Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Liverpool weren’t perfect but they will be back after a summer full of questions

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Liverpool will wonder how it came up so painfully short on two fronts; but there are more pressing questions about Mane’s future and where they’re going next

Frenzy met cold, Real Madrid surviving 24 tries – nine of them on target – and mustering just four (two on target) of their own. Carlo Ancelotti’s champions are no coincidence 14-time winners, a pervasive culture of absolute, microscopic control and total European dominance capable of usurping even serial winners Liverpool.

In the gruesome aftermath of defeat, when the second crushing blow in six days fell on Liverpool’s unlikely quadruple hopes, Jurgen Klopp’s analysis was brief. “They scored a goal – we didn’t.”

Klopp suspected “something is wrong” when Thibaut Courtois was named man of the match, although he may have forgotten that Alisson won the same award in 2019 when his side beat Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid. But when the dust settled, Klopp was already looking to the future, urging fans to book “the hotel” in Istanbul, the venue for the 2023 final.

How exactly the Liverpool machine will look like by then is unclear. Sadio Mane’s departure is growing louder, with Bayern Munich the most likely destination. Would a Ballon d’Or contender really take on new challenges if they believed there were uncharted treasures to be found in their current terrain?

They have now won every trophy imaginable under Klopp, completing the set this season with the League Cup and FA Cup double. It is not the double, nor the triple or quadruple that was dreamed of but never quite realistic given the impossible physical and mental demands on a group of players who have played more games than any other this season.

There is enough optimism that they will continue at their current pace to tie Mohamed Salah at least on his word for another year. The forward has stopped talking about his long-term future but predicts he will still be at Anfield in August.

But the Liverpool 2.0 rebranding is already underway. The arrival of Luis Diaz has reduced Salah and Mane’s dependency, Diogo Jota has effectively replaced Roberto Firmino and thanks to Ibrahima Konate there is now a feeling that an injury to Virgil van Dijk or Joel Matip would not be a disaster.

Nevertheless, there is still more to do. Naby Keita’s cameo in Paris was weak, sloppy in possession and failing to turn back the pace of Madrid’s veteran midfield. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s positioning was again called into question when he was caught on goal by Vinicius Junior; Despite all the oncoming threat he posed, this was his only task of the night, the battle that would win or lose the war.

Under the previous rules – and indeed the only rules that really make sense – Karim Benzema would have seen Ancelotti’s side in front much sooner, his shot disallowed for offside despite the ball bouncing off Fabinho.

Those are fine margins, but when a side loses the Premier League title by a point – with a record they would have seen at home in all but one season of the modern era – and loses a European final by a single goal and two more wins cups along the way, where else to go?

Klopp could be forgiven for keeping his post-game complaint simple. And while there is little point in speculating whether the outcome would have been any different had Salah not hobbled away at Wembley 14 days earlier and Thiago been fully fit, the incredible demands of what could be a truly historic season inevitably took their toll.

To the homecoming parade. Many were still reeling under the offensive treatment of fans in Paris, who were attacked from all sides by police, officials and even Uefa, which had tried to blame Liverpool fans for the horrific ordeal inflicted on them outside the Stade was imposed on de France.

With that in mind, it was hard to find a day to celebrate in this extraordinary season of such achievements. However, Klopp was right – they will come back, maybe even in Istanbul.

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