It’s been a few hours since the 2017/18 Champion’s League Final concluded. Real Madrid won their third consecutive cup fielding a team rich with talent but my heart centers on Liverpool Football Club and what could have been for the Reds.
In the lead up to the game, Liverpool faced a monumental task of dethroning the Los Blancos giant. Pundits and supporters alike said Liverpool have a unique team spirit, a style of play which, on any given day, could keep up with anyone. This season was evidence enough to prove that as Liverpool stopped the Manchester City juggernaut and booted Roma fromt the cup — games few thought we had a chance. Sure, winning the cup would be a long shot. Afterall, Real Madrid’s reputation has been forged in the crucible of numerous cup finals while Liverpool seek to recapture past excellence with players who are vastly inferior in experience.
As the game began, I was understandably nervous but quickly settled as the team played our game. Sharp from the off, the Reds attacked quickly, maintained pressure, and kept their defensive shape … but then the first in a series of mishaps unraveled Liverpool Football Club. Mohamed Salah, the best player in Europe this season with 43 goals, was awkwardly pulled to the ground by Sergio Ramos, a Real Madrid defender. Salah remained on the ground, writhing in pain and eventually tried to continue but his shoulder had been dislocated due to the fall. Salah left the field in tears, his cup final done with an injury which could impact his participation in the World Cup. I was shattered and so were his teammates. When the game resumed, Liverpool looked slack while Real Madrid surged but the Reds somehow managed to hang on to a 0-0 tie going into the half.
I knew Klopp would settle the players, ensuring they were on task and up for a fast paced second half. Sure enough, the second 45 minutes was much more balanced and Liverpool looked up for an exciting finish until Loris Karius … happened.
After collecting a routine ball, he attempted to roll it out to a teammate but a sharp Real Madrid player named Benzema reacting swiftly, sticking out a foot and the subsequent rebound ended in the back of the net. Karius’ mistake put the Reds down 0-1 while Real Madrid celebrated. Impressively, Liverpool remained resolute and clawed their way back into the final with a well executed corner which was pounced on my Mane and buried in the net. Liverpool found themselves tied, 1-1 and for about 20 minutes the energy from both teams promised an exciting, end-to-end finish.
Real Madrid saw the need for an infusion of creative energy with the substitution of Gareth Bale for Isco. Bale didn’t wait and within three minutes of hitting the pitch, he connected with a reverse scissor-kick for the ages. It was a stunning blow, defeating both the defense and Karius in a single moment. I can take nothing away from Bale, the goal was beyond human, and Real Madrid had earned their 2-1 advantage. While that hurt, the next and final goal was the one which shall forever be etched into Liverpool history. Bale, aggressive and purposeful, took the ball in space and from about 30+ yard out, struck a shot right at Karius. It appeared routine, even pedestrian in flight but in a goal keeping error for the ages, Karius misjudged the ball, fumbled it, and sank to his knees in horror as it ended in the back of net. Bale had scored his second and Real Madrid were up 3-1, cup final done and dusted.
Unfortunately, Karius has become the story post-game. Initially he received wave after wave of acrimony but to his credit, Karius has owned the mistakes, has publically apologized (on social media) and is taking his lumps. In an interesting twist, now there are waves upon waves of sympathy for the German but perhaps we should all step back. Ultimately, one question remains: Is Karius good enough to remain between the sticks for Liverpool? Can the attacking and defensive players ever truly trust him again?
With all that being said, the future looks bright for Liverpool under Klopp. The club qualified for Champion’s League play next season and have the beginnings of an electric club. I hope this season’s presence on the European stage will entice high quality players to join Liverpool … and we sorely need both depth and quality to progress to the next level. We need a midfield which can dictate, depth in attack, and the most obvious and glaring issue: Decide if Karius will be our goalkeeper.