Alisson Becker can’t wait for his biggest game yet.
Next week’s Champions League final represents the biggest game of Alisson Becker’s career so far.
At the end of an outstanding debut season with Liverpool the Brazilian goalkeeper is potentially 90 minutes away from lifting the European Cup in Madrid.
Tottenham Hotspur will stand in the Reds’ way at Estadio Metropolitano on June 1 and Alisson is relishing the scale and importance of the continent’s grandest club fixture.
“I can’t wait,” he told Liverpoolfc.com in Marbella.
“Once we finished the Premier League, there were 20 days to prepare the final. I’m looking forward to playing this big game. It’s maybe the biggest game in my life.”
A clean sheet against Spurs next Saturday would, of course, go a long way to securing Liverpool a sixth European Cup.
Alisson has already chalked up 26 shutouts in 2018-19, including an unrivalled 21 in the Premier League to clinch the Golden Glove prize at the first attempt.
“It was such an honour, such a big award in the world of football,” the 26-year-old replied, when asked how it felt to collect the award at Anfield on the final day of the season.
“The award is not just mine, it’s an award for my teammates also, who work hard to keep clean sheets in the game. It’s a target for everyone.”
The Reds are currently stationed in Marbella, Spain for a six-day training camp designed to step up their preparations for the showdown with Tottenham.
Alisson sees several benefits to the trip, not least the acclimatisation to the kind of conditions likely to await them when the final kicks off.
“It’s good for preparation, it’s good for us to keep our minds free from external things,” added the No.13.
“Coming here is special for us, we can have more time together and speak more – that’s important for a team that wants to achieve great things.
“It’s nice weather – perfect weather to work. It’s a bit hot compared to what we are used to for training [in Liverpool] but it’s the weather we’ll find in Madrid, so it’s good for us.”
Jürgen Klopp on Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino fitness latest.
Jürgen Klopp has revealed Naby Keita is making good progress in his rehabilitation from a thigh injury.
The midfielder sustained the issue – a high-grade adductor injury – during the semi-final first leg against FC Barcelona at Camp Nou and initial diagnosis suggested he was facing up to eight weeks out of action.
Keita has travelled to Liverpool’s training camp in Marbella, but is continuing his specialised recovery programme with the club’s medical team.
Klopp told Liverpoolfc.com: “Naby is, I would say, a bit ahead of schedule, but that doesn’t mean anything for the final. He is now doing straight runs and all of that stuff, he feels comfortable with 50 per cent intensity and these things – but there is still a way to go.
“I know about the issues with Guinea and stuff like that; we don’t want to keep a player out if he can play – maybe they think it is like this, but it is not like this. For me, it would be good if Naby would be 100 per cent fit and could play the Africa Cup of Nations, to be 100 per cent honest. But we don’t know, we will see, and we need to work together with their medical department because in the end, a player who is fit – from my point of view – who can play, should play for his country.
“If he is not 100 per cent fit, he cannot play. That’s how it is. It is not important whether you play for your country or your club. That’s what we try to make sure. It looks good, very positive and we will see if there is a chance.”
Elsewhere, Klopp reported positive news on the fitness of Roberto Firmino, who is making a staggered return to full training following a muscle issue that ruled him out of Liverpool’s last three fixtures.
“Bobby looks really good [and] he is now part of training,” said the boss on Wednesday. “It was not too long out, but of course we are still careful and want to make sure nothing happens.
“We have a few days still and want to use them, that’s why he is in, out, in, out. Yesterday, he was only playing as a ‘joker’ [in the small-sided games] but it is good for him, the first step to play football again.
“Today he was in around about 70 per cent of the session. Tomorrow he will probably be in completely, we will see, then hopefully it will be fine.”
Wijnaldum: We’re determined to get the trophy, but Spurs are always tough.
Liverpool are determined to ensure their efforts in 2018-19 are rewarded with silverware, according to Georginio Wijnaldum, but know Tottenham Hotspur will prove a formidable opponent in the Champions League final in Madrid.
The Reds will meet the Londoners in the Spanish capital on June 1 to contest European football’s most prestigious prize.
They will do so after a Premier League campaign that yielded 97 points and just one defeat, though they were eventually narrowly pipped to the crown by Manchester City.
However, the opportunity to crown an outstanding campaign with the European Cup is one Liverpool are – naturally – eager to capitalise upon, though Wijnaldum insists everyone within the camp is aware of how dangerous Spurs will be to such aspirations.
