Liverpool feature in the Champions League final and could win their sixth title against Real Madrid, but will their efforts go in vain in the end?
Liverpool have been a force to reckon with at times this season, and have shown up as a team of men when they were most needed. But, there have also been times when they played like children to lose precious points against teams one would not expect them to; but here they are, in the grand finale of this season’s Champions League.
Liverpool have not had the most accessible route to the Kiev Final, as the team faced uncertainties right from the group stages. Their awful showing against Sevilla in the group stages where the Reds were 3-0 up only for a second-half turnaround for the Spanish team to lock the game at 3-3. That performance highlighted an enormous hole in Jurgen Klopp’s side, their defence.
Liverpool might have since proven their doubters wrong with some overall performances along the way to the Final, but they face their biggest threat of the season in Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid team have records on their side, as well as two consecutive Champions League titles as well as a possible third if they beat Liverpool on Saturday.
How were Liverpool domestically and in Europe?
Liverpool turned a corner this season after finishing consecutive seasons in the top-four, banishing their inconsistent form from previous seasons. Earning 75 points in the Premier League was enough for Klopp’s men to finish above Chelsea and Arsenal, while their domestic style wasn’t exactly a secure one, but they sure did leave with some highlights, especially in ending Manchester City’s unbeaten run in a dramatic 4-3 win.
One can only imagine where this team would be if not for Mohamed Salah. No really, where would they be without him. His inspirational form more or less secured Champions League football and a place in the Final in Kiev, but his goalscoring exploits also covered up for Liverpool’s cracky defence.
Only a January signing of Virgil Van Dijk steadied their ship, but it was too late by then, as in the time the Dutch defender took time to settle in, Liverpool were out of the running from the Premier League title chase, the Carabao Cup as well as the FA Cup.
On to European shores, Liverpool did have their tough times, especially during the group stages, but overcame some odds and qualified to the Round-of-16 as group winners. The one game that highlighted their problems at the back was against Sevilla as highlighted before.
On the road to the Final, there were overall performances against Porto (Rd 16), Manchester City (QF) and AS Roma (SF). The only significant challenge that stands between them and the Champions League title are the title holders and consecutive winners themselves, Real Madrid.
On Defensive frailties and the worst fear of a Kop!
Liverpool fans might be jubilant right now at the prospect of them lifting the Champions League for the first time since the Epic of Istanbul back in 2005, but deep down, they are also worried about this team. Their reason, however, lies at the back!
Liverpool’s defence was a tale of two halves this season, especially domestically. Since the reinstatement of Loris Karius and the arrival of Van Dijk, Liverpool have looked solid at the back, but before that time, they were as vulnerable as anyone can expect with Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. Van Dijk has restored parity and has sent Klavan and Matip packing to the bench, but will he prove to be the inspiration in the Final?
Liverpool have been suspect at the back, but Liverpool fans might point towards the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson as rock solid options as full-backs, the second Leg against Roma killed that myth too. Yes, Liverpool killed off Porto 5-0, then thrashed Manchester City 5-1 on aggregate, and looked like a dominant team when they beat Roma 5-2, taking a 5-0 lead; but the problems were only about to begin.
In the first leg against Roma, Liverpool conceded two late goals, and many believed this could bring the Italian side back to life and repeat another impossible act, like the one they did against Barcelona to knock them out. Roma did not disappoint. They secured a 4-2 win, but only fell short of one goal as Liverpool clinched the tie 7-6 to move into the final.
The point being, Liverpool are not consistent enough in holding leads, no matter how significantly ahead they could be in a game. A similar showing was against Manchester City, where they led 4-1 at one stage but the game ended 4-3. Another game to highlight would be the Arsenal game at the Emirates, where the Reds went 2-0 up, but Arsenal pegged back with 3-goals in a blitz to peg them again, although the game ended 3-3.
These frailties are the Liverpool fans’ biggest fear, and although they would rejoice if their team is to take the lead against Real Madrid, the European Champions are the masters of a solid comeback. Liverpool, if they have to win against Real on Saturday, need to be at their best defensively, or else Ronaldo & Co will storm away with the title.
History has two sides to a story
Liverpool’s history is a glorious one; maybe not in the domestic sense recently but in the European scene they are a bright, shining light. They are England’s best representative in the Champions League with five titles to their name, as well as a potential sixth if they win against Madrid.
But, History is not always kind enough to repeat itself, and it certainly has two sides. While Liverpool as a club will be thriving on its historic moments in the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp will be a tense figure on the sidelines. Since the Champions League format began in 1993, Liverpool will be in their third Final, winning one and losing another so far.
Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, has had a tough time dealing with European finals. His first came when in charge of Borussia Dortmund as the German side reached the Final, incidentally beating Real in the semis. They faced a rampant Bayern Munich side, who thoroughly defeated them in Wembley.
The latest European final was against Sevilla, two seasons ago in the Europa League, and Klopp was beaten again, as the Spaniards went past Liverpool with ease. It’s not to say this is a pattern and Klopp would lose his third European final, but the chances are there, especially against Real Madrid.
Liverpool’s chances in this Final remains in their own hands. They are an offensively potent team but could let down their fans defensively. Although in the last few months, Jurgen Klopp has been able to steady his back line, it still lacks the required mojo to beat the likes of Real Madrid.
Andrew Robertson and Alexander-Arnold might have been revelations, but they might come short in experience when they face Ronaldo & Co. in a violent Real Madrid attack. On the other hand, the central defenders too will have their hands full, but the right strategy might be able to swing the game into Liverpool’s hands.
Klopp is an experienced manager and certainly knows what it takes to face a team like Real Madrid, but if he is to make some hasty decisions in his selection or tactics, Real Madrid will not take a moment’s hesitation into punishing them. In the end, Klopp is tipped to bring European glory back to Anfield, but will he be able to master the masters of the Champions League?