Ahead of the 2019 Champions League final, Dustin Menno of Cartilage Free Captain and Noel Chomyn of The Liverpool Offside got together to try to sort through the excitement and terror of an all-English Champions League final between the Premier League’s two most insufferable fanbases. There was less banter than expected. It went a little something like this...
Noel: So. Here we are. Tottenham. Liverpool. An all-English Champions League final. A pairing about as familiar as it gets short of us against United or you and Arsenal and, I’m not gonna lie, I’m still mildly annoyed at it. Having to face another English side in the final, that is, not the actually being in the final bit.
Dustin: I can understand the frustration, but I kind of love it. There’s something about an all-English Champions League final that stirs something in me. Possibly that’s because it means there’s a 100% chance of an English team not named Chelsea winning the Champions League this year, but also because it feels like an extension of the league race.
Only, y’know, bigger. And more important.
Noel: Fair. It’s bigger. It’s more important. But on the flip side, we already had a league race. And we’ve got a pair of domestic cups you’re pretty much guaranteed to face someone from the top six in if you make it any distance. Part of the fun of Europe is meant to be facing opponents you don’t see two or three times a year already.
But maybe it’s a Liverpool thing. I know for us it can be a bit of a struggle getting up for domestic opponents in Europe. It’s just a little, I don’t know, boring almost. And, I won’t lie, maybe also a little more terrifying?
Dustin: I think it partially comes down to what kind of a fan you are. To use a cross-sport analogy, I’m an Indiana University basketball fan. I’m the kind of fan that roots for other Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament because, uh, something about conference solidarity or whatever?
I kind of do that with all my fandom. I’ll pull for English teams in Europe because of the familiarity of the devil-you-know and all that. And I guess for me there’s a level of excitement about Tottenham vs. Liverpool in Madrid because we know these teams. We’ve watched them play already. We kinda know what they’re like, how they set up, what they’ll do. There’s a sense of familiarity, but with the tension and excitement turned up to 11.
Noel: There’s definitely extra tension I wasn’t feeling against Bayern or Barcelona and wouldn’t have felt against Ajax, which I think gets back to the terrifying bit of an all-English final and that for whoever loses, this game is going to be a major talking point for at least a solid year. Lose, and it’s going to be something that gets rubbed in your face. On the other hand, lose to Madrid or Milan in the final and it sucks but then you move on.
Dustin: This is the most banteriffic Champions League final, possibly ever. That’s maybe the thing I’m dreading the most is the insufferable banter that’s going to come from whatever side wins this thing.
Noel: There’s probably more downside to losing this one than to any final I can recall Liverpool being in.
Dustin: You mentioned “terror” earlier. Take the pulse of the Liverpool fanbase for me—just how nervous are y’all? It seems as though the bookies have Liverpool heavily favored (which is accurate), but we both know anything can happen in one game.
Noel: I’d say that on the whole we do feel as though we should win this, and that’s part of the extra pressure. Last year, facing Madrid, we were in with a chance until Ramos took out Salah, and that was good enough.
Here, we’re the side that ran the PR wing of a human-rights abusing pretrostate to within a point in the league and beat the champions of France and Portugal and Spain and Germany to get to the final. It’s not being cocky, I don’t think, to suggest that this is a game that we should win.
But that we should win, and that it’s a domestic opponent and we won’t stop hearing about it for forever if we don’t win, means that the downside is turned up to 11.
Dustin: For us, even if we’re underdogs, Spurs have made something of a specialty of getting past teams that should win Champions League series. And I guess that’s actually part of why I’m nervous. Spurs have had this incredible run of results—we were a hair’s breadth from getting eliminated from the group stage. We got a point at the Nou Camp, throttled Dortmund, and had incredible great escapes against City and Ajax. We’re Spurs fans—we’re not used to this. We’re all just sitting here with dual impulses—to revel in what we’ve done and also to wonder when that other shoe is going to drop.
Noel: It’s funny, you mentioning that, because our run was much the same. Got a group with PSG and Napoli and barely made it out. Didn’t get the result we needed in the first leg against Bayern and then had to beat them in Munich. Then that whole thing with Barcelona. Only I’d say it’s mostly made us more confident as a fanbase.
But there’s always that little voice at the back of your mind going, if you screw it up now and against Spurs to boot.... There’s that tension between believing we really do deserve to be favourites here and knowing that in a one-off, anything can happen, especially with Spurs having had a chance to heal up a little.
Speaking of while, we had our share of injuries this season, but you guys. I mean. Ouch. I’m kind of assuming everyone is gonna be back fit and Harry Kane will be running around on crutches if that’s what it takes, but what does the fitness picture look like for somebody actually paying close attention to Spurs as we finally—finally!—close in on the match?
Dustin: So on the one hand the injury picture looks pretty good, all things considered. Harry Kane’s ankle ligaments are still spaghetti, but it looks like he’s going to be ready to go. What we don’t know is whether “ready to go” means “starts in the Champions League final” or “comes off the bench.” Kane has come back from an ankle injury four times now in the past few years and most of the time he’s pretty good immediately on his return. The end of last season was the big, big exception and that poor form carried over into the World Cup.
And it’s not just Kane. Harry Winks has been out a while and we could really use him in the midfield. Jan Vertonghen has been nursing an injury for a while. Davinson Sanchez has missed time. Erik Lamela can’t stay healthy, nor can Victor Wanyama. The combination of poor injury luck and the total lack of signings for a calendar year has been the story of Spurs’ season. You have to look back and wonder if Spurs had had even average luck with the injuries and/or had actually signed a couple of players if we’d have been talked about in the same breath as City and Liverpool in the league this season.
As it is, we fell off a cliff in our league form in the past ten matches and it was only our red-hot form from earlier that helped us pip Arsenal for fourth. The good news is that most of our injured guys are looking like they’ll be ready to play on Saturday. We just don’t know what that means and whether it’s a good thing that we’re rolling out untested three-quarter fit star players in the biggest match in Tottenham’s history.
Noel: Given how dicey the final months of the season looked as that whole not buying any players thing reached its inevitable conclusion—with a run of major injuries—even three-quarter fit stars has to be an improvement for you, and certainly that’s something we’re a little worried about.
Namely that we might be getting the good, pre-falling off the injury cliff version of Spurs on Saturday. And we’d rather not get that, since losing the Champions League final not just to domestic opposition but to this domestic opposition wouldn’t be ideal. Which gets us right back to there probably being more downside to losing this, for both clubs, than you get in a regular Champions League final. Which, as we’ll dig a little deeper into in part two, is either a great thing or a terrible thing.