The 1977 European Cup Final took place between the English Champions Liverpool and the German Champions Borussia Monchengladbach. It was not the first meeting for both the teams as they had previously met in the 1973 UEFA Cup Final which was won by the English Giants. However, this game was the first time for both the teams in the European Cup Final. Both the teams came through the process of facing other opposition in four rounds – First round, Second round, Quarter-Final and Semi-Final.
With Liverpool producing seemingly different kinds of performances which ranged as total dominance against the teams such as Crusaders and FC Zurich and close encounters against Trabzonspor and Saint Etienne, Monchengladbach had to come through tough opposition as they picked up wins with close margins. Their road to the final came by with wins of 3-1 against Austria Vienna, 2-1 versus Torino, 3-2 against Club Brugge in the Quarters and 2-1 aggregate win over Dynamo Kyiv in the Semis.
Liverpool had won the UEFA Cup (now known as Europa League) in the previous year and had reached the final of the Elite Club Competition in 1977. On the other hand, Borussia Monchengladbach were successful in 1974-75 season in the same competition.
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Liverpool (4-2-2-2) | Manager: Bob Paisley
1.Ray Clemence – 2.Phil Neal, 4.Tommy Smith, 6.Emlyn Hughes, 3.Joey Jones – 10.Ian Callaghan, 11.Terry McDermott – 8.Jimmy Case, 5.Ray Kennedy – 9.Steve Heighway, 7.Kevin Keegan
Borussia Monchengladbach (4-3-3) | Manager: Udo Lattek
1.Wolfgang Kneib – 2. Berti Vogts, 4.Hans-Jurgen Wittkamp, 5.Rainer Bonhof, 3.Hans Klinkhammer – 9.Uli Stielike, 10.Frank Schaffer, 6.Horst Wohlers – 7.Allan Simonsen, 11.Jupp Heynckes, 8.Herbert Wimmer
Liverpool manager Bob Paisley went for playing two up top with Heighway and Keegan. In the wide areas, Kennedy was deployed in the left while Jimmy Case played in the right half space. Both Callaghan and McDermott played in the centre with the former being pulled from his natural wide area. Ray Clemence started in goal while Phil Neal, Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes and Joey Jones formed the defensive back four.
The English Champions fielded a team of nine English men as the Irish striker Steve Heighway and Welshman Joey Jones denied an all English XI. For the German Champions, the Dane winger Allan Simonsen was the odd one out in a team which fielded ten Germans.
Bob Paisley’s counterpart Udo Lattek played a lopsided 4-3-3 in which Wolfgang Kneib started in between the sticks. Vogts, Wittkamp, Bonhof and Klinkhammer formed the back four as Uli Stielike and Horst Wohlers played on either side of the pivot, Frank Schaffer. The Dane Allan Simonsen played in the wide right while Herbert Wimmer started on the opposite flank. Jupp Heynckes lead the attack for Monchengladbach who played as the central striker.
The ‘pass and move’ era under Bob Paisley was a refreshing breath of air for English football which did not see teams that relied on possession and passing. Paisley’s Liverpool were putting on a show for everyone with their pass and move approach that saw them use passing to its fullest combined with excellent off the ball movement to support it. This should not be confused with ‘hogging the possession’ approach as Liverpool could effectively integrate directness in their play.
Right from the start, Liverpool tried to play direct with the back four trying to find the two strikers upfront with long balls. The full backs, Phil Neal and Joey Jones, in particular tried to find Heighway and Keegan respectively. Heighway who often stays wide on the right, occupied the right half space while Keegan would move to the wide left with both the strikers providing width upfront. Consequently, Keegan was marked by his opposite number Vogts and Heighway would be marked by Klinkhammer.
From the below image we can notice how wide the forwards for Liverpool played when they wanted to provide width. While they receive the ball in the wide areas, they allow the likes of Kennedy and Case to underlap and move to the centre along with the other striker. Also, McDermott and Callaghan would move upward when they have the space upfront. In this particular case, Callaghan was often seen playing in front of the defence while he also has been deployed in the right wing in certain matches. In this match he occupied the right when his team needed an overload in the wide areas.
It was quite visible to see how Liverpool involved in more direct play. However they maintained great connection in between defence and midfield to take control of the game. Liverpool were structurally well connected especially in the wide areas as they desired. When they overloaded a flank, they maintained better connection in between the players. The winger on the opposite flank when underloaded, provided the option of taking the ball into free space in the opposite flank.
