The Champions League final is the showpiece of European football. The continent’s two finest teams do battle to win Europe’s most cherished trophy. After slogging it out in their domestic leagues with plenty of travelling, playing two games a week for most of the year, both teams reach the season’s climax ready to prove that they are Europe’s top dogs.
Saturday’s match did not quite live up to the expectation and excitement that surrounded it. Both sides played as though the three-week break between their last league matches and the final was actually too long. Despite the gap, Spurs and Liverpool appeared jaded and short of ideas. It was a shame that English football’s resurgence to Europe’s top table coincided with such a dour game.
Roberto Firmino and Harry Kane started upfront for their teams when it was clear that neither was ready. When fully fit, they are two of the best at what they do. Here, they hindered their sides. Kane completed 11 passes all match; three of those were presumably from kick-offs. It was a slow, drab ending to a Champions League that had, until the final, enthralled us all.
England’s last game at the 2018 World Cup was on 11 July. The first game of the Premier League season was on 10 August. This final took place on 1 June. Simply put, this game showed that we all needed a break. If players are producing performances in European finals like that, then the season is truly far too long and taxing for everyone involved. That can be the only explanation as to why the referee awarded Liverpool a penalty after 25 seconds, and fatigue must also be why there was support for that decision from the VAR room and television studios.
If you thought that Saturday marked the end of the football season, you were wrong. On Wednesday, the next round of the Nations League begins. Portugal play Switzerland while England take on the Netherlands the following day. The early stages of this competition have been a resounding success but these matches taking place several days after the Champions League final in a summer sandwiched between the World Cup and the European Championships is unnecessary and without demand.
The Nations League revitalised international football outside of major competitions. European countries now have meaningful, competitive matches against similarly-ranked sides during the season. It was exactly what was necessary. This week’s coming fixtures provide no solace for supporters who were disappointed by Saturday’s Champions League final.
In an era where European football is shown live on TV almost every day, even ardent fans need a break. The same goes for players and managers. To be at the peak of their powers, players must not be overworked by needless matches. The Nations League fixtures will be the same as Saturday’s final and leave us all underwhelmed after a year filled with some of the most memorable moments in recent memory – if you can be bothered to watch, that is.