Ranking the most important Liverpool and Tottenham players who will feature in the Champions League final.
Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk or Harry Kane? Who will decide the 2019 Champions League final in favor of either Tottenham or Liverpool on Saturday, June 1?
Both teams know each other well from their battles in the Premier League in recent years. Liverpool hold the psychological edge thanks to beating Spurs twice in domestic action this season.
The games were tight, though, 2-1 to the Reds at both Wembley Stadium and Anfield, so Tottenham will be confident they can win a one-off against a team returning to the final for a second season running.
Liverpool look stronger than they did when losing 3-1 to Real Madrid a year ago. The Reds finished as runners-up to Manchester City in England’s top flight with 97 points, 26 ahead of Spurs.
Even so, Tottenham have the firepower to spring a shock, particularly if star striker Harry Kane plays. He’s been dealing with injury and whether to start him or not is a tricky question for manager Mauricio Pochettino.
From the likely starting XIs and the three most prominent substitutes on each side, we ranked the most important players who are expected to feature in the final, from least to most important.
30-29. Erik Lamela and Victor Wanyama, Tottenham
Erik Lamela’s a mercurial talent, but if Tottenham are relying on the Argentinian in this final it will mean Liverpool are comfortably en route to lifting the trophy for the sixth time in the club’s history.
Similarly, Victor Wanyama can offer extra steel alongside Eric Dier, but Spurs will need to be more progressive to beat the Reds.
28. Fernando Llorente, Tottenham
Divock Origi isn’t the only one with a habit for clutch goals. Spurs are still in the tournament thanks to Fernando Llorente’s controversial finish against City.
While there was some dispute about whether he scored via his head or his arm, the goal brilliantly summed up the havoc the 34-year-old can cause in the air.
He’s a battering ram who unnerves defenders and goalkeepers. He used those attributes well in the service of Athletic Bilbao and Juventus.
Llorente probably won’t start, but he offers a different route to goal as an impact sub Liverpool should plan for.
27-26. Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool
Roberto Firmino’s fitness could put one of Liverpool’s deputy strikers back in the spotlight. Origi and Daniel Sturridge both offer match-winning traits.
Origi is a natural target man who has developed a niche for finishing in clutch situations. He was unerring during the comeback to topple Barca:
Sturridge isn’t the same kind of focal point, but he does offer the flair to drop off the front and act as a No. 10 so Mane or Mohamed Salah can thrive through the middle.
If Firmino can’t start, Sturridge will offer Liverpool tactical flexibility, while Origi’s coolness in the clutch would surely have Spurs worried.
25-24. James Milner and Naby Keita, Liverpool
Liverpool’s midfield power is based on the energy of its members. It’s something James Milner and Naby Keita have in abundance.
The latter is also the closest thing to a skilled playmaker in Klopp’s squad. Unfortunately, Keita is unlikely to play a part in the final.
Klopp sounded unsure about the former RB Leipzig star’s chances of overcoming a thigh problem, per James Carroll of the club’s official website:
"If he is not 100 per cent fit, he cannot play. That’s how it is. It is not important whether you play for your country or your club. That’s what we try to make sure. It looks good, very positive and we will see if there is a chance."
At least industrious 33-year-old Milner might figure. He could carry the fight to Spurs, but is more likely to be an impact sub as Klopp starts Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson.
23. Moussa Sissoko, Tottenham
He’s gone under the radar somewhat this season, but Moussa Sissoko has quietly established himself as a key member of Tottenham’s squad. The powerful Frenchman has seized the opportunity created by Mousa Dembele’s departure and Harry Winks’ injury woes.
Sissoko’s best attribute is his ability to carry the ball forward through midfield. It allows Spurs to spring plenty of traps on the break.
His key qualities should encourage Pochettino to find room in his starting XI for the ex-Newcastle ace.
22. Joel Matip, Liverpool
He’s less heralded than van Dijk, but Liverpool’s “other” center-back still performs an important role. Matip protects this team from a barrage of crosses thanks to his height and power in the air, while his long stride allows him to recover quickly and track any runners who get beyond the back line.
