Liverpool evolution clear as Jurgen Klopp can avoid repeating these two decisions vs Real Madrid
Liverpool will face Real Madrid in a very different looking Champions League final on May 28 when compared to four years ago.
It was a first appearance in the showpiece fixture since 2007, a chance for Jurgen Klopp to break his Anfield trophy duck by getting his hands on the biggest prize of them all, but perhaps most importantly, an opportunity to properly reassert themselves as one of European football’s genuine superpowers.
Up against them in Kyiv were, of course, Real Madrid. A continental juggernaut in their own right, the Spanish giants were bidding to secure the title for a third successive season under Zinedine Zidane, and were stacked with an array of generational talents - many of whom will go down in history as certified club legends.
In the end, we all know what happened. Liverpool fans will need no reminding of the 3-1 defeat their side suffered that evening - the highs and lows, the howlers and injustices.
To an extent, redemption was brought about 12 months later, when the Reds would go on to lift a sixth Champions League title by beating Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid, of all places.
But still the old wounds from that fateful night in Kyiv smart for many associated with the club, and after seeing Real pull off one of the all-time great European comebacks against Manchester City on Wednesday evening, Liverpool and their ardent fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of some cold, hard revenge when the two sides come face to face once more in Paris later this month.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look back at the 2018 final, the key moments that ultimately took it away from Liverpool, and how the Reds are in a better position now...
Salah and Ramos: A rivalry
There are perhaps few lingering images from that night in Kyiv as enduring or as painful as the sight of Mo Salah leaving the pitch in tears, arm clearly injured.
The Egyptian King was as influential then for the Reds as he is now (perhaps even more so, but we’ll come on to that shortly), and losing him part way through the first half went a significant distance towards blunting their threat against a cocksure Real defence.
The villain of the piece, from Liverpool’s perspective at least, was, of course, Sergio Ramos. It was his heavy-handed challenge that left Salah unable to continue, and in retrospect, with the match still in deadlock, his physical contribution was the first major blow Klopp’s men suffered that night.
For his part, Ramos is no longer on the books at Real, having joined PSG on a free transfer last summer, but there’s little doubt that his challenge on Salah left a bitter taste in the mouth all around Anfield.
Klopp himself described his actions as ‘ruthless and brutal’ shortly after the final, while Salah made no secret of his disdain for the Spaniard when he openly snubbed him at a high-profile UEFA award ceremony weeks later.
He may not directly come up against Ramos again in Paris, but you can bet there will be no Liverpool player as eager to make amends against Real as Salah.
Actually, scratch that last sentence. There might be one Liverpool player even more desperate than Salah to put things right - although he certainly won’t get the chance to.
Loris Karius’ disastrous display in Kyiv has, in the years since, become infamous, spawning a barrage of cruel social media discourse and, to a certain extent, derailing his career entirely.
The German was responsible for two horrific errors - one in which he bowled a simple ball off Karim Benzema and into his own net, and one in which he failed to deal with a routine long-distance drive from Gareth Bale.
In the end, those blunders would be enough to gift Real the match, and the trophy, and just weeks later Liverpool would move to bring in current number one Alisson Becker from AS Roma, effectively ending Karius’ Anfield career.
Shortly after the final it would transpire that the 28-year-old had actually been concussed for much of the match following a collision with Ramos, but by that point the damage was done and his reputation was decimated.
Speaking in the time since his nightmare in Kyiv, Karius has reflected openly on his regrets about how he handled the situation and the heightened scrutiny it brought about.
“Believe me, I’ve learned a lot from that! In retrospect, I should have dealt with it more aggressively in public,” he told Sport Bild.
“I had a concussion after a blow from Sergio Ramos, which restricted my spatial vision. This was unequivocally ascertained in a detailed study by one of the world’s leading brain specialists.
“At first, I was happy to know what went on in this game. I didn’t want to make it public myself. When the result was released, there was a lot of malice and insult, often well below the belt. I never used it as an excuse. But when people make fun of someone who has badly injured their head, I have no understanding.
“All my efforts and good performances before were suddenly no longer relevant. The reactions were over the top and disrespectful, especially that it has been drawn out in this way. Errors are measured with different, even abnormal, dimensions and are not assessed fairly.”
Karius has since been sent out on a number of loans by Liverpool, and is expected to leave the club this summer.
Of the 11 players who started the 2018 Champions League final, nine (including Karius) are still on the books at Anfield. Only Dejan Lovren and Gini Wijnaldum have left the club in the years since Kyiv.
Tellingly, however, of the seven players named on Klopp’s bench that night, not a single one remains on Merseyside.
Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, and Dominic Solanke have all departed, and the truth is that Liverpool are a vastly stronger side for it.
That’s not to say that none of those players had anything to offer the Reds, but in a situation where his side were chasing the game against the most imperious team in Europe, with his prized asset sat crying in the bowels of the NSC Olimpiyskiy, arm in sling, the only two substitutions Klopp saw fit to make were the introductions of Lallana and Can.
Compare that to the strength and depth Liverpool boast now.
The arrivals of Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota have hugely bolstered the Reds’ options in attack, while the signings of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, and Naby Keita have rejuvenated an engine room that used to lack variety, flair, and to a certain extent, defensive solidity.
Even at the back, Ibrahim Konate and Joel Matip look like much worthier talents to partner Virgil van Dijk than Lovren ever did, and the difference Alisson has made in net is almost immeasurable.
In short, the dynamism and single-mindedness of Klopp’s project at Anfield means that Liverpool are a massively different beast to the side who faltered in 2018.
The Reds have evolved, and Real should be worried.