The Workmanlike Performers: God Save the Queen

Fight, gentlemen of England! fight, bold yeomen!

Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head!

Spur your proud horses hard, and ride in blood;

Amaze the Catalans with your broken staves!

Jurgen Klopp’s semi final halftime speech

In one of the most dramatic Champions League Semi finals ever, the two English teams, Liverpool and Tottenham, each came back from 3 goal deficits in the 2nd half to win their tie.

Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (agg. 3-3, Spurs through on away goals)

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (agg. 4-3)

Samuel Cicci: Hoo boy

Matt Hein: LADS IT’S TOTTENHAM.

SC: Oh when the Spurs, go marching in.

MH: MAN UNITED DECIDED TO KEEP OLE GUNNAR AND NOT GO AFTER POCH HAHAHAHA ARSENAL’S COACH NEVER PLAYED LUCAS MOURA AT PSG AND SOLD HIM HAHAHA

SC: Ouch, the volume is getting a little loud in here. But dear readers, let the man have his moment. It’s Tottenham we’re talking about, after all.

MH: To reach their first Champions League Final would have been a monumental achievement regardless, but the way they did it…. three second half goals and a last minute winner. All with the beat up remnants of a squad who had looked gassed for a solid two weeks.

SC: Fun fact: official Premier League statistics reveal that Lucas Moura has averaged .79 shots per game this season. According to more official Premier League statistics, only one his 10 goals came from his left foot. And yet here we are, Champions League semifinal, the biggest game of his career, and he scores three with his left. Remarkable!



MH: Words like “grit” and “determination” are overused in sports media, which is sad because this performance needed heaps of both. I had pulled the game off my TV after that second half and watched it on my laptop because of how dire the situation looked. I feel like Poch could use some of his halftime speeches at the beginning of games, but who am I to quibble with the living legend.

SC: Very true, this tie could have swung either way. In both legs, Ajax dominated the first half before Spurs clawed back control in the second. I’ve been saying in our previous columns that the young Dutch side needed to be more clinical with their chances, and it finally caught up to them against Tottenham.

MH: For one half, they finally looked their age, and Daley Blind looked himself in the mirror and said “I can’t really be a Champions League finalist”.

SC: Well, Daley, you’re correct. But let’s take nothing away from this Ajax side. With minimal resources and some great development and recruiting, they not only raced through to the semifinals, but also clobbered more illustrious opponents like Juventus and Real Madrid (and even picked up a first leg win against Spurs). Ajax coach Erik ten Hag will likely be in demand after this year. It just goes to show that a ‘lesser’ side doesn’t always need to pack it in.

MH: But just as the young players stepped up for Ajax, the bit players for Spurs showed up yet again when they needed it most. Thirty-four year-old Llorente changed the game in the second half, providing excellent hold up play as Spurs stopped trying to pass out of the back. 

SC: In both games, the Ajax defense really didn’t have an answer for Llorente’s size and strength. De Ligt is already incredibly talented, but opponents might target him with that strategy going forward if he moves to a better league.

MH: And lets not forget the man, the myth, the legend Moussa Sissoko. This really has completed a remarkable redemption story. He was absolutely pilloried by the Spurs supporters for two years after he was bought from relegated Newcastle. He could not make a pass and appeared out of sorts every time he took the field, which was not often. But somehow, this season, he has been outstanding, constantly pushing the ball through the midfield and tracking back to make up for defensive (Trippier) deficiencies. From this season alone, he’ll be a beloved man for all Spurs supporters.

SC: It wasn’t Spurs prettiest game, but they never gave up hope, kept pressing, and finally got the job done. It’s been a season of close shaves for them stretching all the way back to the group stage, so their mentality under pressure must be rock-solid at this point. Can’t bet against them. But they’re not the only ones who fought back to make it here.

MH: Liverpool had their own comeback for the ages in front of their home fans, adding another famous game to Anfield’s record. They played with absolutely no fear. But honestly, how did Barcelona lose to two perennial substitutes, Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum?

SC: TRENT.

MH: ALEXANDER?

SC: ARNOLD!

