By Leanne Prescott Twitter – @_lfcleanne
From the ashes rises the phoenix…
As the final whistle drew to a close at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, an eruption of acclaim was not forthcoming, instead replaced by the palpable silence of heartbreak.
Jurgen Klopp, a man so often full of life, had his head bowed, choked up by the sight of Mohamed Salah’s arm entrapped in a sling with his World Cup hopes in doubt.
Elsewhere, Loris Karius was hunched to the ground, pleading for forgiveness after being brandished responsible for the events that had unfolded earlier.
How would Liverpool recover? Could they recover? Would this be their one chance spurned, culminating in the latest flurry of high-profile departures flocking to other major European sides? The latest heartbreak in a season that had promised so much?
Deep in the pit of despair, Klopp’s resounding message was one of defiance, boldness and strong-will – we’ll keep on being cool, and bring it back to Liverpool! – offering a warning shot across the bow and an embodiment of his very mantle – the mantle of a man who seldom give up.
Liverpool would dust themselves off; they’d go again.
Indeed, what’s transpired since has been an evolution both on and off the field.
From the ashes rises the phoenix…
Where the club’s spending was once lavished on questionable recruits, Liverpool now operate as a well-oiled machine, leading the way for their European counterparts through rigorous data-analysis and targeted recruitment to hand pick the ripest fruit.
Just 48 hours on from Kiev, Klopp had secured a new No.3 in Fabinho; the perfect combination of power and prowess, consistency with creativity. The Brazilian took time to come into the fore, adapting to the intensity and demands of such a multi-faceted system, and while fans grew impatient over his lack of appearances, Klopp’s trust never wavered, with a patient approach of adaptation like Andrew Robertson and Oxlade-Chamberlain since paying dividends.
The 25-year-old is the spearhead of a diligent midfield unit, replacing the hole left void since Javier Mascherano’s departure with a combination of positional nous, excellent reading of the game and ability to find an incisive forward pass. Described as the ‘lighthouse’ to the ‘organised chaos’ by Pep Ljinders, Fabinho operates as the enforcer, supplying the platform from which Liverpool’s more attacking dynamos have stemmed.
Elsewhere, a growing age of technology powered by the sizeable tool of social media made rehabilitation in England an impossibility for Karius. With the power to connect fans under the same goal in an instant but antagonise and abuse just as fast, the German was left to bear the brunt of social media’s sharp claws for two high-profile errors, leaving any shot at a redemption story firmly away from the English spotlight.
In his place, Alisson Becker, AS Roma’s authoritative goalkeeper capable of adding further stability at the back. Confident and communicative, his budding relationship with Virgil van Dijk and two of the world’s most explosive full-backs have proved to be the hallmarks for success.
Previously spending money and remaining drastically off course, pulled by the imposition of a transfer committee that brought more confusion than direction, Michael Edwards’s backroom recruitment has proved to be the difference maker. Targeting and addressing previously problematic areas with little fuss, an off-the-pitch evolution has translated onto the pitch.
In years gone by, Liverpool fans have rarely enjoyed the comforts of a routine win. Two or three goals to the good, there was always a niggling feeling that something, somewhere, might give. There were mistakes to be made and weaknesses to be exploited.
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However, a new and forcible rear-guard has enabled Klopp to tweak his strategy. Less akin to a gung-ho, do-or-die, attacking philosophy, The Reds now don a progressive, patient approach. They are street wise where they were once naïve, developing from the kid in the playground who wants to score as many as he can in twenty minutes before running out of steam to the man who bides his time, scores and then produces a show of resolve.
Alongside that, the emergence of a helpful habit of winning even when they aren’t playing well – a component all of Alex Ferguson’s title winning Manchester United sides possessed.
Combined with a strong mentality and defiance, Liverpool refusal to conform to the script that Manchester City would turn the Premier League into a monopoly from top-flight juggernaut to a one-man band further embodies the journey undergone since Kiev – a rejuvenation story from minnows to majors, sweeping up a resounding 97 points in the league while wielding a sixth European Cup in Madrid.
What a journey it’s been.
From defensive resilience and clinical finishing against Paris Saint Germain to combating travel sickness on the road in Italy, Serbia and France, surging highs were met with precarious lows in the group stages.
Bursting into life in the knockout stages, Liverpool’s maturity was evident in a full-proof European away display at the Allianz Arena, where they comprehensively outclassed Bayern in their own backyard before Porto were dealt another dose of Merseyside magic.
Camp Nou was a lesson in football’s cruellest arts and fine margins. Liverpool were the better side, not just for one or two fleeting moments, but for sustained ten-fifteen minute passages, and yet failure to take chances proved costly.
Even the most optimistic heads were drooped.
The dream looked gone.
For all their ingenuity and guile, arguably the best trait Klopp has instilled in his 1342 days as manager is an unwavering self-belief. Never knowing when you’re beat. Never knowing when the task is too tall an order. Never knowing when the dye is cast.
It was Klopp’s Liverpool through and through as the manager bellowed out words that would later reverberate around every inch of Anfield.
“I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you I think we have a chance’ – it is because they are really mentality giants.”
The white noise of doubt dissipates as Divock Origi turns in the opener. The surge of belief grows as Gini Wijnaldum makes it 2. When he bags the third Anfield’s orchestra is already at a crescendo. Divock Origi seals the job and the impossible is done.
Breath-taking in its beauty, it was the spectacular, the scintillatingly brilliant, the maddest of the mad. The best night Anfield has ever witnessed.
From Mohamed Salah’s fearless penalty to Divock Origi’s late clincher, mental defiance was mirrored in Madrid, with the heartache of Kiev spurring the players over the line. This wasn’t a night for flashy football, just one of yearning, righting wrongs from a year earlier and getting the trophy such a rich season deserved.
From the ashes rose the phoenix.
Fourteen years on from the Miracle of Istanbul, the latest chapter in Liverpool’s history was to be written, met with a defying roar as the maligned Jordan Henderson’s hands clasped around the European Cup.
Champions of Europe.
In the aftermath of the euphoria, there’s a genuine feeling that Liverpool will come again next season. They have now tasted glory and will be hungry for more; a youthful squad with a forceful mentality, there will be no resting on their laurels.
From scratching heads and wondering if there would ever be a return to centre stage, Anfield has been reunited, engulfed by a historic No.6 in Madrid and the unwavering passion and determination of a manger who has successfully turned doubters to believers.
Liverpool fans will go into next season just that – believing their team can go one step further. This is by no means the final chapter, but a beautifully scripted verse in a scintillating story with so much left to tell.
By Leanne Prescott Twitter – @_lfcleanne