Real Madrid Make History Where Next for Liverpool?
May 29, 2018
As the dust settled on an enthralling Champions League final in Kiev, the distinction between winners and losers could not have been more stark.
Ultimately, it was Real Madrid that stood proudly in the victor’s corner, having displayed all their experience and quality to claim another European Cup.
This was also the fourth home in five years that Los Blancos has won the crown, while the club became the first side to win three consecutive Champions League titles (Bayern Munich were the last side to achieve a similar feat when they won a hat-trick of European Cups between 1973 and 1976).
Across the way stood a distraught and desolate Liverpool side, who saw their ambitious challenge thwarted by a lack of midfield quality, individual defensive mistakes and plain bad luck.
Most disappointingly of all, the 3-1 score in favour of Madrid did not flatter Zinedine Zidane’s record-breaking side, as the Reds failed to sustain the high-tempo and relentless attacking play that characterised their march to the final.
Below, we will take a look back at the final, while asking what’s next for a Liverpool side that has now failed to win a trophy in nearly three full seasons under Jurgen Klopp.
The loss of Salah: how the Reds struggled to cope
Rather than simply being outclassed by a superior outfit, Liverpool fans will argue that the game was won and lost during several key moments.
The first arrived midway through the first-half, when Reds’ talisman Mohamed Salah was wrestled to the floor during a challenge with Los Blancos’ skipper Sergio Ramos. The Egyptian striker, who plundered a total of 44 goals for Liverpool during the season, locked arms with the Spaniard and fell heavily on his left shoulder.
Despite trying to continue, Salah was forced to leave the field in tears, with an injury that reports suggest could even rule him out of the World Cup this summer.
This was clearly a turning point, as the Reds had arguably been the better side up that point. While chances had been few and far between, Liverpool had moved the ball quicker and with more purpose, while Madrid were struggling to beat an aggressive and typically intense high press.
The injury triggered an immediate shift in the momentum, as Madrid took the opportunity to gain a modicum of control in midfield and began to dominate possession. With Salah’s replacement Adam Lallana struggling for match-fitness and failing to threaten Real’s back line, Liverpool also dropped progressively deeper and ceded the initiative as half-time approached.
As we have pointed out previously, Liverpool could ill afford to let Madrid’s superior midfield assume control of the game and dictate the pace. As we saw, this prevented the Reds from playing their own, high-tempo game, while their growing inability to retain the ball also made it difficult for them to get up the pitch and find the runners behind Madrid’s defence.
The loss of Salah was undoubtedly pivotal to this shift, although the Reds’ lack of strength in depth and inability to make effective tactical changes was probably more impactful.
When Karius met Bale: where was the game won?
Reds’ fans will also point to their much-maligned stopper Loris Karius, who made two seismic errors in the second-half that contributed directly to Madrid’s first and third goals. While there’s clearly no place for mistakes of such magnitude in a high-profile game of this type, there are other factors behind Liverpool’s failure to win a sixth European crown.
In truth, Madrid started the second half as they had finished the first, dominating possession and penning the Reds back in their own half. Los Blancos also went close at this time through Spanish midfielder Isco, but Madrid did not have to wait long until they eventually broke the deadlock.
There seemed to be little or no danger as Karius collected a forward pass on the edge of his own box, with Karim Benzema making a half-hearted attempt to close the keeper. As Karius scooped the ball up and attempted to throw it out, it ricocheted off a startled Benzema and into a gaping net.
While Liverpool managed to recover their composure and plundered an equaliser when Mane turned home Lovren’s header from close range (the livewire forward also struck the post later in the piece), Madrid remained in the ascendancy and benefited from another turning point when Zidane replace Isco with an in-form Gareth Bale just past the hour mark. With his fourth touch, the Welsh forward leapt acrobatically to meet Marcelo’s deflected cross with a stunning bicycle kick that flew into the top corner of the net, producing one of the most memorable UCL final goals of all-time.
This ultimately stunned Liverpool into submission, with Klopp unable to call on a threadbare bench to alter the course of the game. Even as the Reds tried to press, Madrid looked decidedly more dangerous on the counter-attack, and it was left for Bale to seal the game eight minutes from time when his speculative shot from range was split apologetically by Karius into his own net.
The last word: a step too far for the Reds
It’s easy to understand why the Reds’ fans feel hard done by, particularly given the glaring errors by Karius and the seemingly excessive nature of Ramos’ challenge on Salah. While it may be a stretch to suggest that the Madrid skipper intended to injure Salah, the centre half undoubtedly took the opportunity to leave his mark on the talismanic front man.
In truth, the Reds paid for a lack of experience and quality throughout the team, with a workmanlike by one-dimensional midfield particularly exposed once Salah had been withdrawn from the action.
This enabled the brilliant Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to dictate the pace and tempo of the game, which in turn laid the foundations on which Madrid’s ruthless forwards could build.
Klopp’s thin squad, which had been previously weakened further by an injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, also left the German with a paucity of options on the bench, making it impossible for him to affect the game once Madrid had seized control.
While this match may have been a step too far for the Reds, Klopp should consider it as a building block towards a bright and potentially trophy-laden future. Rather than looking to sign one or two marquee players, he should focus on strengthening his goalkeeping and defensive options while also acquiring a midfielder who can pass the ball and dictate the pace of games.