But it’s only just the beginning.
In a night that started with tears and ended in heartbreak, Liverpool fell short of their sixth Champions League as they got within touching distance of old “big ears”. Jurgen’s team came flying out the blocks; intent on disrupting Real Madrid. However, it all came apart when Mo Salah – far and away Liverpool’s top goal scorer this season – was forced off prematurely with a suspected dislocated shoulder.
Mohamed Salah was visibly distraught on the pitch and the whole of Liverpool wept with him, a sensational season from an outstanding player was set to reach a pinnacle with a Champions League final and a first World Cup for his country in 28 years; yet it all fell apart with an isolated incident after just 25 minutes in the game. Ramos and Salah getting tangled up and the Egyptian winger taking a heavy fall onto his left shoulder.
Sergio Ramos knew exactly what he was doing, obviously he didn’t calculate that Salah would dislocate his shoulder – no player sets out to intentionally injure another player – but when you see the replay Ramos intentionally locks Salah’s arm in place, meaning he took the full impact of both him and Ramos falling to the ground. In a game that was billed as Ronaldo vs Salah, neither would impact the result of the 2018 final; in the first 35 minutes Liverpool saw a lot of the ball and had nine attempts on goal, once Salah went off they were unable to muster another shot on goal that half.
After the substitution, Madrid seized their chance; Marcelo was able to commit to the attack knowing that there was nothing to worry about at the back and Madrid played with a much higher line, Liverpool tried to put Mane on the right to replicate the Salah threat but ultimately it did little. The reds managed to get into half-time at 0-0, Real Madrid had threatened and had a goal (rightly) disallowed for offside but the tempo stayed the same in the second half. Liverpool’s defensive shortcomings gifted Isco a chance and somehow the Spaniard only managed to hit the bar when one on one with Karius.
If that miss was a gift for Liverpool, then it was the keepers turn to return the favour. Loris Karius had the ball in his hands and his attempted throw out was blocked by Karim Benzema, the ball ricocheted off the Frenchman’s leg and crawled into the bottom corner of the net giving Madrid the lead.
At that point it was easy to be pessimistic to say the least, Liverpool had dropped deeper and it seemed unlikely that Liverpool would muster a decent enough chance to get back into the game. One close chance resulted in a corner and from that set-piece Liverpool capitalised, a floated ball deep into the box was met by Lovren and Sadio Mane was first to react to poke Liverpool back into the game. Ultimately, it would mean little; the best thing to say is that one of Liverpool’s best players on the day got his deserved goal and it gave the travelling fans something to celebrate. This was the one occasion that Madrid’s dark arts came back to bite them, the team in white threw themselves to the ground at every opportunity; their cries audible on the television, the same happened with Ramos on that corner, the defender was more focused on winning a free kick that he let Lovren beat him and ultimately get an assist for Liverpool’s goal.
What happened next in the game is something that you pay £90 million for, Gareth Bale met a Marcelo cross with the most audacious goal you’ll have ever seen in a cup final up to this point. There’s nothing you can do to stop the cross and there’s nothing you can do to prevent a goal of that talent. Gareth Bale’s first goal is of a Champions League winning stature and if that’s how the Reds would have gone down you can only hold your hands up.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the final goal of the game, as Bale teed up a shot from all of 30-40 yards out I had thought there was no chance in the world that it would end up in the back of the net. As we all know Karius dropped the shot and the game would end Real Madrid 3 – 1 Liverpool – a score line that flattered the best team in Europe – many supposed better teams have tried and failed to stop this dynasty from building and its just unfortunate that we’re the team on the end of Madrid’s record breaking three consecutive Champions League wins.
I’ve spoken about all the goals, so I guess now is the time to talk about the goalkeeper. When he first began his run in the team against Everton at home in the FA Cup it was met with trepidation, but from February to May Loris Karius more than deserved his place in the Champions League alongside the rest of his team mates. Emotions will be running high and Karius will be chastised but it isn’t the Liverpool way to leave him out in the cold, yes, he has just cost us a Champions League final – that’s what separates the good goalkeepers from the best – but for as long as he’s a Liverpool player you back your men. It would have been easy for the German to clear off down the tunnel after the game but to face the travelling fans and openly apologise like that takes balls. You can’t support this club, happily sing You’ll Never Walk Alone and then give one of our players the cold shoulder in his lowest point in football.
Do I think we should spend the money on a new goalkeeper? Of course I do, if we want to make Champions League finals a regular thing then we need world class players from front to back, we’ve already done that with Virgil Van Dijk and we should follow suit in the goalkeeping department. Whether we do that or not ultimately lies on Jurgen Klopp, if someone like Alisson or Oblak comes in then great but if not then I’ll be supporting Karius just as much as any other player come the first game of next season.
Overall, this game came down to two things, mistakes and strength in depth. Loris Karius’s faults provided Madrid with the victory but what also came was a master class from the bench, when we lost Mo Salah options were at a minimum and Lallana was brought on at left-wing to little effect; whilst he had a great first half of the 2016/17 season is he enough to be Liverpool’s first substitute, similar in a sense to what they call the ‘sixth man’ in the NBA? No, he isn’t, this Liverpool team are going places and leaving a certain few players behind in the process.
The plan with transfers is to have the players you bring in become first-team players and what you already have become squad members, hopefully this is the case in the summer. The arrival of Naby Keita and fingers crossed Nabil Fekir will make players like James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum part of the rotation; neither of those two looked out of place in the Champions League final but that’s what you want coming off the bench. Jurgen Klopp himself said that Madrid’s bench could themselves get to a Champions League final, Liverpool’s would struggle to qualify for the Europa League.
As I said at the beginning this is only the start for this Liverpool team, whilst 2013/14 and 2007 felt like a peak; this 2018 final feels like the start of something big. For a few of the players this final will be the pinnacle of their career, Lallana is now 30, Milner is 32, for others they will use the pain they’ve felt this weekend to motivate themselves next time around. For ages Liverpool have had a lack of experience in their team, now we’re breeding our own experience; young Alexander-Arnold kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet for most of the game and at 19 still has all of his career in-front of him.
Last season, all we were told was we only qualified for the Champions League because of our lack of a European competition; this season, all we’ve been told is that we’re only here because we got lucky. As it goes, neither of them were true, mad isn’t it? Fans of other clubs can laugh, mock and underestimate us; it’s at their own downfall. This Liverpool team is going places and it’s going to take something special to stop us, the fans, manager and players are all firmly believers, they’ve given us dreams and songs to sing and hopefully we have many more games and big finals to look forward to.
“We’ve won it six times” doesn’t have the same ring to it anyway.
Allez Allez Allez.
Article by Louis Connor
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