I have, for understandable reasons I think, been putting off writing about last night. Being on the losing end of a cup final is never easy and people don’t really want to read about it, either. I hope that you stick with this and I also hope that I’m able to talk about it in an interesting manner that accentuates the positives.
It is a sad end to a topsy-turvy season; a season in which the Reds have had some terrible lows and some genuinely incredible highs. The fans deserved better than that, but things could much worse: You could support Everton. The Blues haven’t won a trophy in over 21 years. A person has been born and got to the age where they are officially an adult in the time it’s taken Everton to win something, and yet they laugh at us losing a European cup final. That takes a special kind of weird.
What It’s All About
I watched the match with my dad last night. There were moments in the week building up to the game that I thought about spending a fortune to fly over to Basel, but if I’d have done that I wouldn’t have been able to watch it with him and that would have taken the shine off the whole thing.
I wouldn’t be a Liverpool supporter without my dad. He wouldn’t have been a Liverpool supporter without his dad and so on and so forth. Football is passed down through the generations, from father and mothers to daughters and sons, families watch the game together, talk about the game together and experience life through the prism of the game together.
My Liverpool supporting life has been punctuated by moments shared with my dad. He put up with me as a young kid when he took me to my first ever match and I was more interested in the Mars bar he’d promised me at half-time than the game going on in front of me. He consoled me when we lost the FA Cup final to that Eric Cantona goal in 1996.
My dad also gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received when it comes to football. During the 2000-2001 season, when Liverpool hit their historic treble, I spoke to him about how amazing the whole thing felt and he said, “Soak it up, enjoy it. You don’t know what’s around the corner and the more successful you become the harder it is to take the defeats”.
When we were 3-0 down in Istanbul I was watching the game in a pub in Birmingham and spoke to my dad on the phone at half-time. I remember being crouched down on the pavement outside, feeling completely desolate. We discussed Liverpool’s failings and Milan’s superiority and my dad said, “There’s still 45 minutes to go. Stranger things have happened”.
When we won I was outside on the pavement again, screaming and running up and down the road before calling my dad, barely able to speak my voice was that raw. We stayed on the phone as we watched Steven Gerrard lift the trophy and although we were miles from each other I felt incredibly close to him at such a crucial time in Liverpool’s history.
A few years ago I won a competition to enjoy a ‘play on the pitch at Anfield’ experience and took my dad with me. There was no one else I wanted to go with. It was an amazing day, playing in a team ‘managed’ by either Howard Gayle or Jan Molby. Our team got absolutely destroyed and I still feel guilty now when I think back to it as my dad was in defence and dead fast young kids just kept running past him and scoring. I think he enjoyed it, but I wish I’d played alongside him in defence and helped him out rather than standing about in midfield looking more unfit that Big Jan does nowadays.
The point is that my Liverpool supporting life is intertwined with my dad and last night was no exception. We embraced when Daniel Sturridge scored the best goal I’ve seen in a cup final, we both looked at the screen in confusion after having our celebrations over Dejan Lovren’s header cut short and we both sat in silence as the final whistle blew to confirm Liverpool’s defeat.
My dad is 66 this year and that’s young enough for me to hope that we’ve got many more years left together celebrating Liverpool victories. But the reality is that he’s definitely in the second act of the play that is his life, so you have to seize these opportunities with both hands and enjoy them whilst you can. At half-time it felt like we’d be celebrating our first cup final win stood next to each other since the treble fifteen years earlier.
Obviously we now know that that wasn’t to be and it is that, more than the loss itself, that is making me sad today. Liverpool’s players had hundreds of reasons to win the match last night and the loss was about more than just a team lacking passion or desire. I feel sorry for the players who gave their all. My heart went out to Emre Can, in tears at the end. I’m sad that Kolo Toure won’t win a medal during his time at Liverpool.
