Real Madrid 3 Liverpool 1
These Champions League Final parties can be long and exhausting, even for the most experienced all-nighters, but as the pain of defeat starts to thud rather than sting, and collective melancholy turns to gooey-eyed goodbyes to the 2017-18 season, Liverpool fans have of consoltations to grasp as they weigh up an ultimately disappointing experience in Kiev.
A 3-1 defeat, masterminded by Real’s two-goal substitute Gareth Bale, is a wound which won’t heal easily given that supporters arrived with so much enthusiasm and belief after the way their team beat Manchester City and Juventus on route to the final.
There will be nagging frustration, too, that Liverpool’s Achilles heel, their goalkeeper, yet again cost them so dearly when that particular problem could have been resolved so long ago.
But as the hangover clears and the deeper analysis begins, there is still plenty to be proud of for Jurgen Klopp’s side, not least the knowledge that the manager has created such unity at a club where the bond between fans and team is possibly more important than almost anywhere else.
Club and fans, players and staff, Kop and Klopp, Liverpool even in defeat have a unity that many rivals — the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and especially Arsenal — can only dream of.
So although Loris Karius will be suffering today after gifting Karim Benzema an opening goal and then fumbling a Gareth Bale long-range effort into his net for Real’s third, it is that unity which will allow Liverpool to continue building.
The work will no doubt include a new goalkeeper and some extra creativity in midfield where Jordan Henderson and James Milner have been lauded for their reliability and character but found themselves very much on the fringes of play in Kiev against the all-round quality of a Real side who have now won three Champions League trophies in a row.
Increasing the size and quality of the Liverpool squad will be important, too, because the fact that Real brought a player like Bale off the bench to win the game shows the gap that still exists between the European champions and just about every other team in the world.
The reality was that this final was just one step too far for Klopp’s new Liverpool, and it might not provide much comfort that they were also the victims of terrible misfortune.
It began with a heartbreaking injury to talisman Mo Salah after only 30 minutes when Ramos, perhaps intentionally and cynically, crashed into the winger, leaving the Egyptian with a shoulder injury which could threaten to keep him out of the World Cup.
The sudden silence amongst the hordes of Liverpool fans in a packed stadium in Kiev told a story of its own. They knew, from this point on, it was going to be an uphill task – and Real sensed it too.
Zinedine Zidane’s side stepped up a gear in the second half, Isco hitting the bar with one effort, before inexplicably threw the ball straight at Benzema after 51 minutes, gifting him the opener.
Even though Liverpool rallied well, equalising when Sadio Mane turned home a Milner corner which had been headed on by Dejan Lovren, the reality was that Real always looked in control, just one step ahead.
It was Bale who underlined that fact with an overhead kick from a Marcelo chip that will go down as one of the great Champions League goals. The Welshman had only been on the pitch for two minutes but he also sealed Liverpool’s fate with a 30m drive after 83 minutes which was fumbled over the line by a now despairing Karius.
It means Klopp has now suffered six defeats in finals as a manager while Zidane has had a perfect record in finals and clocked up his ninth trophy as Real Madrid boss.
“Out of the six this will be Jurgen Klopp’s toughest,” Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard said. “It’s just the way it’s happened. He’s done everything right. He’s prepared his team well throughout the campaign and he set them up well in this game.
“Tactically they were very good, they looked dangerous, they were full of energy and he loses his best player who has been phenomenal all season.
“That goes against them and for the keeper to make the two mistakes he did... everything went against Liverpool.”
The work to turn Liverpool, who also lost to Sevilla in the final of the Europa League, remember, into true contenders both in Europe and in the Premier League is now vitally important.
The imminent arrival of Naby Keita will help but the summer transfer window is a big one if Liverpool are to win the trophies which they so desperately crave.
It’s easy to put this latest setback down to goalkeeper errors but post-match interview with Karius was almost as heartbreaking that the result itself and perhaps it’s worth remember the human being behind the jersey and you can be certain Klopp will do exactly that.
“I don’t feel anything right now. Today I lost my team the game,” Karius said.
“I feel sorry for everyone, for the team, for the whole club. The mistakes cost us dearly. If I could go back in time I would. It is very hard right now, but that is the life of a goalkeeper. You have got to get your head up again.”
The same is true of Liverpool as a team – and the good news is that the unity Klopp has created means achieving that aim will be easier than it sounds. Looking back as the Kiev hangover eases, it’s clear to see there was progress in 2017-18, no doubt about it.
The front three of Mane, Salah and Firmino are potentially the best in the world, the defence is much improved under the guidance of Virgil van Dijk and the belief and enthusiasm on the terraces is back to the levels a Liverpool team deserves.
If anybody is going to give Manchester City a run for their money next year it is Liverpool and if any manager has the potential to bridge that gap it is Klopp, who did little wrong in Kiev in the way he set up his team. If Liverpool continue to believe, and they will, the trophy will come.
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