Two teams from the same country contesting the Champions League final is not a new phenomenon. Recent memory serves up Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid II. Prior to last season, however, it had been six years since a single English team had made the final; and now we’ve got two of them.
In their own, enduring ways, both Liverpool and Tottenham came back from the dead, having looked truly buried at one point or another during their respective semi-finals. There is no doubt that both comebacks will live long in the memory of the competition, but where two sides in close proximity achieve such a feat by similar means, there will always lie the question: who did it better?
It’s a complex question, one that will divide opinion depending on your allegiance, and one that doesn’t really need answered, but we’ve broken the art of the comeback down into six categories to give it a go.
Spurs‘ second half in Amsterdam is one of the best second half performances you’re ever likely to see in the Champions League. They needed to come up with something herculean if they were to revive any chance of overturning the three goal deficit they found themselves facing, and they did it, thanks to a Lucas Moura masterclass.
While Spurs were scintillating for a quarter of the tie and off the pace for the rest of it, however, Liverpool didn’t once take their foot of the gas. Even in losing 3-0 in Catalonia, they were desperately unlucky, and their intensity made the La Liga champions more than a little uncomfortable, as evidenced by their change of approach for the second leg.
And at Anfield, they didn’t so much blow Ernesto Valverde’s side away, as they did systematically dismantle them. Tottenham were mightily impressive, but Jurgen Klopp’s side might have turned in their greatest ever performance.
Both ties served as reminders, as if we needed them, as to why we love football. Over the piece, however, they were very different matches. Liverpool’s insane comeback came as the result of a tactical masterclass, with the Reds out-thinking their opponents at every turn, while Spurs victory came as the result of their sheer will.
It’s for that reason that the London side edge this one. There was no shortage of drama as Origi swept home a late winner at Anfield, but fact that Spurs’ fight-back was less methodical and in a shorter space of time – not to mention the fact that it was won on 96 minutes, when all hope looked lost – means their tie was the more theatrical of the pair.
Making a Champions League final is an immeasurably big deal for any team, and for Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino – neither of whom has won a major trophy at their respective clubs as yet – the stakes are that little bit higher.
The reason that Liverpool are favourites, however, is that they have been here and done it all before. They made the final last year, and won it as recently as 2005, while Tottenham have never made a final of the European Cup/Champions League.
For Spurs, it is truly uncharted territory, and will go down in the history books no matter how it turns out, while for the Reds, only victory will be remembered with fondness.
This one is a bit of a no-contest, isn’t it? When Tottenham went into that second leg against Ajax, they knew they were up against it, and though they went about getting a result in the hardest way possible, it’s doubtful anyone would have been shocked to their core at the idea of Spurs advancing prior to kick-off.
For Liverpool, they had no chance, and in Barcelona it is fair to say they faced a tougher task than Spurs. Yet they took the Catalans apart, surmounted the insurmountable, and booked their place in the final at the expense of the tournament favourites.
No Salah. No Firmino. And Liverpool somehow turns around a 0-3 deficit to Barcelona and Messi to reach the Champions League final. Would love to know if LFC had seen something from Barça to exploit on the decisive goal.pic.twitter.com/eqZPBKntz8
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 7, 2019
The ‘Out of Nowhere’ Factor
This is where we get pernickety about what makes a comeback impressive. At the start of play, Liverpool faced longer odds, but from the moment Divock Origi’s opening goal went in, you sensed there was magic in the air. Liverpool had it in them; the question was just how close they would come.
For Spurs, the situation was almost reversed. Unlike Liverpool, they were fancied prior to kick-off, and unlike Liverpool, the longer the game went, the more you felt they just wouldn’t. When Hakim Ziyech netted the second Ajax goal on the night, you just felt that was all she wrote.
Their second half fightback, then, was absolutely extraordinary, but even at 2-2, there was a long spell where Ajax looked set to hold on. Then Lucas Moura Lucas Moura’d for the third time, and we all lost our minds.
This one is tight. They were both hugely memorable, historic comebacks, that will live long in the memory for supporters, staff and players alike, and singling one out as superior will no doubt leave a sour taste in the mouths of one fan-base.
That said, however, just for the profile of the tie, and the odds they faced prior to kick off, it is Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona that will be remembered as the classic that tops a tournament of classics. The fact that it was at Anfield, and those iconic post-match celebrations in front of the Kop only serve to drive that home further.
This is special. This is so special.
Wijnaldum. Mane. Henderson.
Everyone is lost for words.
Just lap this up Liverpool fans ❤️ pic.twitter.com/mqG0WnGpxv
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 7, 2019
By my reckoning, then, we’re tied at 3-3. A perfect example of when democracy has failed. And so, then, it goes to the judges, who crown Liverpool narrow winners in the battle of the comebacks for their comprehensive dismantling of Barcelona.
Make no mistake, though: they were both absolutely ridiculous, and whoever emerges victorious come June 1st will have earned it on the back of their semi-final showing alone.