With Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur set to face off in the Champions League final this Saturday, we take a look back at how the Premier League rivals reached the showpiece in Madrid.
Theirs are stories of group-stage calculations, conquering favourites, dramatic semi-final comebacks and sheer determination to become Europe’s standard-bearer.
Here’s how they set up a meeting at Estadio Metropolitano…
Neither of the finalists had assured a place in the knockout stages when their sixth and last group games kicked off in early December.
Both had clarity and agency in their tasks, at least.
Anfield wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Red Star Belgrade – the former settled by substitute Roberto Firmino after a pulsating showdown with Neymar and co – were offset by three successive defeats away from home for Jürgen Klopp’s side before Napoli came to Merseyside.
Victory that night was imperative; specifically, the Reds had to triumph by a 1-0 scoreline or two clear goals to leapfrog the Serie A outfit into second place in Group C.
They did so courtesy of two clutch moments.
Mohamed Salah notched the breakthrough Liverpool needed with a trademark dance through the opposition defence and prodded finish in the first half – and Alisson Becker preserved that advantage in the final minutes by somehow blocking a close-range effort from the unmarked Arkadiusz Milik.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham produced a similarly commendable feat of escapism in a tricky group containing FC Barcelona, Internazionale and PSV Eindhoven.
Gaining a single point from their first three fixtures left Spurs with a mountain to climb – though their attempted ascent was boosted by successive Wembley defeats of PSV and Inter.
Still, though, the Londoners had to come through a trip to Camp Nou with an equal or better result than Inter could register at home to PSV on a dramatic final matchday.
Trailing 1-0 to Barcelona with five minutes left to play, and with Inter on course for a point that would lift them up to second, Lucas Moura produced a pivotal equaliser and guided his team into the knockouts.
Pochettino’s side had edged through on the head-to-head record against their rivals for second spot – the difference ultimately the away goal they had scored in Milan three months earlier.
There were German assignments for both sides when the last-16 draw was made, the Reds paired with Bayern Munich and Tottenham matched up against Borussia Dortmund.
A goalless draw at Anfield gave Bayern the upper hand over Liverpool, many argued, but Klopp countered: “We have three weeks [until the return fixture] and day by day the result will feel a bit better for us and a bit worse for Bayern.”
And he was right.
Sadio Mane’s deft touch, turn and chip 26 minutes into the second leg at Allianz Arena changed the complexion of the tie and though a Joel Matip own goal briefly gave the hosts hope, the Reds were in the mood for a scalp.
A towering header by Virgil van Dijk restored the advantage after the break and Mane’s close-range header put the tie to bed on a night Klopp later described as one in which his side proved ‘we really are back on the landscape of international, top-class football’.
Tottenham enjoyed an unexpectedly straightforward 4-0 aggregate victory over Dortmund, meanwhile.
Two late goals at Wembley, following an opener from Son Heung-min, gave Spurs a handsome lead at the tie’s halfway point and Harry Kane’s strike won the match and ended the tie in Germany three weeks later.
Roles were somewhat reversed at the quarter-final stage, however, as Liverpool controlled their tie from start to finish while Tottenham experienced a rollercoaster in their frantic showdown with Manchester City.
The Reds were reunited with FC Porto – their opponents in the Round of 16 a year earlier – and established a two-goal advantage at Anfield through first-half strikes from Naby Keita and Firmino.
And when VAR correctly ruled Mane was onside after he tapped in a breakthrough in the return at Estadio do Dragao, Klopp’s men’s lead felt unassailable.
Indeed, they increased it further, with Salah, Firmino and Van Dijk all on target during a dominant second half to wrap up a 6-1 aggregate success and set up a semi-final meeting with Barcelona for Liverpool.
There was a calm beginning to Spurs’ clash with City as Son struck the only goal of the opening leg and gave Pochettino’s side an edge ahead of the decisive second game in Manchester.
What ensued was chaotic.
There were four goals shared inside the opening 11 minutes and another from the hosts before the midway point of the first half as caution was launched to the wind.
Sergio Aguero’s effort just shy of the hour finally gave City the upper hand, only for Fernando Llorente to bundle home and put Tottenham back in front on away goals – an advantage that held firm after a late, late Raheem Sterling strike was ruled out by VAR.
Incredibly, both Liverpool and Spurs found themselves trailing 3-0 at points of their semi-finals against Barcelona and Ajax respectively.
A harsh three-goal defeat at Camp Nou was inflicted on the Reds despite a strong performance, particularly in the second half, and after Salah hit the post with a chance in the closing moments of an absorbing encounter.
For the return at Anfield six days later, both Salah and Firmino were ruled out due to injury. “Never give up,” read the former’s T-shirt as he took up his watching brief. It would become the message of the night.
Divock Origi’s seventh-minute opener suggested a miracle was possible and Georginio Wijnaldum’s quickfire second-half double, having been introduced as a half-time substitute, was the catalyst for arguably the club’s greatest European night at home.
A moment that the manager went on to label ‘genius’ settled it; Trent Alexander-Arnold’s sneaky corner teed up Origi to hammer in a fourth and book a second consecutive Champions League final appearance.
The following night, there was another generous helping of drama.
With Ajax 1-0 up against Tottenham from the first leg in London, the Eredivisie side raced into a 2-0 lead in Amsterdam to seemingly put the tie beyond Spurs.
But Pochettino’s team had not given up and, as Wijnaldum did for the Reds, Moura notched a rapid brace early in the second half to suddenly switch the momentum and put the visitors within one more goal of the final.
And, in the sixth minute of stoppage-time with the comeback now looking unlikely, up popped Moura yet again with a driven low shot that reached the bottom corner and sealed another sensational Champions League turnaround.