The midfielder told Liverpoolfc.com in Marbella: “Everyone is really focused and determined to win a trophy, especially because we’ve had a really good year.
“It was a great year with 97 points in the league, but unfortunately, we didn’t end as champions, so that’s why we want to finish this season with a trophy.
“In the last game of the season, we couldn’t control things [in the league] because it wasn’t in our hands. Now, it’s different, it’s a final, so we’re going to try to make the best of it and try to win the game, but we know Tottenham are a really tough opponent.”
Liverpool recorded a Premier League double over Tottenham with a pair of 2-1 victories home and away, though Wijnaldum feels such a statistic will count for nothing come kick-off at Estadio Metropolitano.
“You could see it [how tough Tottenham are], if you look back at the two games we played against them, they were really tough – especially the second one.
“We won in the end, but it could have gone differently in that game. They are a really tough team; we’ve faced them a lot of times and every time it has been tough – we have never played against them and it was easy – so we know what we will have to do.”
The Reds’ preparations for the Champions League final have been taking place in Marbella this week during a six-day training camp on the Andalusian coast.
“It’s been good so far,” Wijnaldum reflected, moments after completing the latest session on Friday morning.
“It’s a little bit hot and not the weather we’re used to, but the training sessions have gone well for everyone. We have to come back into rhythm again after the few days we had off and so far it’s been good.”
With eight days to go until the showpiece in Spain, competition for places remains fierce, particularly in Wijnaldum’s area of the field in the middle of the park.
Nevertheless, the No.5 feels such opposition for a place on the final teamsheet only serves as a positive.
He said: “That’s how we’re used to it, always. During the season, everyone is training hard and trying to show they should play.
“But we also train to get better as a team, so it’s both of those things – we want to play, we train to play, but also to get better as a team.”
“Normally, you’re in a rhythm of training and playing games, but now we don’t play a game for three weeks, so we have to find a rhythm again,” continued Wijnaldum.
“At this training camp, we train hard, the circumstances can be tough with the weather, but you learn to get used to it. It’ll probably be the same in Madrid, so it’s good for us to have a camp like this.”
Nerveless Virgil van Dijk ready for ‘the big one’.
There are no nerves for Virgil van Dijk as he prepares for a second successive Champions League final appearance with Liverpool.
‘The big one,’ he calls it. The chance for redemption after defeat by Real Madrid in Kiev 12 months ago, and an immediate opportunity to shake off the frustration of falling one point short in the Premier League title race.
But the unflappable Dutchman does not feel the pressure of the opportunity.
“It’s more excitement than nerves these days,” Van Dijk told The Guardian. “Even before the Champions League final last year I was not nervous at all. I was very relaxed. I was like: ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’
“I don’t know what it is. It’s just something I’ve learned over the years and it’s something I’m very happy about. If you’re nervous you think: ‘I don’t want to make mistakes or give the ball away.’ But you limit your own qualities then.
“Over the years I’ve developed the mindset that there are many more important things in life.”
It’s fair to say it did not feel that way in the late hours of Tuesday May 7.
That night, Van Dijk and the Reds achieved what had been described as an impossible task – namely, overturning a three-goal deficit against FC Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.
‘Never give up,’ read the slogan on Mohamed Salah’s T-shirt.
That hope morphed into possibility as the minutes ticked away and the goals rained in, Divock Origi with the first, substitute Georginio Wijnaldum with the second and third, and Origi again the decisive fourth.
“I could not sleep much [after the game] – maybe two hours. It was totally crazy,” recalled Van Dijk.
“From the moment we arrived at the stadium you had the feeling it could be something special. When Divock Origi scored that early goal you could feel the belief.
“Everything was perfect that night. It wasn’t like we had luck. We totally deserved it because anyone would say a team 3-0 down against Barcelona is not going to do it. [Lionel] Messi’s going to score – and if they scored one it was almost impossible. But we did it.
“It was nuts. You can’t really describe it. Hopefully we can finish it off now and make an even bigger memory.”
Tottenham Hotspur await in the final at Madrid’s Estadio Metropolitano next Saturday.
A three-week gap between the conclusion of the Premier League season, and Liverpool’s relentless battle with Manchester City for the title, and the Champions League decider allows for considered perspective.
“It’s going to hurt if you lose – but it’s not the end of the world. The only thing we can do is to give everything and have no regrets if they’re the better team,” said Van Dijk.
“We’re not thinking about losing or how we’re going to overcome this barrier of losing the Premier League by one point, then losing the Champions League. That’s not worth thinking about. I’m thinking about playing to our best ability with all our talent and experience.
