Sadly, Kiev was not quite what Liverpool fans had hoped.
Despite all the excitement and build-up, allied to what appeared a wonderful experience for those Liverpool fans who managed to make the trip to Ukraine, the Reds were not able to lift a sixth European Cup last weekend.
Instead, it was Real Madrid who celebrated a third consecutive Champions League crown and a thirteenth in total, after a 3-1 victory against Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Liverpool will wonder what might have been had Mohamed Salah managed to last the entire match, but the Egyptian star unfortunately fell victim to a controversial challenge from Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and sustained a shoulder injury which has put his World Cup chances in doubt.
Liverpool had started brightly with their fearsome front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, pushing Madrid onto the back foot and creating chances, albeit no clear-cut efforts.
That all changed once Salah went off however, with the psychological impact twofold as Liverpool lost impetus and inspiration without their talisman and Madrid gained confidence as their defence no longer had to cope with Liverpool’s biggest threat.
The Reds managed to get through to half-time and even equalised through the imperious Mane after Karim Benzema had opened the scoring for Madrid in the second half. However, Liverpool’s attack ultimately lacked bite, becoming too reliant on just Mane, with Firmino less effective without Salah and Adam Lallana not match-fit enough to provide any sort of adequate replacement for Liverpool’s ‘Egyptian King’.
In the end, Gareth Bale’s double proved too big a hurdle for Liverpool to overcome. Yet the Reds should take heart not only from their reaction and fight in the second half in Kiev, but also their form across the entire season.
The 2017/18 campaign has been another season of progress, with back-to-back top four finishes for the first time in nine years, alongside a run to the Champions League final in their first year back in Europe’s premier club competition.
The football Liverpool played throughout the season, the countless number of goals scored, the improvement in the defence and the synergy between players, crowd and manager made for a truly memorable season, even if it ended without silverware. Liverpool fans were able to experience numerous great games against the likes of Arsenal, Maribor, Spartak Moscow, Manchester City, Porto, Watford, Manchester City (again), Manchester City (again) and Roma, plus others.
Everything became part of the thrilling, exhilarating rollercoaster ride under Klopp that is now a stable symbol for Liverpool to the rest of world, and one which they intend to build upon, with players keen to join the excitement brewing at Anfield.
The signing of Virgil van Dijk in January, Naby Keita last summer and Fabinho this week confirms Klopp’s intentions to sign top players to fill the final pieces of the jigsaw so Liverpool can finally bring trophies back to the club.
However, one player who may not be part of the Liverpool jigsaw is Loris Karius. Last week I spoke of the importance of the Champions League final not only to the Reds, but Karius in particular. Kiev could have defined his future as a Liverpool player, and now that looks likely to be the case, but sadly not in a positive sense.
Liverpool could quite easily have gone into extra-time against Real, even without Salah, were it not for the two catastrophic errors from Liverpool’s number one goalkeeper.
The first, where Karius attempts to roll the ball out only to hit an interested but hardly onrushing Benzema and sidle agonisingly into the 24-year-old’s own net, is terrible enough and can be linked to his poor game management. Karius often looks to distribute the ball to feet quickly, most likely on orders from Klopp, but often picks the wrong defender in the wrong situation and during the wrong time. For example, van Dijk could do little with the ball when Karius gave it to the Dutchman early on against Manchester City in the Champions League, where Gabriel Jesus scored early at the Etihad.
Yet the second, most likely influenced by the first, is truly awful and killed off Liverpool’s lingering hopes of a late comeback against Real. Karius could do nothing about Bale’s spectacular overhead kick, but goalkeepers of the highest quality simply do not make the mistakes that Karius did, let alone in a match of such magnitude.
Klopp placed his faith in his young compatriot ahead of Simon Mignolet, giving him the rest of the season from January to prove he could be Liverpool’s long-term number one. Karius was performing well in front of an improved Liverpool defence, and the chances of Liverpool signing an undisputed new number one appeared to be decreasing.
Yet after Kiev, those odds have reversed, and the likes of Roma’s Alisson and Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak have dominated Liverpool’s rumour mill.
As for Karius, he could stay at Anfield and rebuild his confidence as Liverpool’s number two, or retreat from the spotlight and head abroad, perhaps back to Germany. Either way, Karius needs to work hard to remove his painful memory of Kiev and restore his goalkeeping reputation.
However, Karius deserves support and encouragement for whichever club he is at next season, as he still possesses plenty of talent, and was not viewed as one of the Bundesliga’s brightest prospects for nothing.
Yet his time as Liverpool’s number one looks to have come to an end, as Klopp, Michael Edwards and co. make steps to ensure the achievements of last season are not rested upon, but improved.