The latter quality will be vital against a Spurs team sure to exploit their pace along the front. More than his defensive work, Matip has proved adept at carrying the ball out from the back.
He’s never afraid to stride forward from deep. Those runs put Liverpool on the front foot and compensate for the absence of truly refined technicians in the middle.
Matip’s ability to launch accurate passes from deep will be vital in releasing Mane and Salah behind Tottenham’s defensive line.
21-20. Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier, Tottenham
Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier deserve to be ranked together because they will likely be the players Liverpool target most in the Spanish capital.
Both can be caught out of position and drawn into reckless challenges. Either would leave Tottenham exposed against Liverpool’s direct-running full-backs and deadly wide forwards.
What Spurs need is a disciplined showing from the two England internationals. Trippier is capable at both ends of the pitch, but his form has tailed off badly during the second half of the campaign.
Rose has experience on his side, an asset he’ll need when trying to deal with Salah and Alexander-Arnold.
19. Hugo Lloris, Tottenham
It hasn’t been the best season of Lloris’ career, but the French stopper is still an experienced figure Spurs can trust. Always a terrific shot-stopper, Lloris has lost little of his agility at age 32.
Tottenham will feel confident about Lloris in any of the one-on-one situations the Reds are likely to create. Yet it will be a different story if Liverpool opt to test him in the air.
It’s the one area where this veteran can be vulnerable. Liverpool also have an edge in aerials duels, particularly from set-pieces.
Van Dijk and fellow center-back Matip offer height, while Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Mane are all useful attacking crosses. Spurs will bank on protecting Lloris with either a third center-back or the close proximity of Dier.
18-17. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham
Tottenham haven’t reached the final based on defensive excellence, having conceded six times during the last two rounds. Even so, Pochettino can be forgiven for feeling confident whenever Toby Alderweireld and Vertonghen start alongside each other.
The Belgium international teammates are a formidable partnership. Rugged in the air and on the deck, they combine intelligence with aggression to thwart most attacks.
Tottenham’s bonus is provided by the technique each man possesses. Vertonghen is particularly adept at playing out from the back.
The 32-year-old is expected to be fit enough to start following an ankle injury, per MailOnline’s Will Griffee. Vertonghen’s status will be crucial, with Griffee also noting how fellow center-back Davinson Sanchez is struggling with a thigh problem.
16. Georginio Wijnadlum, Liverpool
There isn’t a more underrated player in Liverpool’s ranks than Wijnaldum. The Netherlands international is a useful mix of power, technique, defensive discipline and attacking instincts.
Wijnaldum showed off the latter quality when he emerged from the bench to inspire Liverpool’s epic comeback against Barcelona in the semi-final:
His late runs, aerial prowess and finishing technique give the Reds yet another option in the final third. Spurs know all about the threat Wijnaldum poses after he scored in the 2-1 win at Wembley back in September.
Wijnaldum is also athletic, intelligent and versatile enough to assist Fabinho in deeper areas. Handing him a start is Klopp’s best way to ensure Liverpool triumph in a tight final.
15. Eric Dier, Tottenham
Eric Dier’s role as Tottenham’s enforcer between defense and midfield will be tested by a Liverpool team built to bypass destroyers in the middle with pace from wide areas.
Dier is a better player on the ball than his rugged performances indicate. But he won’t have time to play through the lines with Henderson around.
Dier’s acting as a barrier for Salah and Mane’s runs from out to in will be more important. He must support Tottenham’s center-backs so the full-backs can concentrate on negating Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
14. Alisson Becker, Liverpool
Two capable goalkeepers will be on show in the final, but there’s no doubt Alisson is more important to Liverpool than Lloris is to Tottenham.
Spurs have had a strong defense throughout Pochettino’s tenure thanks to collective discipline and cautious tactics. By contrast, Liverpool’s unit succeeds because of the quality of its individuals, starting with the man between the sticks.
Alisson has given the Reds an imposing physical presence. His height and athleticism make him a force when claiming crosses, as well as intimidating in one-on-one situations.
Liverpool know what a shaky performance in goal can cost them in a final after Loris Karius’ mistakes against Real last season. Klopp will have no such worries with Alisson.
13. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
Liverpool’s skipper is Klopp’s terrier of choice. Henderson never tires and uses his awesome engine to keep the pressure on the opposition.
He’s the Reds’ best defender from the front. Klopp has wisely given the England man a more advanced role and a remit to deny opponents playing out from the back.
Henderson’s tenacity will be a problem for a Spurs team fond of building moves from defense. He must ensure Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez (if both are fit) don’t have time on the ball.
12. Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
Tottenham’s stylish possession game usually runs through Christian Eriksen. However, Pochettino’s creative hub will find it difficult to conduct things against a team dogged in its pursuit of the man in possession.
No team presses as well as Liverpool, so Eriksen won’t have time to pick the passes Spurs need to slow the tempo. Don’t expect a Luka Modric-like patient and cultured recycling of possession from the man Spurs originally signed to replace him back in 2013.
Eriksen being kept quiet will mean Tottenham having to play a more direct game. Fortunately, that approach may suit Heung-min Son and Co. more. It also helps Eriksen has become more prolific in front of goal this season.
The Dane has 10 goals to his credit, with his shooting power and expertise from set-pieces things Liverpool will be wary of. Eriksen should make late runs to break behind Alli and catch the Reds cold at the back.
11-10. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool
It’s appropriate to put both of the Reds’ flying full-backs together in terms of importance. The raids of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold provide vital width in a team otherwise designed for wide players to drift centrally.
Spurs will struggle to handle Liverpool’s overlapping full-backs since both Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose have limitations defensively.
Fortunately for Klopp, neither Alexander-Arnold nor Robertson have shirked their responsibilities in defense this season:
Liverpool need their full-backs to get around on the cover to block off the runs of Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold will likely make the difference at both ends of the pitch.
9. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
Kane isn’t the only marquee striker whose status remains a doubt ahead of the final. Roberto Firmino is also racing against time to be available as he recovers from a groin injury.
Like Pochettino, Klopp sounds confident his striker can at least play a part. It’s good news considering how well Firmino has performed in Europe.
His potential participation is also bad news for Tottenham. Firmino has been a thorn in Spurs’ side this season, scoring in both league wins.
While he’s never expected to shoulder the goalscoring burden, Liverpool are a more efficient attacking outfit when the Brazilian leads the line. His movement creates space for either Mane or Salah to funnel into central areas, while his range of passing releases both in behind.
A full-strength Liverpool front three may be too much for Tottenham to overcome.
8. Harry Kane, Tottenham
Kane’s status will tip the balance of this final one way or another. Pochettino is remaining coy on whether his prolific No. 10 will start.
Keeping Liverpool guessing is a wise move, but Pochettino can’t avoid a nightmare choice. Kane’s record and quality make it incredibly tempting to restore him to the starting lineup if he’s fully recovered from his ankle problem.
It’s a gamble, though, because Spurs won’t beat this powerful Liverpool team fielding even one player at less than 100 percent.
There’s also the bigger dilemma. Tottenham have played better in Europe without Kane. Son and Moura have made them lethal on the break, allowing Pochettino to pack midfield and play a more direct game.
It’s been a winning formula in this tournament for years. Liverpool could be its next victims since the high line Klopp’s pressing game demands will leave room for pace in behind.
History is full of examples of teams bringing crocked stars back to the detriment of a winning side. Hungary did it with Ferenc Puskas during the 1954 World Cup and promptly lost the final 3-2 to West Germany.
Arsene Wenger and Tottenham’s north London rivals Arsenal did the same for the 2006 final against Barcelona. Wenger reinstalled Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell in defense, breaking up an improvised unit that had previously conceded just two goals in the Champions League, none in the knockout phase.
The Gunners lost 2-1 after failing to ignore the temptation to indulge winning experience at the expense of what was working.
Pochettino and Kane could make the same mistake.
7. Fabinho, Liverpool
As dangerous as Dele Alli is, Liverpool are better suited to coping with midfield runners than last season. The presence of Fabinho as a screen in front of the back four has made the Reds tougher to unlock.
