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As final battle closes in, data makes way for emotion

As final battle closes in, data makes way for emotion
Soccer Football - Champions League Final - Liverpool Training - Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain - May 31, 2019 General view of the boots of Liverpool players during training REUTERS/Susana Vera Copyright SUSANA VERA(Reuters)
Copyright SUSANA VERA(Reuters)
By Reuters
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By Simon Evans

MADRID (Reuters) - Preparation in the modern game involves a remarkable amount of technical and tactical detail, but when the big moment draws near football's more traditional methods take centre stage.

Both teams in Saturday's Champions League final, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, have travelled to Madrid with their armies of analysts and their laptops packed with data.

Yet in the final 24 hours before kickoff, the long-since collected information makes way for the human element -- emotion.

Mark Leyland, Liverpool's post-match analyst, says the transmission of knowledge is usually done well ahead of the day before a game.

"Usually match days are quite relaxed for us in terms of analysis," he told Reuters.

"We normally have enough time beforehand to prepare. The information that we provide tactically, we get that out of the way as soon as we can.

"This is a unique circumstance for us. But today is fairly relaxed for us. Everything we feel we need to give to them, we hope they have got that by now," he said.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and his Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino are fully engaged with the use of data analysis and other modern innovations in match preparation.

Yet they know that as the clock ticks down, players sense the battle is near and detail might not be what they need to hear.

"The players when they arrive very close to the competition, they are closed," said Pochettino.

The Argentine said there would be little point "trying to replicate everything we will do tomorrow" in training nor in delivering an "unbelievable emotional speech, motivational speech" before the game.

"It's difficult because they are focussed on the competition, it is about what you have already prepared because under stress, always there is some degree of automatic pilot," he said.

"The most important thing is to be free, to play like you were young, a child, seven, eight, nine years old, the key is not to feel that there are a billion people watching you," he said.



His German counterpart Klopp is more of a believer in the power of a speech to fire up his players and his oratory before the 4-0 semi-final, second-leg win over Barcelona, was cited by his players as a crucial factor.

"He lifted us up so much. He just said 'Believe - put it in your mind that you can do it'. We never heard that from him before," said defender Dejan Lovren.

"He said 'Boys, belief. One, two goals. Even if we don't score in the first 15 or 20 minutes. Believe in the 65, 66, 67 minutes that we can score. With Anfield behind us, trust me guys, we can do it...' -- and we did it!" said the Croatian.


Klopp and Pochettino will focus on motivation, man-management and the methods needed to get players to burst their lungs for 90 minutes on the biggest stage in the club game.

But the pressure is not off for long for the laptop legion.

"It all starts again with the final whistle," says Leyland, checking the video feed from the broadcasters is working for his staff.

Once the game is under-way, for all that Klopp and Pochettino may be yelling their instructions, the data men, are back at work.


Just before halftime, along with colleague Harrison Kingston, Leyland will prepare video clips to show Klopp at the interval.

The tactical detail can be crucial information in unlocking an opposition defence and Pochettino will also get his own briefing from his experts.

Yet while both teams will be superbly prepared, the Spurs manager does not expect a cagey tactical encounter on Saturday.

"We are two teams that know each other well, so no tactics are going to be a surprise. The emotional side is going to be fundamental in this game."


(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)

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