The unprecedented and unimaginable happened when four English clubs entered the finals of both the UEFA Champions’ League (UCL) and the UEFA Europa League for the 2018-19 season. While last season’s runners-up Liverpool face North London club Tottenham Hotspurs in the Champions League final in Madrid on June 1, two more teams of the city, Chelsea and Arsenal, lock horns at Baku, Azerbaijan, for the Europa Cup finals. It will be the first time in history that all four clubs from one nation will feature in Europe’s two most premier club tournaments.
Both Liverpool and Tottenham staged dramatic semi-final turnarounds in their outings against Barcelona and Ajax respectively on their road to the finals. By contrast, Chelsea and Arsenal had no difficulty in coasting past Eintracht Frankfurt and Valencia to go through. Arsenal trounced Valencia 7-3 on aggregate having won both their home and away legs. Chelsea, on the other hand, drew in both their legs with identical scores of 1-1 with Frankfurt but got the better of their rivals from Germany on penalties which they won 4-3.
Few gave Liverpool any chance when they were routed 0-3 in the first leg against Barcelona away in the first leg at Nou Camp. To overcome this defeat, coach Jurgen Klopp’s Reds needed to win at least 4-0 or 5-1 against a team that had the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez and were clearly the bookies favourites to lift the title. But miracles do happen as the hosts at Anfield showed. Liverpool dominated and outplayed Barcelona 4-0 to stage one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Champions League history. Even more astonishing was the fact that they were without their two key forwards, the mercurial Egyptian Mohammad Salah and Roberto Firmino, both out with injuries. Much lesser players like 24-year old Nigerian Divock Origi and new recruit from Cardiff City, Marko Grujic, were among the goals to the astonishment of many.
A young Ajax side of Amsterdam, Netherlands, who looked so dominant all through their UCL campaign, besting sides like defending champions Real Madrid and Italian giants Juventus in the knock-out stages seemed to have booked their berth in the finals. Adding to their first leg 0-1 away lead in London over Tottenham Hotspur, the Dutch side turn the knife deeper into the visitors from London with one more goal and taking their aggregate lead to an unassailable of 2-0 at half-time of the second-leg at Amsterdam. With just 45 mins of the tie to go, the second sensational turnaround occurred within 24 hours of the one at Anfield. Spurs brushed aside the absence of their talismanic striker, Harry Kane, and spearheaded by the unlikely Lucas Moura, banged in three second half goals to catapult the North London a historic European final on a 3-2 aggregate.
Liverpool are no strangers to European tournaments and have 11 titles in the bag. But the Reds haven’t won one since 2005 and will be looking for one more to add to their array of European titles at Madrid. For coach Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs, this is the first time his side have gone past the quarter-finals since their advent into the UCL in 2010-11. So, winning it will mean a lot to the London outfit.