As mentioned earlier, Liverpool looked to play it to the strikers who played wide and then play to the advancing midfielders who would occupy the space evacuated by the strikers. As the markers would be pulled to the wide, the space created in the centre proved to be a problem for Udo Lattek’s Borussia Monchengladbach. These movements can be found in the video below.
On the other hand, Monchengladbach always approached the game in possession based build up. Gladbach looked to build out from the back with the defensive midfielder Schaffer falling back to bring the ball out from the defence in most instances. However whenever the ball went to the midfield from the back, Liverpool were able to close down the ball carrier either winning the ball or forcing him to play it back to the defence. This was carried out well especially by Liverpool in Gladbach’s half in the wide areas. The below image shows an instance where the closing down forced left winger, Herbert Wimmer, to retreat the ball back to the defence.
For Monchengladbach, most of the attacks started with the back and ended up with diagonal crosses on to wingers from the midfield. Firstly, either of Wittkamp, Klinkhammer or Bohnhof would carry the ball out from the back. Wittkamp who was deployed as the sweeper, or the Libero as the Italians call it, was seen playing behind Klinkhammer and Bonhof in most instances while Wohlers played on the left and full back Vogts on the right high up the field.
This would change when Steilike would play at Vogts’ place as he slipped into central defence with Bonhof which allowed Klinkhammer to move forward on the opposite flank. This gave Wohlers the license to foray forward a lot and contribute effectively near the final third. In the image below, we can identify the defensive structure on the ball and how they shaped themselves to create forward progressions.
In the second half, Liverpool dominated the midfield similar to the way things had panned out in the first 45 minutes. Often the passing lines were cut and the ball carrier from Monchengladbach was pressed in the centre by the midfield duo of McDermott and Callaghan. In certain situations they moved into the half spaces to create overloads in the wide areas to retain possession and stifle a move from Gladbach. In the below image we can see the astute marking schemes carried out by Liverpool players and a 2v1 overload in the wide area. This often forced the ball carrier to play back to the defence and retreat the move.
Having seen more of the ball, Gladbach were unable to dominate the game due to Liverpool’s midfield structure. However a mistake from the same midfield helped the German side as the Dane winger, Allan Simonsen capitalised on the mistake and scored a screamer into the top right corner of Clemence’s goal.
After the goal, Liverpool upped the ante in search of the lead as they pressed high up the field and started attacking the goal. Often McDermott and Case from the right flank in midfield would play diagonal long balls to Keegan and Kennedy and try to lay it off to strike partner Heighway or the midfielders who come forward into spaces in front of the box.
In the video below, the above instance is shown where the shift of play from right to left has caused the space for the ball far midfielders to get into the space uncovered by the Gladbach midfielders who approached the ball. This space is well set up to be occupied by the lay off from Keegan or Kennedy inside the box.
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As a reaction, Gladbach looked to hit Liverpool on the counter and they almost ended up being successful in their approach. Simonsen started to prove to be the danger man as he provided the width up high up the pitch. Heynckes would drop deep from his position to find Simonsen in the wide areas. But as the ball was carried by the German striker, the Dane slotted into the space vacated by Heynckes and led the attack for Monchengladbach in counters.
Liverpool on the other hand scored courtesy of a Tommy Smith goal from the corner delivered by Heighway. Though the game was more in the balance in the second half, Liverpool found a way to find their lead back through a set piece. The Germans couldn’t answer back as they failed to find an outlet other than Simonsen and couldn’t create effective chances. As the game wore on, the most talked about duel between Keegan and Vogts came into the fore when the latter pulled down the Liverpool striker inside the box conceding the penalty.
In the 82nd minute, Phil Neal stepped up to take the penalty and easily slotted it past the German keeper to give Liverpool a 3-1 lead. The Germans failed to answer back and the English team wrote themselves into the history books by winning their first European Cup. They were only the third British team to win the European Cup and joined an Elite company of Celtic who had won it in the 1967 season by beating Helenio Herrera’s La Grande Inter and Manchester United who had won the competition the next year.
This success marked the beginning of an era that stands out in Liverpool’s history. They dominated domestic and European football with their quality and approach play that saw them become the most successful English side in Europe.