UEFA study praises high speed Liverpool in Champions League

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              Dutch soccer player Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool holds the award of men's player of the year 2018/19 during the group stage draw at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
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GENEVA (AP) — A UEFA study of the Champions League last season suggests speed was a key to Liverpool’s title-winning campaign.

Analyzing all 366 goals in the competition, UEFA praised Liverpool for “pace and directness when attacking the opposition” en route to the club’s sixth European title.

Liverpool’s 24 goals took an average of just 7.81 seconds possessing the ball and 2.51 passes. The overall average for 32 teams’ goals was 12.5 seconds and 3.89 passes.

The fast and intense play demanded by Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp and other Premier League teams, including beaten finalist Tottenham, was cited as an important factor.

“The mental and physical resilience of the English participants stood out,” UEFA’s technical panel said, noting their comebacks in the second leg of their semifinals.

“It seems reasonable to suggest the English calendar offers stern tests more regularly — in terms of high intensity, high tempo games — than Ajax, for example, face in the Eredivisie,” the report said, referring to Tottenham’s semifinal opponent.

“Similarly those clubs who win their national leagues with large points margins may suffer in the UEFA Champions League owing to the absence of a serious threat that keeps their competitive levels sky-high week in, week out,” UEFA’s experts said.

In a rare pointed criticism, the report highlighted a lack of work ethic by Barcelona in the 4-0 second-leg loss at Liverpool.

“One UEFA observer suggested that the limited defensive contributions of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez did not help in the away tie: ‘You have to defend with 11 players,'” said the UEFA report, which did not identify the member of its 10-man technical panel.

Liverpool also won an unofficial contest for pure speed in the competition.

The fastest sprint recorded was 34.5 kph (21.4 mph) by defender Virgil van Dijk in the 3-0 first-leg loss at Barcelona.

The top three sprints were all by Premier League players, with Manchester City’s Leroy Sané (34.4 kph vs. Hoffenheim) and Kyle Walker (34.2 kph vs. Tottenham) next in line.

Though Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe is recognized for his blistering speed, he did not feature among the fastest sprints in a Champions League game in 2018-19. Former Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku did, measured at 33.3 kph (20.7 mph) against Barcelona.