But most of all I’m heartbroken for all of the mums and dads and sons and daughters and sisters and brothers who wanted to cap this incredible season off with a win together. I’m sad because we all have to wait at least another twelve months to be able to celebrate winning a trophy together. Football is passed down through the generations and the more we get to enjoy together the stronger our bond becomes. That’s why it really is a ‘Liverpool family’, despite what some of the grumpier supporters might say. We do not walk alone.
A Game Of Predictability
On to the actual football, then, and didn’t it all just seem a little too predictable? The sad fact is that I had a feeling of dread when we went in at half-time only one goal to the good. We simultaneously battered Sevilla whilst also not really being in total control of the game, leaving me with the sense that we could yet rue our missed opportunities. Haven’t we heard that before?
The match was like a greatest hits concert of some of our refrains from the season that had preceded it. We failed to be ruthless in front of goal when we were dominant in attack; the defence was found wanting when it most needed to be in control; the goalkeeper didn’t make any major mistakes, but he still conceded three of the four shots on target.
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) May 18, 2016
Was the performance all that different from the game we all sat through against Chelsea last week? Moreno was brainless, but hasn’t he been brainless all season long? Coutinho was nowhere to be seen, but that has been the case in too many games in recent times. Even against United at Old Trafford he wasn’t to be seen until he scored the goal.
The reality is that this seemed like a game too far for a lot of these players. It’s not a surprised really when you consider it was the club’s 63rd game of the season. As Paul Tomkins pointed out in his free piece yesterday, these extra games were virtually all against top-10 Premier League level opposition, too.
— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) May 18, 2016
At some point there needs to be a conversation between the manager and his assistants about the character of the players in the team. Too many went missing last night, as they did at Wembley in the League Cup final. Too many were found wanting when they needed to was stand up and be counted. I’m not sure what ‘character’ means, exactly, but our squad is lacking it when it really matters.
The manager isn’t devoid of criticism either, of course. There was nothing he could have done about their first goal, short of inventing a time machine and buying a decent left back in January, but the second goal was so inevitable as to be a joke. It was the ultimate ‘it’s been coming’ goal of all time and yet Klopp did nothing to try to stop it. That is mildly concerning even if not outright criminal.
Can’t say it wasn’t coming. Brilliant goal by Sevilla but amazed Klopp didn’t make a change before the inevitable
— Ben Smith (@BSmith) May 18, 2016
I’m not one for allowing a poor performance to be mitigated by a bad referee and last night shouldn’t fall into that bracket either. What follows, then, is not an excuse for Liverpool’s failings. That said, the referee was dreadful. Liverpool had an excellent shout for not one but two penalties in the first-half last night. You could argue there were two penalties involved in the first incident alone, with Roberto Firmino being tripped whilst the Sevilla player handballed it in clear view of the assistant referee behind the goal and along the line.
It’s also hard to employ a pressing game if a referee is going to give a free-kick every time the opposition player hits the deck, regardless of the validity of the claim they preposterously make. Liverpool didn’t lose last night because of the referee, but if he’d have done his job properly it would have increased the chances of us winning. That doesn’t change the fact that we were pathetic in the second half, of course.
The ref played a part in the first half but that’s no excuse for our performance in the second half. There’s been zero fight from us.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) May 18, 2016
Today it feels difficult to keep the black dog from the door. Despite the feeling of inevitability, irrelevant of the fact that we weren’t good enough and Sevilla deserved it, today is a day for wallowing in self-pity and anger and disappointment.
Yet we dust ourselves off and, to coin a phrase, we go again. When we look back on this season we will, of course, acknowledge that it ultimately ended in failure. But what a journey we’ve been on over the last ten months. My abiding memory will not be a moronic Moreno or a hapless Mignolet. It will be of Anfield, uniting as one to roar the Reds on to victory against Borussia Dortmund. It will be of humiliating Everton in the Merseyside derby, with the Blues not even getting a touch of the ball. It will of Jürgen Klopp’s smile and the laughs he’s give us along the way. That, my friends, is what football is all about.