Jurgen Klopp’s revolution won’t begin with a trophy, but make no mistake it has still begun with the encouraging performance of a team which is beginning to show the kind of unity which success is ultimately built on.
Perhaps the ulitmate quality is not yet there – we will almost certainly see money spent in the summer – but there is a heart to Liverpool now which should provide encouragement.
The performance of much-maligned Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet summed it up. He has been made a laughing stock by many and was shaping up to be the scapegoat for defeat when his terrible error allowed Fernandinho to open the scoring for City. At this point the Twittersphere went wild with abuse. ‘Retweet if you’re a better goalkeeper than Simon Mignolet,’ was the painful message sent out on one football account – and hundreds did exactly that.
But what a response Mignolet produced. Two excellent point-blank saves from Fernandinho and then Yaya Toure, one with his hands and one with his legs, demonstrated immense bravery in the final stages of normal time.
Then, when Liverpool somehow found an equaliser with their first shot on target all match, he made an even more astonishing stop with his left hand when Aguero was clean through and set to win the trophy for City in the first period of extra time.
He was also the hero in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final agains Stoke; and yet Anfield has never quite fallen in love with him. The great Liverpool teams of the past featured outstanding goalkeepers – Ray Clemence, Bruce Grobbelaar, Pepe Reina, even Jerzy Dudek, many of whom were cult heroes, but Mignolet’s tenure has been more controversial.
He has made five defensive errors already this season – more than any other player in the Premier League – and Klopp’s determination to throw his backing behind the Belgian has baffled many experts, especially his decision to offer him a new five- year contract in January.
But that’s Klopp’s way – to show loyalty, to inspire confidence in his players and to back them every week. You sense that, despite this result, he will reap the rewards in the end. “It wasn’t just about winning this trophy, there’s a lot more to come,” Mignolet said.
“ We are going to fight to the end of the Premier League campaign too. The boss wants success; it’s what everyone wants. Hopefully we can do it all together eventually.”
Klopp admitted in the build-up that this final had come ‘ahead of schedule’ for his still-developing Anfield team. “For me and my staff this is our first experience of a final in English football and it has come earlier than we would probably have expected,” he said.
It meant he was not under significant pressure despite facing an opportunity to start a new era with a bang, with Liverpool’s first silverware since they lifted this same trophy in 2012.
For Manuel Pellegrini it didn’t feel like pressure, either, but the match was less about starting something new and more about completing a legacy, having already been told he will be replaced by Pep Guardiola next season. So, one manager at the start of a project, one at the end – but neither facing vitriol no matter the result.
It led to a fascintating game which grew more and more open as it progressed. Liverpool were competitive and organised but largely toothless up front in comparison to the menace of Aguero and co, while City were unable to turn opportunities into goals.
What Klopp has been able to instil in his short time on Merseyside, however, is an inner grit to grind out results even when the personnel available offer less attacking flair and final product than the Kop has been used to.
By the time extra-time arrived, there was little to choose between the sides in terms of possession, intent or opportunity to finish the job – and in fact Liverpool had perhaps the greater impetus. It was only that shoot-out - and Manchester City’s seond-choice goalkeeper standing in for Joe Hart - which was the difference in the end. Liverpool will be disappointed - but they did enough to suggest they will be back.