Jack Hallows dissects the talking points behind Liverpool’s 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday night.
Salah’s terrible injury
No matter what any rival fans on Twitter pushing the “Real Madrid were dominant” narrative want to tell you, Liverpool were on top for the opening half hour of the game.
Madrid’s defence were sitting deep in an effort to reduce the space left in behind for Salah, Mané and Firmino to exploit. This meant Liverpool’s counter-attacking threat was reduced but allowed the Reds to enjoy possession, moving constantly to find ways through the Spanish side’s midfield and get at the defence.
Sadly, it does seem at times that this club just can’t have nice things.
After the impressive opening stages of the game, Sergio Ramos took it upon himself to not just take the game to Liverpool but remove their best player from it all together. The Spanish defender’s initial effort to challenge Salah for the ball looked standard enough but as they fell, Ramos linked his arm with the Egyptian’s, twisting his body so that the former Chelsea man fell hard on his shoulder, ultimately damaging ligaments in the process.
Liverpool were forced to introduce an unfit and out-of-sorts Adam Lallana as a result and never fully recovered with Sadio Mané the only player who truly looked threatening after Salah’s departure.
The injury was described post-match by Klopp simply as “serious” and while Salah attempted to play on, he soon slumped to the ground once again in tears, his night evidently over.
It was a very tough night, but I’m a fighter. Despite the odds, I’m confident that I’ll be in Russia to make you all proud. Your love and support will give me the strength I need. pic.twitter.com/HTfKF4S70e
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) May 27, 2018
Salah has since posted an update onto his social media, expressing his confidence that he “will be in Russia to make you all proud,” a statement backed by the Egyptian FA who claim he has not dislocated his shoulder but instead suffered a “sprain in the shoulder ligaments.”
Either way, after the season he’s had, Salah deserved better than to be cruelly ejected from the game in such circumstances and with post match analysis showing Ramos laughing and sticking his tongue out in the direction of the Egyptian while he leaves the field in tears, one can’t help but feel the action was pre-meditated.
Karius digs his own grave?
Say what you want about Jürgen Klopp’s loyalty to players who perhaps don’t deserve it but he’s proven over the last twelve months that if he believes an upgrade can be made, he will make it.
This is perhaps worrying for Loris Karius who, despite enjoying a real purple patch of form over the previous five months, hit rock bottom on the biggest stage of all on Saturday night.
The German keeper did make a number of good saves throughout the fixture but they will be forever over-shadowed by his pair of mistakes that gifted – to say the least – Madrid two of their three goals.
There are doubts from some corners over whether the first should have stood – Benzema was offside in the build up and his positioning may have benefitted from this – but to roll the ball straight into the opposition striker’s foot, 18 yards from goal, is an unforgivable error.
The second looked a combination of technical error and drained confidence as Karius spilled a speculative effort from Gareth Bale into the back of the net, making it 3-1 to Madrid and effectively ending the tie.
Of course, it’s not as simple as to say that without those pair of mistakes the score on the night was 1-1 and that it was Karius alone who cost the Reds but there’s no escaping the fact that these were two terrible, terrible errors. The kind that Klopp sought to avoid by promoting Karius to his number one over Simon Mignolet.
Karius has, however, apologised profusely since and had the cajones to front up for his mistakes on Saturday night, walking over to the travelling support in tears and seemingly trying to apologise to each and every one individually. He has my respect for that but unfortunately, it seems if Liverpool are to hit that next level that they are certainly capable of, a new goalkeeper is needed.
Stark contrast in bench options
Klopp was asked after the game whether the difference between the sides was that Madrid had £89m forward Gareth Bale waiting on the bench to make an impact – alongside the likes of Marco Asensio.
While the German would usually try to play down the impact that something like this has both mentally and physically on a game of football, for once he conceded. It made a huge difference.
When Mohamed Salah left the field injured, a half-fit Adam Lallana was the best Klopp could muster to try and keep his side in the game. His other options? An erratic Spanish left-back, a central midfielder who also had just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines and a young striker with just one senior club goal to his name.
It’s not as if this lack of squad depth has suddenly been exposed – it’s been a cause for concern ever since Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury against Roma – but hopefully this will be a true eye-opener for Klopp. If Liverpool hope to compete with the Manchester City’s and Real Madrid’s of the footballing world, they simply have to invest in some top-class game changers to come on from the bench.
I truly believe that XI that started the final can beat anyone on their day but it’s what happens when you remove just one of them that’s the real issue.
It wasn’t all bad
Now that the gloom and doom is out of the way, the final actually wasn’t all bad for Liverpool.
The Reds proved they could stand up to one of Europe’s most decorated clubs, that they could neutralise one of football’s greatest ever players and most importantly, they looked as if this stage was where they now belong.
Sadio Mané was incredible throughout, scoring, hitting the woodwork, completing the most tackles of any Liverpool outfield player and looking the most likely to cause Madrid all manner of problems – even when Salah was still on the field. In fact, of all the world-class attacking talent on show for both teams, only Gareth Bale had more of an impact on the game than the Senegalese.
Credit to the back four as well.
Much of the talk going into the final had been how Cristiano Ronaldo and co were likely to have a field day against a 19-year old right back, a left-back who was relegated with Hull last season and a central defender whose penchant for trying too hard gets him in to far too much trouble.
The 3-1 scoreline may have suggested that to be the case but the reality, however, couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Dejan Lovren, in particular, stepped up superbly to shut Ronaldo and Benzema down for much of the game. The Croatian used his physicality to his advantage on more than one occasion, making it clear right from the off that he would look to do what many can’t and dominate Ronaldo as he sent him flying out of touch with his first tackle.
Lovren’s impressive performance meant that Virgil was his usual calm and composed self throughout the 90 minutes while Robertson and Alexander-Arnold were immense, putting in 110% right until the final whistle with Robertson’s last ditch tackle on Ronaldo a huge highlight of the game.
Losing the game was a really bitter pill to swallow for both fans and players, especially in the circumstance in which it came about but our boys can hold their heads high.
We keep building
From an eighth place finish and being out-classed in every area of the pitch against Sevilla in the Europa League final of 2016, to a second consecutive top four finish and holding our own in a Champions League final against Real Madrid.
Just try and tell me Jürgen Klopp isn’t making progress at Liverpool Football Club, I dare you.
A number of teams make it to the Champions League final, lose it and that feels like the end. It seems as if they’ve missed their one shot at glory and that it’s likely it won’t happen again for a long time.
For Liverpool, it feels quite the opposite.
Klopp is building something special at this club and with new top-quality players introduced to the fold over the summer, it’s looking highly likely that our trajectory just keeps going up, up and up.
This is not the end, this is just the beginning.
I’d like to take this moment to say that if you’re one of those fans who has hurled abuse Karius’ way over social media – especially those wishing harm on him – you should absolutely take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror.
First and foremost he is a human being and the mental toll this will have taken on him is ‘punishment’ enough. Let him be. Just because someone is in the limelight does not give you the right to abuse or harass them in any way, shape or form.