I am not going to lie, the final still hurts and probably will for quite some time. I promised myself I could handle defeat but the way in which it unfolded leaves me feeling very uneasy inside. However, rather than focus on those negative thoughts, I am going to highlight some of the brilliant stories that came from this final. It has been an incredible season which wasn’t in the slightest ruined by a loss to one of Europe’s greatest ever sides.
It was the American ice hockey coach Herb Brooks who told his players that anything was possible. Brooks’ side went on to upset the mighty Soviet Union in the Olympic hockey tournament back in 1980. It is widely regarded as the greatest upset in sports history. Jurgen Klopp clearly has similar powers of motivation in my eyes. While we fell short at the last hurdle, the stories that defined this season cannot so easily be forgotten.
“Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here, tonight. One game.”
We experienced the bitter taste of defeat on Saturday but not before seriously earning the respect of many neutrals all over the world. I remember watching our very first match of the journey away at Hoffenheim on Belgian television back in August. Little did I imagine what would was to unfold over the next nine months. What was most bizarre though is that I remember vividly that when going through the lineups, the pundits highlighted Jordan Henderson as our most vital player. Given the endless negative abuse the skipper gets in England it was a pleasant surprise to say the least.
The front three were still relatively unknown to the wider world at that stage. They have become household names now thanks to a run of brilliant form which didn’t really let up all year long.
There was also something very fitting that our dynamic trio finished the Champions League campaign evenly matched on 10 goals apiece. All three bring an equally vital but different package to the table. The general view has that it has been the Mo Salah season but he couldn’t have done what he did without a little help from his friends and the same is of course true of Mané and Firmino. It was a mutually beneficial relationship in every way.
Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Men
Quite a few Liverpool players have had their doubters this season. Many of them stood tall when it mattered most on Saturday. They may have finished on the losing side but that does not diminish their efforts in the slightest.
Starting at the back with big Dejan Lovren. What an absolute hero this man is. He had his shaky moments and still does occasionally but I have backed him through thick and thin. I back Lovren not just because I know he is a great player on form but his attitude is second to none. Few footballers in this age of mercenaries truly understand what it means to represent his club but Lovren genuinely cares. I always said that in many ways he cares too much which often caused his errors. However, the presence of Virgil van Dijk has stabilized Lovren immensely and they feed off each other brilliantly. The game was effectively over late on but that tackle on Gareth Bale was a thing of beauty I will never forget. It is hard to separate that tackle and Andy Robertson’s earlier effort on Cristiano Ronaldo. I celebrated both as if they were goals. Dejan and Andy get this club and I love them for it.
There also has to be a special mention for Sadio Mané. Here is another man who truly seems to love the club and seems to really just enjoy playing football. All season long he has had to put up with talk that he’s having a “poor” season. He never seemed to care at all. I probably cared more than he did! Instead he just kept playing his game. His performances in the knockout rounds of the Champions League especially was the stuff legends are made of. It was reminiscent of Luis Garcia’s run in 2005 except he even kept it going into the final. When Salah was viciously taken from the game, Mané put the team on his back and did all his physically could to keep us in the contest. That left footed shot off the post will probably haunt me forever though. So close yet so far away. Sadio “The Main Man” Mané. You too are a hero.
It was so perfect that these two colossuses combined for that memorable equalizer which briefly gave us hope that number six was coming home.
Fandom Not Always About Winning
We all love success. I will happily admit that Liverpool winning trophies has inspired some of my most memorable moments. However, I feel in some way that we have become too obsessed with silverware when defining how good a team is. Liverpool losing this final does nothing to change the fact that this was a truly sensational season. They are the second best team in Europe and yet that’s not enough progress for some…
For a squad that was hit hard by injuries especially towards the end of the year, we did incredibly well to keep fighting on all fronts. We have seen over the past few years that teams competing only in the league (Liverpool 2013-2014, Leicester 2015-2016, Chelsea 2016-2017) tend to do much better then when they are required to juggle European football as well. The teams that have done well in Europe have invariably had poor league campaigns (Leicester 2016-2017, Liverpool 2015-2016, Man United (2016-2017). This is not a coincidence.
Therefore, what Klopp has managed in comfortably guiding this team to 4th place while also reaching the Champions League final is no mean feat. This is especially true as he has been accused of running his players into the ground in the past. His brilliantly executed squad rotation in December really paid off in the end despite being highly questioned at the time.
Jurgen Klopp’s cup final record has again come under scrutiny as he now has the unenviable record of losing six straight at the final post including three since arriving at Anfield. There’s two ways to look at this of course. Firstly and perhaps most obviously, to even reach finals is a massive achievement. I would rather reach six finals and lose them than never experience that feeling at all. Secondly, when you have made it to a final you tend to face high quality opposition and you need a high degree of fortune to end up on the winning side.
In all three of Klopp’s Liverpool finals, we have arguably been underdogs and haven’t had much in the way of luck at all. The side was cruising against Sevilla and could easily have had a couple of penalties before the second half meltdown. The same could be said of Saturday in that the opening exchanges were unquestionably in Liverpool’s favour until that now infamous tangle between Salah and Sergio Ramos.
Fine margins and all that. What I am trying to say is that we can’t let ourselves be defined by winning trophies. Progress has been rapid and enjoyable under Klopp. He has put us back amongst the elite of Europe which is a massive success in itself. Of course it would be nice to win a trophy but I will take what we have at the moment any day of the week.
It was a disappointing night but the bigger picture is about as good as it has ever been in recent times for Liverpool Football Club.
I personally can’t wait for next season already!