After a slow start to his Liverpool career, the former Monaco and PSG star has become integral to Klopp’s team. Fabinho has give Liverpool a defensive midfielder who is at once a natural anchor and a deep-lying playmaker.
Any team that manages to beat Klopp’s relentless pressing tactics finds Fabinho waiting as a last barrier in front of van Dijk and Co.
Fabinho needs to read the game astutely in the final. He must pick the right moments to help out against Son and Moura, without ignoring Alli’s movement.
6. Dele Alli, Tottenham
Alli is one of the few advantages Tottenham have over Liverpool. He’s the complete attacking midfielder the Reds don’t possess.
Alli’s flair, eye for goal and runs from deep routinely give Spurs a spare man in the final third. He’s become particularly difficult to track while Son and Moura have been deployed up top.
Having two forwards ahead of him who like to roam wide has given Alli more room to break through the middle. The deeper defensive lines teams are forced into against Son and Moura’s pace has also provided Alli with greater freedom to create on the edge of the box.
Liverpool don’t like to track players with strict man-to-man marking, preferring instead to hunt and press in packs. Alli knows how to avoid the congestion, and if he gets free often enough, he can prove decisive.
5. Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool
Liverpool’s newfound defensive solidity owes much to van Dijk, the most dominant center-back on the planet this season. The Dutchman’s pace, quality in the air, anticipation and aggression will all be needed to subdue Tottenham’s many and versatile attacking threats.
Van Dijk keeps his position as well as any defender. He never loses sight of runners and reads the game well enough to know when and where breaks will come from.
He’s played so well he’s even proved adept at defending two players by himself, as Spurs found out to their cost at Anfield back in March:
A performance typical of van Dijk’s superb season will win Liverpool the trophy.
4. Lucas Moura, Tottenham
If Son has been the catalyst for Tottenham’s run to the final in Kane’s absence, Moura has been the X-factor. The Brazilian winger has pace Liverpool should fear.
His runs from out to in lend further flexibility to an already fluid forward line. Pochettino has been clever about the way he has used Moura, essentially giving him a free role off Son, granting the pair license to rotate positions anywhere across the final third.
The difficulty of tracking Moura was proved by his hat-trick to break Ajax hearts in the unforgettable semifinal second leg:
Regardless of Kane’s fitness, Moura has to start. He’s the one wild card who can wreck Liverpool’s usually rock-solid defensive structure.
3. Heung-min Son, Tottenham
Kane’s status is yet to be determined, leaving Heung-min Son as the most obvious choice to continue leading the line. That’s not exactly bad news considering how effective the South Korea international has been in this competition.
He scored during the 4-0 win over Dortmund in the last 16, before punishing Manchester City three times in a dramatic quarter-final tie won on away goals.
Son’s pace, close control and technique as a finisher make him the most dangerous player in Spurs’ ranks. He could stretch Liverpool’s high line beyond breaking point.
If Son gets chances in the final, he can be trusted to take a few.
2. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool
Liverpool are such a formidable side because of their many threats up front. If Mane doesn’t get you, chances are Salah will.
Like his teammate, the Egyptian bagged 22 league goals, with four more added in Europe. Salah also has all the motivation he needs to boost his tally in the final.
Last season’s showpiece game remains a painful memory for the prolific wide forward. He was forced to leave it after injuring his shoulder during a robust challenge from Real center-back Sergio Ramos:
Salah’s had a year to plot how he can make up for that night. Combining talent on this level with extra motivation means trouble for Spurs.
1. Sadio Mane, Liverpool
Liverpool aren’t short of match-winners up front, but Mane is the player Spurs should fear. The Senegal international enjoyed a banner season in front of goal, netting 26 times, including four in this competition.
Mane’s Champions League total doesn’t wow you, until you realize he’s scored in big moments. He was on target twice in the 3-1 second leg win over Bayern Munich in the last 16 in Germany.
Mane also found the net during the 6-1 aggregate victory against Porto in the last eight.
An improved range of movement, along with more refinement as a finisher, especially in the air, make Mane the most likely player to settle this final in Liverpool’s favor.