MH: His quick-thinking game-winning assist has already gone down as legendary.  Klopp looks silly for not playing him in the first leg.

SC: Exactly. That crossed my mind too at the Camp Nou. A lot of Liverpool’s attacks worked their way over to the right side in Barcelona. While Joe Gomez is a solid player, I just kept thinking they could have created plenty of chances if Alexander-Arnold had been whipping in his excellent crosses and making runs down that right channel. But if he changed the game last week, we wouldn’t have been treated to a Barcelona blowout.

MH: As much as Liverpool deserves credit for their ferocious approach the entire game, Barcelona simply did not show up for this game. It’s not if heads will roll after this performance, it is who and how many. For a team that will probably end up winning a domestic double, this performance will make the season a memorable one for all the wrong reasons for Barcelona fans. Were Coutinho and Rakitic even out there? Arturo Vidal was the only player that showed any fight.

SC: From the chatter coming out of Camp Nou, it already seems like Coutinho is going to be the fall guy, with Barcelona ready to cut losses after just one season and move him on. Rakitic is a great player, but with Alba having a terrible game and Busquets lacking mobility, the Croatian had to spend all game covering for his teammates’ deficiencies. And against a team like Liverpool, that kind of effort is untenable for a whole game. But what about Suarez’s return to Anfield?

MH: Both the ex-Liverpool players, for whom Barcelona paid around 200 million euros, did not look worth even 200 euros in this game. Suarez still cannot find an away champions league goal, and while he relishes playing the villain, in the end he was just the victim of the Reds onslaught. I am sure all of Liverpool enjoyed the irony of those players moving onto a “bigger” club getting beat by the club they left. While Barcelona may have better weather, Liverpool have had more Champions League success since Klopp came to town.

SC: We’ll add this to the unbelievable night in Rome last season, when Barcelona threw away another three-goal advantage.

I want to take a moment to highlight both of the winning coaches, who have had plenty of critics in their time. Liverpool had been away from the top table of football for years, but Klopp has constructed a brilliant side with some under-the-radar pickups and some crucial acquisitions. This makes two Champions League finals in a row, plus they’re only a point behind one of the most ruthless Premier League sides ever constructed in Manchester City. The team is built for longevity, especially when Klopp can wring match-winning contributions out of his B-list attackers. And with the Reds’ Premier League Rivals Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea all facing summers of uncertainty, Liverpool have a chance to form a rock-solid grip on supremacy in England.

MH: Pochettino would already have been celebrated by Spurs fans if they had lost this game and he left for higher-paying pastures this summer. He built a team that consistently finishes in the top four and over their rivals Arsenal. Poch did it trusting young players, coaching and enabling them to become stars. The fact that they made it here, with all the injuries and thin squad, defies logic. Because of the new stadium, they have not added new players for TWO YEARS. TWO YEARS. If they win and he retires, like he hinted at before this game, he will go down as the greatest Spurs coach ever.  

SC: It’ll be heartbreaking for one side in the final, but whoever wins will be well worth that big-eared trophy.

Workmanlike Performer of the Week

How about just all the semi finalists except Barcelona? Ajax, underdogs of the 2010’s, outperformed vastly superior sides in terms of reach and resources, and did it all by following their own philosophy. Victories away at Juventus, Real Madrid, and Tottenham encapsulated what was so great about this young side that showed no fear.

Klopp brought back the heavy-metal football for his side’s second-leg miracle, and players like Origi and Wijnaldum worked their socks off and executed brilliantly. Not a single athlete put a step out of place, from James “Workmanlike” Milner to the ever-energetic Sadio Mané. Virgil Van Dijk should also legally apply to just change his name to “Colossus.”

Tottenham have been a rag-tag group this season, and when Kane went down you could be forgiven for thinking the writing was on the wall. But everyone stepped up to play their part, with old-man Llorente and the oft-forgotten Wanyama reporting for duty, even it weren’t always flawless. So many injuries and zero additions, but here they are, preparing for the biggest night of their career. It’ll take a bold person to predict the outcome on June 1st.

— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci


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