“I read that if we win the Champions League our next two [out of three] games are the Community Shield and European Super Cup. We can win three cups in three games. It’s something we strive for.
“We were close in the Premier League – but now we have a chance to win the Champions League, the big one. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Pep Lijnders: I love that we compete with our way of football.
‘We’ve got there in our way,’ is how Pepijn Lijnders summarises Liverpool’s incredible road to the Champions League final in Madrid.
The Reds will take on Tottenham Hotspur in the competition’s showpiece on June 1, aiming to bring the trophy back to Anfield for a sixth time in the club’s history.
It’s been an eventful ride to Estadio Metropolitano and ahead of the encounter with Mauricio Pochettino’s side, Liverpoolfc.com caught up with Lijnders during the Marbella training camp to get the inside track on how the team overcame every obstacle thrown at them to reach successive finals.
The assistant manager pinpoints the Reds’ loyalty and faith in their ideals and philosophy as fundamental factors in the players booking themselves a trip to the Spanish capital.
Read on for our chat with Lijnders…
How are the boys looking going into the Champions League final?
Our boys look hungry, to be honest. I think they can’t wait; it’s a special moment for us and the club and we love the fact that we can compete for our club with our way of football. The journey has been intense, full of passion and ambition from the boys. We always stayed loyal to our style and that, for me, is what’s the most pleasing thing. We came here our way – never boring! We competed in the world’s two strongest competitions and in both we are in it until the very end. We will give everything again, trying to make our fans proud. LFC football from start until end.
How important was it to take the boys to Marbella again to work on preparation ahead of the final?
It’s good to be all together. We love Melwood, but getting somewhere private as a team creates focus automatically. We try to get the mindset for competition and overcoming difficulties. Training is about developing and stimulating that. What defines us, as always, is we focus on us.
How pleased were you with the attitude of the boys during the sessions?
I don’t like them, I love them. What professionals! It’s great to work with them, it’s never a mistake to train with everything you have. I’m patient, I expect more mistakes because we ask them to play with initiative, to attempt more, attack more and better, press more and hard work. But this, in the end, makes you accomplish more. Good things just take time. Our way of play has to become a natural skill. No ego, team-play with a 100 per cent winning attitude, because the difference between a good team and a top team is the character of each individual to put the team above themselves.
As you said, it’s been an incredible run to the final, again…
Indeed, special, and we should compliment our boys. But a final isn’t to show how good we all are, it’s to compete as a team. There are many different signs for a good game and we have to search for these.
Did the Barcelona game at Anfield show the very best of what this team and this club is all about?
The very best of this club is shown in humbleness, in everyday desire to improve, not as much results, in my opinion. It’s really shown in the passion of the people who work for it, and in the passion of the fans, and then, yes, it works like a trampoline… and sometimes like a volcano! In all seriousness, I really believe our results are a logical consequence of development and right character. Character counts; the force of Jürgen’s passion is cumulative because the way he speaks to our players becomes their inner voice, that creates belief. Everyone who was in top sport knows that your brain, your own voice, can be difficult sometimes. What we saw that night is a hard-working, pressing team, who fought for each centimetre together. We will not accept getting beat in team spirit.
At what point did what the team achieved that night really register with you? It was very emotional at the end…
We said before we had to impress them by impressing ourselves. Jürgen searched for the right description of “surpass ourselves”. You can’t imagine how satisfied we were by the performance, I was smiling and shouting like never before. We knew it was possible, more than people around us thought. But you have to earn the right to be ambitious, and I think we did that that night. A total LFC effort.
“Everything about this team is glued by togetherness and by character,” is what you said back in February. I guess we’ve seen that on the road to Madrid?
Yes, in combination with training like monsters, that’s the only way you can erase fear, be a unit, a red block, because help creates massive. Just play with maximum courage, enjoy doing your best and don’t worry too much.
So, Tottenham Hotspur are our opponents in the final. It’s fair to say we all know what a top side they are…
Yes, they are such a strong, strong team, with many dominant players who want to create. We have to be ready to deal with difficult circumstances. We respect Tottenham, we respect the competition, we respect the game but what’s really important is that we respect ourselves.
Lastly, for you personally, to be involved in this Champions League final having missed last year’s, what does that mean to you?
It means the world to me. Firstly, because it’s with Jürgen; secondly, it’s with one of Europe’s most traditional and historical clubs; and third, it’s with a group of players who deserve to represent Liverpool in this final.
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