Champions League final: Can Tottenham turn a Liverpool strength into a weakness?

Match of the Day

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino are both so adaptable that I am expecting Saturday's Champions League final to ebb and flow, with each of them able to react and change his tactics if the opposition gets on top.

But, however the game develops, one of the key battles in Madrid is going to be out wide.

I have watched Liverpool a lot this season and so much of their attacking threat comes from their full-backs overlapping, putting in dangerous deliveries and making things happen.

If you can stop them doing that, by pushing them back and giving them something to think about defensively, then it changes Liverpool's entire gameplan.

Andrew Robertson (left) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) celebrate with Virgil van Dijk
Alexander-Arnold (right) made 12 Premier League assists this season, a record for a defender. Robertson (left) made 11 - no team in Premier League history has previously had two defenders each making more than 10 assists.

I remember being at Parc des Princes for BBC Radio 5 Live when they played Paris St-Germain during the group stages and Andy Robertson on the left and Joe Gomez, who was in for Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right, did not go forward much in the first half.

Liverpool just looked lost. They didn't look energetic, or like they could really cause PSG any problems.

In the second half, however, both full-backs came out and flew up and down the flanks and the Reds looked like a completely different team.

Graphic showing who created the most chances in the Premier League this season. Mohamed Salah 68, Andy Robertson 51, Trent Alexander-Arnold 48, Sadio Mane 45, James Milner 44, Roberto Firmino 43
Salah has created more chances than any other Liverpool player in the Premier League in 2018-19, but their full-backs Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are second and third on the list

That is the area where I think Pochettino will be looking and thinking 'if we can restrict them there, then that will do a lot to stop Liverpool'.

But he will also know he has to do more than that - he has to cause them problems there as well.

How do Spurs hamper Liverpool, and hurt them?

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The way for Spurs to hamper Robertson and Alexander-Arnold and hurt Liverpool is to leave fast players up the pitch high and wide, like Son Heung-min or Lucas Moura.

That means if the Reds' full-backs do push on, it is more of a gamble because they know it is left to their centre-backs, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, to deal with them.

Van Dijk, who plays on the left, always looks in control when people run at him, but if Matip is pulled into wide areas, I don't think he will be as comfortable.

This is where Tottenham's team selection is going to be very interesting.

Harry Kane is fit again and Pochettino has a huge decision to make over whether to start with him or not. He is their best player, but others have got them to the final, and can make a difference in this game too.

Moura and Son are fast and fluid, and Fernando Llorente acts as an excellent foil.

Llorente can stand up against the centre-halves while Son and Moura are constantly running up and down the channels, creating chances.

So I am sure that is something Pochettino will look at. It has already been a ploy of many teams this year against Liverpool and, in a similar situation, Spurs did it very well against Manchester City in the second leg of their quarter-final tie, when Kane was injured.

Graphic showing Tottenham XI against Man City
With Harry Kane injured in the first leg, Spurs used Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min to lead their attack in the second leg at Etihad Stadium, in a 4-4-2 formation and a midfield diamond. Fernando Llorente came on for the injured Moussa Sissoko before half-time.

Moura and Son led their attack that night, and found space behind City's full-backs when they pushed forward. Llorente came on before half-time, and ended up scoring the goal that decided the tie.

That was also a combination that worked in the second half of their second leg against Ajax in the semi-finals.

Spurs just had not got going before half-time in Amsterdam but Pochettino changed things around and moved into a diamond formation, before eventually going to three at the back as his team fought back for a famous win.

As well as Son and Moura, Spurs had their full-backs - Rose and Kieran Trippier - high up the pitch in the second half.

The same must happen again in Madrid because they have to get into Liverpool's face and take the fight to them, rather than just sitting in and allowing themselves to be pushed back.

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When Spurs stopped Liverpool having the freedom of the flanks

Tottenham XI v Liverpool
This was the way Spurs started against Liverpool in the league in March, in a 3-1-4-2 formation, although it became a 5-1-3-1. They were forced back into a back five, with both wing-backs dropping deep and even Lucas Moura having to track back down the left, meaning they posed little threat before the break. That all changed after the interval, however.

Liverpool go into the game as favourites but there is no doubt Spurs are extremely dangerous. They are able to win a lot of games because of how good Pochettino is tactically - he can adapt to every game and situation.

They ended up losing their last game against Liverpool, at Anfield at the end of March, because of a last-gasp mistake by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. But that was a good example of how versatile and effective Pochettino is with the players he has got.

