Jack Hallows gives his raw, uncensored reaction after Liverpool’s painful 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final.
I’m absolutely fucking gutted… Both for our boys and from the perspective of a supporter desperate to see his club win a trophy.
Our boys fought so hard all season long in the Champions League, going from outsiders who, if they’d had an off day back in August, may not have even qualified for the competition proper, to representing English football in the final.
What hurts the most about this loss is that Liverpool didn’t play poorly. 3-1 was certainly not an accurate representation of the match and while we fell off once Mo Salah left the field injured (more on that in a minute), Real Madrid weren’t clear-cut, deserved winners.
The Good: A solid defence and Sadio sparkles
Having conceded three goals, the narrative will still remain that Liverpool “cannot defend” but that is just a mixture of bollocks and lazy journalism.
Liverpool’s defence was superb throughout much of the 90 minutes with Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk, in particular, having brilliant games individually, continuing on the good form they’ve shown consistently since January.
The scoreline says Liverpool conceded three goals but they were the result of two absolute goalkeeping howlers and one freak strike from Gareth Bale that on another day, the Welshman doesn’t pull off with anywhere near as much grace and aplomb.
For once, you cannot point a single finger at one of Liverpool’s back four for any of the goals the Reds conceded. At the other end of the pitch, the Reds centre-halves looked dangerous from set pieces too, with van Dijk winning a header in the first half but failing to keep it down and Lovren winning the header that led to Mané’s tap-in.
Lovren also wins moment of the match for sending Cristiano Ronaldo flying out of touch early on in the match to try and assert his authority. Good for you, Dejan.
The other evident positive from the final was the individual performance of Sadio Mané.
The winger has been criticised by some corners of the Liverpool fan-base this season for having a somewhat erratic campaign, failing in the minds of many to replicate his LFC Player of the Season winning form from 2016/17. That’s just utter nonsense.
Despite Salah’s reputation, the Senegalese looked Liverpool’s most likely source of inspiration during the opening half hour when Klopp’s men were in the ascendancy and while the Reds’ attack was blunted slightly by Salah’s withdrawal, Mané kept plugging away.
His goal was typical of his instinctive style of play and for a moment, it looked like the former Southampton man had given Liverpool a real lifeline in the game. He was also brilliant off the ball, winning six tackles, more than any of his teammates.
He finishes the season with a stellar return of 20 goals and nine assists that, in any other campaign, would have fans raving.
The bad: Calamity Karius, leggy Lallana and a disjointed midfield
I’ll start with the obvious to get it out the way.
I’ve defended Loris Karius a lot this season, pointing to how much more confident the defence looks with him having replaced Mignolet in between the sticks and highlighting some of the fantastic saves he’s made over the last five months.
Unfortunately, though, his performance in the final can only be described as the German going into meltdown mode.
A bizarre decision to throw the ball out into Karim Benzema gifted Real Madrid their first goal and while he could do nothing about the second, the third was as embarrassing as it was poor.
A speculative effort from Gareth Bale should, at the very least, been punched over the crossbar but instead, Karius was stuck on his heels and just looked as if he’d brought his hands up too late, allowing the ball to sneak through and into the net.
While the performance could be put down to nerves – it’s the German’s first massive final of his career – one has to worry if this could cause problems going forward. Liverpool are a team who are pushing for greater honours than runners-up medals and fourth placed finishes and in order to push on to the next level, they can’t have a goalkeeper making errors you’d see in an U12s Sunday League fixture.
Numerous players were in tears at the final whistle but it’s perhaps no surprise that Karius looked defeated in every sense of the word and one worries that the emotional toll this performance could take on the German may ruin him mentally.
I like Karius, I really do and while during the match I felt nothing but anger towards the German, I now feel properly fucking sorry for him. That said, however, this final was just proof that if Klopp wants his boys to start winning trophies and build a proper legacy at Liverpool, a new number one is needed.
The other negative I wanted to highlight may come as slightly more of a surprise: it’s Liverpool’s midfield.
A midfield three of Milner, Wijnaldum and Henderson will never be a combination you can rely on to assist three goals and score another couple but what you do get is a trio who know their roles. Henderson is the deep-lying playmaker, Wijnaldum is the box-to-box link up man and Milner is part bulldog, part engine.
It’s a combination that has, at times, worked brilliantly in Liverpool’s Champions League campaign with the home leg to Roma and away fixture against Porto the best examples but they looked disjointed and lost against Real Madrid’s midfielders.
Now look, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are two of the best midfielders in the whole of world-football but any player will struggle if you don’t give them time and space to exploit on the ball.
The Reds shut them down in the first half but in the second, a combination of desperation and tiredness saw both allowed to dictate proceedings and the regularity with which they scythed through our midfield in the final half an hour was alarming, to say the least.
Unfortunately, they weren’t helped by the fact that Mohamed Salah’s pace, electricity and ability to seemingly chase and chase all day was replaced by a not-at-all match fit Adam Lallana who looked to be running in treacle all game.
It’s not his fault, of course. He only returned to match day squads three weeks ago after a lengthy injury lay-off and no one would’ve expected him to be sent on so early but the Englishman’s lack of fitness and intensity certainly resulted in a drop in the Reds’ overall energy levels.
It’s a worry for both Klopp and Lallana who let’s face it, isn’t getting any younger. If the former Southampton captain cannot keep himself fit enough to string together appearances, picking up fitness and rhythm along the way, then he may just find himself surplus to requirements.
The ugly: Reckless Ramos and Madrid’s management masterclass
Sergio Ramos is a dirty bastard of a player, isn’t he?
I have to give it to him, he’s a winner and his mentality is such is such that he will find and take any chance to get an advantage over his opponents but Christ… crash tackling an opponent and dislocating his shoulder? Really?
The Spaniard is known as being a walking red card at times but it alarmed me that he was simply allowed to get away with that challenge without even a caution, despite executing it directly in front of the referee.
Of course, there were further incidents in the game that showcased the Madrid captain’s ‘shithousery’ – shoving Karius into his own goalpost at a corner and waiting until Mané was just yards from him before playing a back pass and throwing himself to the ground being good examples – but that tackle on Salah was simply dangerous.
Ramos’ decision to include some UFC moves aside, you have to hand it to Madrid, their ability to employ all the dark arts to win football games in the ugliest manner possible is actually incredible.
As soon as they begin to lose the upper hand to their opponents, naughty little tackles start going in, they begin taking the opportunity to accumulate as many soft fouls as possible and perhaps most impressive of all, they know how to employ a gang mentality onto officials to make them doubt their own decisions.
While one of the most admirable parts about Klopp’s Liverpool is their restraint from employing these tactics as much as possible, it’s a sad fact that it’s something that the Reds simply must get better at if they are to start winning trophies.
Big games are decided by small margins and Real Madrid proved that in Kiev.