Real Madrid 3 – Liverpool 1: Match Review & Analysis

In many ways, it’s utterly farcical that some people think a season boils down to one match. In order to get to Kiev, Liverpool had to win enough games in the previous campaign to qualify for the Champions League and then do well enough in the competition itself to even the reach the final. Of course we all wanted the Reds to win, but to suggest that tonight’s match in some way defines our season is reductive to say the least. The build-up to tonight was immense. The fact that the season finished two weeks ago meant that we’ve all had nothing else to think about, nothing to distract us from what was to come. There were few question marks. We all knew what the team would be. We all knew what Real Madrid’s players would get up to in attempt to stop us – one man in particular. So we just had to wait. Every day seemed to take forever to complete its cycle. Every second felt like an hour; every minute like an hour; every hour like a week.

Some people will want to read articles that are full of recrimination tonight. Plenty of people have already take to social media to make clear exactly who they blame for the loss. If you want an article that destroys one of our own players then this isn’t the place for you. I’m full of nothing but pride for every single one of our players. Every. Single. One. The build-up I just mentioned means that the week or so that follows will feel like the darkest of days. People react differently to losses on the biggest stage, so I’m going to try very hard not to tell you how you should be feeling. What follows us just how I’m feeling, what I believe to be true. In some ways this is a reactionary piece, yet in others it’s one that I will attempt to ensure is measured. Throwing blame around is easy at times like this, finding ways to be level-headed is harder. I have no idea whether I’ll be successful at the latter, but I’d rather try than to jump straight into doing the former. Five Premier League teams entered the Champions League this season. Only one made it to the final. When the dust settles, let that be the story of our campaign.

This Isn’t About Blame

Let’s start with the most obvious topic from tonight’s match – Loris Karius. Before I write anything else, I want to make something very clear: I’m more than aware that he should’ve done better with two of the three goals. No one will be more aware of that than the man himself. If you wanted to be generous then you could say that Bale’s second shot is dipping and swirling all over the show, but that will be excused as making excuses from some camps. So be it. As I say, I’m more than aware that he should’ve done better. Yet I also think it’s important on a night like tonight to point out a few other things, starting with the fact that we probably don’t even make the final if he doesn’t replace Simon Mignolet in goal back in December. The German didn’t impress when he first came into the side and he struggled a little at the start of the season, but since becoming our permanent number one he’s been exceptional.

I also think we should acknowledge that he made some excellent stops tonight. Early in the first-half it looked as though Ronaldo was through, only for the German shot-stopper to appear from nowhere and punch the ball away from danger. He made a number of similarly decent stops throughout the match, even after he gifted Real the first goal. As I say, we all know he should’ve done better, especially with the first. It’s just idiotic, but throughout the campaign the Reds have been able to unsettle opposition defences precisely because of such front-foot goalkeeping. He’s a young man who has performed better than the majority of fans thought possible after replacing Mignolet at around Christmas time. Ultimately tonight proved one step too far for him, but I’d still rather we started with him between the sticks than his Belgian counterpart. We’ll likely replace him in the summer, but I personally will always be grateful for what he did to get us there in the first place.

Ramos Isn’t What We Need

Since the referee put the whistle to his lips and blew for full-time, I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter saying that Sergio Ramos is exactly what this Liverpool team needs. I couldn’t disagree more. For me, that’s like saying that what we need is José Mourinho in the manager’s dugout. There’s little distinction between the two, with cynicism being their raison d’être. Not one person on the planet will be able to convince me that the Spaniard doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing when he keeps hold of Mohamed Salah’s arm as they fall to the floor. I don’t think he knows he’ll dislocate the Egyptian’s shoulder, but I think he knows he’ll be able to do him some damage and he’s hoping for the best after that. He intends to injure Salah and take our best player out of the game and he succeeds in his aim.

It’s an absolutely disgusting move from the Madrid defender and if you think that Liverpool players should be doing more of that sort of thing then I’m afraid we’ll never see eye-to-eye. Just as Mourinho had no thought about what would happen to Tito Vilanova when he tried to gouge out his eye, so too did Ramos not care a jot if he ended Salah’s night or even World Cup when he intentionally held on to his arm as the pair fell to the ground. Yes, Liverpool need to be more ruthless in certain aspects of their game, but I wouldn’t want a player like Ramos anywhere near our team. You can call me naive if you like, but I don’t care. I still value certain aspects of the game and not being bothered about deliberately injuring another player in order to win is something that I’ll never be able to get on board with. Who knows how tonight might have gone if Salah had played the ninety. He didn’t and Ramos gets away with it yet again.

I Really Am Proud Of These Players

I’m absolutely devastated that we didn’t win tonight. There are countless reasons for that, not least of which is that the cynical play of Ramos and his Madrid counterparts has been rewarded. Yet the result doesn’t change for one second how immensely proud I am of every single one of our players. As I mentioned in my intro, seasons aren’t about one game. Campaigns take place over months, not moments. This Liverpool team has given me more enjoyment than almost any other season I can remember. The win in 2005 was immense and there were plenty of excellent performances along the way, but they were interspersed with some genuinely dire games in the league. We didn’t have that this time around. Yes, we should’ve done better against Stoke and Everton and West Brom in the final weeks, but the drop off was understandable.

Maribor, Porto, Manchester City. They were the performances that we’ll look back on fondly in the years to come. Ultimately the final proved to be one match too far, but we’ll remember the mitigating circumstances that surround it. The journey to reach Kiev was utterly thrilling and I’m so glad that I got to experience it. More importantly, I’m delighted that this feels as though it’s only the beginning for Jürgen Klopp and his charges. There will be improvements to the squad this summer, with Naby Keita already signed up to join the fun. Few attack-minded players will be considering moving anywhere else if they’ve got anything about them. So yes, be upset for what happened tonight but also be excited about what’s still to come. The fun is only just getting started and the laughter from other quarters shows that to be the case.

We See Things They’ll Never See

It’s the easiest thing in the world to laugh at other teams when they fail. We’ve all done it as Liverpool supporters, so I’m not going to try to claim some sort of moral superiority over Manchester City, Everton or Tottenham fans tonight. Yet the reality is that the main reason they’re revelling in our defeat so much is that they’re worried about the direction that our club is heading in. Despite having been ripped apart by cowboy owners who were more interested in their own money than doing right by the club, taking us to the brink of bankruptcy, we’ve been in three Champions League finals in thirteen years. City, Spurs and the Blues haven’t been in one in their combined existence, despite the former club having spent an amount of money in the space of a few months that would keep a small country solvent for a decade.

Fans of other clubs laugh at our supporters, joke about next year ‘being our year’. Yet it is that never ending belief that allows Liverpool Football Club to do things that their teams can only dream of. Istanbul. Athens. Kiev. Three finals in thirteen years. If the cost of achieving such heights is that Evertonians have a joke at our expense then that’s something that I’m able to live with, personally. Steven Gerrard’s slip is something rival fans can sing songs about, but few clubs would even have been in a position to challenge for the league in the first place. Karius will be the subject of mocking memes for the months to come, yet he took us to the brink of a sixth European Cup thanks to his goalkeeping in a season when an all-conquering Manchester City couldn’t handle the Anfield atmosphere and their neighbours couldn’t handle a poor Sevilla side. Let them mock us, let them laugh at us. They’ll never be us. They’ll never know what journeys like the one we’ve been on this season feel like. We know. We’ve seen things they’ll never see.

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