In the first half, Spurs played with three at the back and they got battered.

I was analysing the game for Match of the Day 2 and a huge percentage of Liverpool's chances were coming from their full-backs - Robertson and Alexander-Arnold - who were absolutely running riot, especially down Tottenham's left where Moura was dropping deep to help Danny Rose.

Pochettino responded by moving to a four-man defence, pushing Rose up into left midfield and moving Jan Vertonghen to left-back.

That stopped Liverpool from having the freedom of the flanks but it was not just a case of tightening up defensively or stopping the ball from going out there.

Instead, Spurs drove the Reds' wide men backwards, and changed the whole direction of the game.

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You can tell the Spurs players believe in their manager, and whatever he asks them to do. As a player, it is brilliant to know there is a Plan B or even a Plan C.

Whether it is people coming off the bench, or moving players already on the pitch, everyone knows there is a different way and they are all so well-coached they never look uncomfortable with it.

It is hard to predict what system Pochettino will start with on Saturday, but I am sure it will be designed to do more than contain Liverpool.

The challenge for him in Madrid will be to beat Liverpool's press, because they will be trying to stop Spurs getting out and hitting them with pace on the break, or slowing them down at the very least.

I think Moussa Sissoko's running power with the ball will play a big part in the way Tottenham try to get the ball forward, quickly.

Sissoko might not be able to pick a pass in the same way some of his team-mates can, but what he can do is take the ball under pressure, and beat the press on his own by going past people.

No Firmino, no problem for Liverpool?

Liverpool are adaptable too, of course. They already have a different identity to last season, when their explosive attacking play took them to the final.

They scored a lot of goals, but it felt like they had to in order to win games. Now, they are more controlled and more measured, because they know they can defend a one-goal lead if they have to - Alisson kept 21 clean sheets in the Premier League in 2018-19.

Like Tottenham without Kane, they have proved they can cope without key players up front too. They were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the second leg of their semi-final against Barcelona, but they still scored four goals.

Liverpool XI v Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final
Liverpool trailed 3-0 from the first leg of their semi-final against Barcelona and few gave them hope of a fightback at Anfield, especially with talismans Firmino and Salah both out injured, but Klopp stuck with Liverpool's regular 4-3-3 formation, using Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri instead.

We don't know if Firmino will be fully fit for the final and, if he is missing, of course it will be a blow. I heard someone say something about him recently which stuck with me - how he is not just a part of Liverpool's system, he IS Liverpool's system.

I agree with that because what Firmino does is make everything tick in their attack - he knows when to come short to get the ball, or make runs beyond the opposition defence, and he also knows how to create space for Salah and Sadio Mane to get in behind, or do the same for midfield runners to go past him.

Like Kane, if he plays in Madrid, he improves his team - but the Reds have got options without him, and they know they work.

Look at the goals Divock Origi has scored this season, and how vital they have been. He is no Firmino but he is lively, he is quick, he holds the ball up reasonably well and, most importantly, he is a threat in front of goal.

Team spirit another reason this game is so hard to call

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The biggest difference between Liverpool and Spurs going into this match is that Liverpool have been here before.

Part of that having experience behind them is managing the break between the end of the league season and the final.

Last year it was two weeks, rather than three, but Klopp will have learned a lot about what his players need in that time in terms of rest and training, and a practice match - what worked last year and what didn't.

That is all new to Pochettino. His players will be tired, but it is not just a case of resting them. They need to keep their match-sharpness and go into the final 100% ready.

Then there is the occasion itself. From speaking to a few of the Reds players, losing to Real Madrid in Kiev has been the driving force for them this season because they have been determined to put things right.

They know what it is like to come so far and end up with nothing and they are determined not to let that happen again, especially after having such an amazing season in the Premier League but missing out on that too.

Top of Premier League table

This is their big opportunity to come away with silverware this time and there is a real belief in the squad that it is going to happen - that they can beat anyone, and win any game.

Tottenham have also got incredible team spirit too, though, and that is another reason why this game is so hard to call.

My feeling is that Liverpool are stronger in most positions but Spurs have been through enough in this competition this season to be confident that they can still find a way of winning this game too.

So, it is going to be extremely close. After seeing so much of both teams home and away in Europe this season through my work for 5 Live and Canadian broadcaster DAZN, it is going to be fascinating to be in Madrid to see who comes out on top.

Stephen Warnock was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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