling new stadium.
“We are in football because we want to win but I think to get to the final in the Champions League, that journey is the most difficult thing,” said Pochettino.
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Form is against the London club as Liverpool have already beaten Spurs twice this season and have lost just one of their last 14 meetings.
Klopp, however, has lost his last six finals as a coach.
The German put a positive spin on that record.
“I am probably at the moment a world-record holder, in the last seven years at least, in winning semi-finals,” Klopp said. “But if I wrote a book about that probably nobody would buy it.”
Liverpool reached the Madrid final after their incredible comeback to beat Barcelona in the semi-finals, a 4-0 win at Anfield overturning a 3-0 first-leg deficit as Lionel Messi’s side crumbled.
Salah missed that second leg but is fit now, while Klopp confirmed Brazilian livewire Roberto Firmino is ready after a groin injury.
Tottenham were 3-0 down on aggregate at half-time in the second leg of their tie against Ajax, yet went through on away goals thanks to Lucas Moura’s dramatic hat-trick.
That ensured an English sweep in the European finals this season, but while UEFA’s decision to play the Europa League showpiece between Chelsea and Arsenal in distant Baku on Wednesday was heavily criticized, nobody doubts Madrid is a fitting venue.
Real’s grand Santiago Bernabeu stadium has staged four finals in the past in this competition, as well as the final of a World Cup and a European Championship. This time the venue is Atletico Madrid’s new 68,000-seat home.
But there has been controversy over the ticket allocation with fans of both teams sharing just 33,226 tickets.
Tickets have been changing hands for as much as £25,000 ($31,600, 28,200 euros), according to the London Evening Standard.
The lack of tickets mean as many as 50,000 English fans will watch outside the ground, and organizers have set up two separate fan zones in the center of Madrid.
With Spain still haunted by the image of the old-school English football hooligan, police are worried.
Francisco Pardo, director general of Spain’s National Police, promised “probably the biggest deployment to guarantee security which we will carry out at a sporting event”.
Whoever wins, the celebrations will be wild.
Victory for Liverpool would put them ahead of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the list of the competition’s most successful clubs.
Spurs reached the final despite not outscoring their opponents in the quarter-finals or semi-finals — a statistical quirk also achieved by PSV Eindhoven when they won the trophy in 1988.
If they can upset the odds, theirs will be the first new name on the cup since Chelsea in 2012.
Image: AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah will hope to banish memories of last year’s final when he came off injured and in tears