How should Liverpool and Tottenham set up tactically to win the Champions League?
The two sides will meet at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium on Saturday in the Champions League final, with Spurs appearing in the final stage for the first time and Liverpool looking to make amends after finishing runners-up last year.
So how might the managers approach the game? We take a look at their previous league encounters to find out what worked, and what didn’t…
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Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool, Premier League, Sep 15, 2018
Liverpool will pore over lessons learned from their meeting with Spurs six months ago, when they outclassed their hosts in a 2-1 win at Wembley to maintain a perfect start to the season.
Gini Wijnaldum broke the deadlock after goal-line technology signalled Michel Vorm had failed to stop his looping header, and Roberto Firmino tapped in a second before Erik Lamela scored a late consolation.
The Reds stuck with their winning formula in a 4-3-3 system, with Naby Keita replacing Jordan Henderson on the left of midfield and Joe Gomez partnering Virgil van Dijk in central defence.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino deployed a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation, with Moussa Dembele sitting at the base of midfield, Harry Winks replacing the injured Dele Alli and Lucas Moura providing a counter threat alongside Harry Kane.
One of the standout stats from the game was how Spurs dominated possession, despite their poor performance, restricting Jurgen Klopp’s side to only 39.6 per cent of the play. But Spurs struggled to cut through the Liverpool defence despite all that possession.
Toby Alderweireld attempted a team-topping 96 passes, but his top combination was with fellow centre-back Jan Vertonghen, while a triangular passing pattern between right-back Kieran Tripper, Eric Dier and back to Alderweireld proved all too common.
Lucas Moura and Kane ended up alienated, while Christian Eriksen struggled to make an impact, typically looking to feed left-back Danny Rose, whose average position was just inside the Reds’ half.
In contrast, Liverpool’s combinations were progressive with both full-backs typically finding James Milner or Keita ahead of them, while Milner attempted a team-topping 13 passes to Firmino – of which only two travelled backwards.
Those combinations and average positions translate in the attacking thirds, which can be explored further during intervals in the interactive graphic below.
Both sides looked to attack down their respective left flanks, with Rose’s activity heavily skewing the left-flank preference for Spurs.
Meanwhile, Keita’s advanced position between Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane boosted Liverpool’s left-sided assault – an approach that restricted Trippier from advancing in custom style down Tottenham’s right channel.
Liverpool’s attacking thrust resulted in 14 shots inside the box – twice the total Spurs achieved. In addition, the Reds struck 10 shots on target compared to Spurs’ three.
Defensively, Klopp’s side pressed from the front in customary style, winning considerably more possession in the attacking third and attempting almost twice as many tackles.
With the possession and passing stats skewed by Tottenham’s passive exchanges, the only metric Pochettino’s men appeared to emerge superior was in aerial battles, and even that was marginal.
You can see how the goals were scored in the interactive graphic below, but read on to see how the teams learnt from this meeting and approached their most recent league encounter only two months ago…
Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham, Premier League, Mar 31, 2019
Having been overrun six months earlier, Pochettino elected to use a five-man defence in a 3-1-4-2 at Anfield, starting Alderweireld and Vertonghen either side of Davinson Sanchez, with Sissoko initially sitting deeper in midfield.
The shift in approach nearly paid dividends, with a controversial Lucas Moura goal cancelling out Firmino’s opener – after Kane had instigated the attack, spraying a free-kick wide while the ball appeared to be moving.
However, Spurs’ efforts were crushed in the dying seconds when Alderweireld inadvertently bundled the ball into the back of his own net to hand Liverpool three points and maintain their title tilt.
For Liverpool, the only changes from their previous meeting saw Joel Matip replace the injured Gomez, while Henderson started in the three-man midfield in place of Keita.
The average positions and passing combinations below suggest the extra centre-back proved effective for Spurs, limiting the Reds’ full-backs and midfielders to typically switch play along the halfway line.
Vertonghen ventured forwards to contend with the advanced Mohamed Salah, while the majority of Spurs’ passes channelled along the defensive line – but Trippier was freed to contribute in a successful network of attacking combinations.
Once again, Liverpool overloaded an attacking channel, this time to the right. However, Spurs’ additional centre-back provided sufficient cover – which allowed Eriksen to push forward and operate in the vacant space.
Tottenham looked to exploit the right flank, particularly in the first half, resulting in Mane sinking deeper than usual, just ahead of Milner in central midfield. However, this also left space for Robertson to tee up Firmino’s opener.
Unlike their meeting at Wembley in September, Tottenham sacrificed a greater share of the ball to achieve more purposeful possession.
The match stats also revealed parity for passes and long-range distribution, and an almost equal number of attempts on goal and tackles.
However, Liverpool’s rampaging full-backs helped the Reds attempt almost twice as many crosses, which, ultimately, proved to be the decisive advantage – with Robertson’s pinpoint assist teeing up Firmino’s opener.
Champions League final team news
Kane is expected to be available for Tottenham after two months on the sidelines with ligament damage, while Winks has also been declared fit for the showdown in Madrid.
Pochettino faces a welcomed selection headache in attack if Kane starts, with quarter-final hero Fernando Llorente and semi-final hat-trick winner Lucas Moura vying for a place – in addition to in-form Heung-Min Son.
For Liverpool, Keita has been ruled out for the final, while Firmino should be available for selection after missing three games with a muscle strain.
Matip is likely to start at centre-back ahead of Dejan Lovren and Gomez, with the latter only recently returning from ankle surgery – while Fabinho is favourite to start in place of the sidelined Keita.
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In both previous meetings, Tottenham have looked to push Rose deep into Liverpool territory – even when the Reds piled down his channel, suggesting Pochettino may well look to exploit Trent Alexander-Arnold once again on Saturday.
It would also seem likely the Argentine will deploy a five-man defence after the third central defender proved pivotal in unleashing both of his own full-backs and helped defend attacks down overloaded channels.
However, the Spurs boss could opt to match Liverpool in a 4-3-3 formation and start Son and Lucas Moura either side of Kane up top.
Spurs notably ramped up their physical presence against Liverpool effectively two months ago. The graphic below shows how they were way off the Reds’ levels in September, but matched or surpassed their rivals in March.
Liverpool will look to win duels across midfield and focus distribution through the full-backs, while Milner will be unlucky to lose a starting berth after imposing unrivalled physical presence and forward momentum back in September.
However, Klopp’s side have run out 2-1 winners in both meetings this season and will more than fancy their chances against a side that collected 27 fewer points in the Premier League.
The game may well be won by tactical genius. But, fine margins have determined the outcome of recent clashes, such as Wijnaldum’s header awarded by goal-line technology, Lucas Moura’s controversial strike and Alderweireld’s late own goal.
Follow the Champions League final on Sky Sports
You can follow all of the action of Tottenham vs Liverpool from the Wanda Metropolitano on the Sky Sports app and skysports.com with our dedicated Champions League final live blog, which will feature the best build-up, commentary and reaction from Madrid.