By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (May 20, 2019) US Soccer Players – This is the time of year for crowning champions. In Europe, domestic cup tournaments typically close out the long club season. The continent’s biggest trophies, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League provide an appropriate end to the season. For the first time in history, both finals will feature only English clubs.
The Premier League’s domination over the continent’s top five domestic competitions and the rest of Europe is a result of money and years of investment. Despite the exciting season finale that saw Manchester City edge out Liverpool by a single point for the title, the premier League isn’t immune to dull matches. No league is. As a result, these much-anticipated finals aren’t immune to negative tactics.
Many a final turns into defensive play, fear of losing, and negative tactics. After a long season where injuries and fatigue can often play a role, some managers think the only way to go is negative for a big game. This philosophy, at a juncture of the season when many teams are trying to win a trophy, can leave a poor lasting impression. The impetus to go defensive is always there. The four managers involved in these marquee games don’t have a history of negative tactics. It’s a big reason why these teams got so far this season. It’s why they are on the verge of making history. It's also why they need to avoid the normal precedent.
Even the World Cup final isn't immune. Last year’s topsy-turvy 4-2 win by France against Croatia was such an outlier that the previous four finals dating back to 2002 combined for six goals. Despite that, the French faced accusations throughout the tournament of playing anti-football. Similarly, the Champions League has also gone through finals that were low scoring. For example, between 1978 and 1983 all of the old European Cup finals finished 1-0. In the current era, Real Madrid won by large margins but that only led to deciding that they overmatched an opponent unable to fully park the bus and hope for a counter attack.
Parking the bus, as the English like to say, can be a real problem. It’s bad when one team does it. It’s especially bad if both do it. In the modern age of global TV and internet audiences, the public demands more. There is very little FIFA, UEFA, or anyone can do to ensure that games are livelier, more entertaining products worth our time and money. History is often no gauge of what we will see. The last and first all-English Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United in 2008 produced just two goals. Manchester United won on penalties after 120 minutes.
Veteran TV commentator Ian Darke lamented Portugal’s 1-0 extra time victory against France in the 2016 European Cup final. "It was the Euro 2016 final that a rather tedious tournament – perhaps the worst since Italia ‘90 – deserved,” he wrote in a piece for ESPN.com.
Will we see the same on May 29 in the Europa League final and three days later in the Champions League finale? It’s not likely. Here’s why. Both Arsenal manager Unai Emery and Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri like to employ attacking styles that contain fluid ball movement.
For example, Emery’s use of the wings with help from the fullbacks have made Arsenal particularly fun to watch, although rather inconsistent throughout this season. Chelsea, meanwhile, now play “Sarriball,” a style previously made famous by the Italian manager at Napoli. His fast-paced, possession style of attacking soccer is a vertical tiki-take of sorts. Like Arsenal, the defenders hold plenty of possession. The midfielders and strikers are then expected to score. This could end up being a great game, and by great we mean high-scoring, since Arsenal and Chelsea have found it difficult to properly defend this season.
What about the Champions League main course? Liverpool and Tottenham brought a never-say-die approach to the semifinals. Both produced heart-stomping performances, a product more of will than tactics. The players on both teams simply never gave up. Tactics helped, but heart won the day.
Both Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham have the talent and tactical mindset to produce a great final. Both teams have been entertaining to watch all season. Klopp uses a 4-2-3-1, while Pochettino uses a 4-3-1-2 with a diamond in the midfield. Both coaches, however, use formations that allow for players gifted at passing to get more involved with the attack regardless of position.
Like Chelsea vs Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs know each other very well. The expectation is that both teams will produce a highly-entertaining match at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. We should be witness to another great game since these are two of the best-attacking teams in Europe at the moment.
The other sign that these two games could produce memorable finals is the amount of time the four clubs have had to rest. The Premier League ended on May 12. That gives the teams plenty of time to recover and regroup ahead of these high profile matches. Whether Harry Kane, sidelined recently due to injury, can return in time for the Champions League final is the question. His return may even disrupt Tottenham’s mojo, although it would be highly improbable that Pochettino would sit a heathy striker of Kane’s talent. It’s just another storyline that helps feed the run-up to the game.
It’s often the pre-game hype skillfully put forward by those same TV networks that always demand a highly entertaining product that sully games. What we expect to see and what we actually see are two different things. Here’s hoping to see a final worthy of this Champions League season.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Big seasons for USMNT players in the Bundesliga, Scotland, and Belgium
- Preview: The 2019 US Open Cup
- MLS trends in 2019
- Canada's new league
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