BILLY BUNTER

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Reds primed to wreak havoc in Madrid

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Jurgen Klopp has lost his last six finals as a manager but he could be in seventh heaven after Liverpool meet Tottenham in the Champions League final at Atletico Madrid's Metropolitano Stadium.

Two teams from the same country will participate in the Champions League final for the fourth time in seven years and Klopp knows all about the agony of defeat in such showdowns, having lost with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich in 2013.

That started a horrid six-final losing sequence for the genial German, who has failed to cross the winning line in two European finals with Liverpool, suffering defeats to Sevilla and Real Madrid.

The Reds were possibly ahead of schedule before. Now they look built to win and even the ultra-positive Klopp will start to believe he is cursed if Liverpool flop as favourites who are almost as hot as the scorching weather forecast for the melting pot of Madrid.

Liverpool, despite not winning the Premier League, finished on 97 points, 26 ahead of the Londoners.

They scored 22 goals more than Tottenham, conceded 17 fewer, won seven more games, lost 12 fewer and beat Mauricio Pochettino's men home and away.

Pedigree is on the side of the rampaging Reds too. There are five European Cups already in the Anfield trophy cabinet whereas this is Tottenham's first Champions League final as they bid to end an 11-year silverware drought.

Liverpool learned plenty from last season's final defeat to Real Madrid, not least that they needed a new goalkeeper. Alisson has been a towering improveent on the lame Loris Karius, and Klopp will be hoping for better fortune this time following Mohamed Salah's first-half injury in Kiev.

Salah forms part of a thrilling front three with Sadio Mane, who has arguably been the brightest spark for the Reds this season, and classy link-man Roberto Firmino.

Mane and Salah finished as joint-top goalscorers in the Premier League Golden Boot race and will look to obtain maximum joy from  Spurs' weakness defending their flanks.

Liverpool have terrorised Tottenham at times in the wide areas this season and not just through Salah and Mane, with full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson set for influential roles.

Alexander-Arnold collected 12 Premier League assists, one more than Robertson, in exquisite campaigns for both. The Englishman saved his greatest work for the quick corner routine that helped topple Barcelona 4-0 in that never-to-be-forgotten Champions League semi-final second-leg mauling as the Catalans crumbled from 3-0 up.

That performance proved Liverpool are one of Europe's elite and if the final was played on paper they would conquer the continent for a sixth time. But football is rarely that simple.

Tottenham have shown miraculous powers of recovery to earn a shot at potentially the greatest night in their history and they won't go down without a fight.

Quite how they have reached Madrid is remarkable and not just because two transfer windows have passed without Pochettino signing a player.

Spurs were almost out after taking just one point from their first three group-stage games and they needed late goals in the last three matches to sneak through, taking advantage of Inter's failure to beat already-eliminated PSV Eindhoven at the San Siro on matchday six.

Beating Borussia Dortmund was a breeze but a VAR reprieve was needed at Manchester City for them to reach the semi-finals, where they came from 3-0 down on aggregate to trump Ajax on away goals.

The word Spursy is a thing of the past and the recovery from injury of Harry Kane and Harry Winks gives Pochettino a rare commodity this season - a fully-fit squad.

Tottenham were ahead of champions City, six Premier League points behind leaders Liverpool at the halfway stage, before fatigue kicked in for a club who had ten World Cup semi-final representatives.

Most of the key men have had injuries, or in the case of South Korean Heung-Min Son, two international tournaments during the domestic season, which have impacted recent results.

They arrive in Madrid with five defeats from their last eight matches and a three-week rest was desperately needed for them to stand a fair chance of an upset.

Winks adds balance to a midfield who have been reliant on renaissance man Moussa Sissoko and the front four - presumably Christian Eriksen, Son, Kane and Dele Alli, but maybe with semi-final hat-trick hero Lucas Moura in the mix - will cause problems for Liverpool having panicked the Merseysiders in the unfortunate last-minute defeat at Anfield in March.

Son made an impression from the bench that day before Toby Alderweireld's own goal, meaning he has started only 13 matches alongside Eriksen, Kane and Alli this season.

Tottenham have won nine of those fixtures, including against City and twice against Chelsea as well as a 6-2 thrashing of Everton at Goodison Park.

So the elegant Virgil van Dijk needs to be alert to Tottenham's threats, although with Spurs appearing iffy from set-pieces the Dutchman may also be a runner in the goalscoring stakes given Liverpool are capable of executing delicious dead-ball deliveries.

The first goal is normally key, if not always in this season's dramatic Champions League, and Tottenham's history of starting crunch clashes slowly suggests the deadlock could be broken early.

Spurs were down at the break in both of their league losses to a Liverpool side renowned for going at the jugular and they conceded inside the opening six minutes three times in their defeats to City this season.

Tottenham also trailed at half-time in each leg against Ajax, only to produce an extraordinary escapology act with Moura playing the Houdini role in Amsterdam.

It gives surprise finalists Spurs a shot at glory but on this occasion there may not be a famous Champions League comeback.

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Bulgaria v England

Home WinDrawAway Win
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Expert verdict
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