Five key battles to decide Champions League final

From the on-pitch player duels to the inner demons that the two teams will have to overcome to become the champion of Europe.

Jurgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah will be key men in shaping the result of the Champions League final.   -  Reuters

Tottenham and Liverpool play for the biggest prize in club football on Saturday as the two Premier League teams go head-to-head in the Champions League final.

Liverpool is aiming to win its sixth European Cup in Madrid while a surprise victory for Spurs would earn it its first.

Here, AFP Sport looks at five key battles that could decide the contest.

Pochettino v Klopp

Mauricio Pochettino has said he expects this match to be a battle of emotions, not tactics, but his duel with Jurgen Klopp could go a long way to settling the final.

For Pochettino, the big call will be around Harry Kane, who could be fit enough to start but will he be sharp enough to merit the risk?

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Mauricio Pochettino is chasing his first trophy as manager, while Jurgen Klopp is trying to end a six-match losing streak in tournament finals.   -  Getty Images

 

Klopp's biggest selection dilemma is in midfield, where he has to pick three from Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner and Fabinho.

His choice could offer a clue as to Liverpool's approach, whether it wants a fast, open game, the kind it usually favours. It is the kind Tottenham, with its speed in attack, might be happy with too.

Salah v Rose

Mohamed Salah played only 30 minutes of last year's final, forced off after a collision with Sergio Ramos, and the Egyptian will surely be eager to make up for lost time.

Even if his season has not had the explosiveness of last, Salah remains Liverpool's deadliest threat and how Danny Rose handles him will be key to Tottenham's hopes.

Rose was outstanding during Tottenham's quarterfinal triumph over Ajax, showing the kind of form that once made him one of the finest full-backs in Europe. A repeat this weekend would give Spurs a good chance.

Read: Keita not fit for Champions League final

Eriksen v Wijnaldum

Georginio Wijnaldum was the star of Liverpool's incredible comeback against Barcelona in the semi-finals and Klopp is likely to rely on him again in Madrid.

Wijnaldum's versatility has been invaluable to Klopp, who will hope the Dutchman can use his athleticism and power to set the tempo in midfield.

For Tottenham, Christian Eriksen will be looking to run the game too, but more quietly, the Dane's craft and vision will be essential if Spurs want to break down Liverpool's stubborn defence.

If Eriksen is denied space to thread balls for the likes of Kane, Son and Dele Alli to find, Liverpool could be halfway there.

Liverpool v Expectation

It has been a long time since Liverpool last went into a European final as favourites and much could depend on how they handle the pressure.

Liverpool finished 26 points above Tottenham in the Premier League this season, beat them home and away, and have lost to them only once in the last 13 matches.

It also knows what it feels like to play in a Champions League final, with most of this team there in Kiev last year, when it was beaten by Real Madrid.

That experience should be an advantage but expectation can create tension too. Liverpool must not blink.

Tottenham v Nerves

Tottenham is the underdog but there is never nothing to lose in a game of this magnitude.

For some of the players, it is likely to be their only shot at winning club football's biggest prize and for all of them except Toby Alderweireld, it will be their first Champions League final.

Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, who won the World Cup with France last year, will be among those trying to keep their team-mates calm because against Liverpool, notorious for fast starts, there will be no time for adjustment.

After three weeks to stew, Spurs has to ensure nerves do not strangle their performance.