For the majority of clubs, the season is now over.
However, for Liverpool, they still have one very important match left to play – the Champions League final, as they prepare to take on Real Madrid in a bid to once again become the kings of Europe.
There can be only one winner though, and the Reds have not tasted the ultimate European glory for thirteen years, since the Miracle of Istanbul in 2005. Indeed, Liverpool have only won one major trophy since the 2006 FA Cup, which was a League Cup success on penalties again Championship outfit Cardiff City in 2012.
Too often Liverpool have ended up as the bridesmaid in recent years when the honours have been handed out, finishing runners-up in all five major competitions since ‘The Steven Gerrard Final’ against West Ham United.
The Reds finished behind Manchester United and Manchester City in the Premier League in 2009 and 2014 – the latter was even in Liverpool’s hands during the run-in but ultimately went to Manchester.
Liverpool also lost to AC Milan in the 2007 Champions League final, Chelsea in the 2012 FA Cup final, Manchester City in the 2016 League Cup final, and Sevilla in the 2016 Europa League final.
Likewise, Jürgen Klopp has a poor recent record in cup finals, losing his final three with Borussia Dortmund before the 2016 finals with Liverpool.
The German had not even been in charge at Anfield for a full season, but led the Reds to Wembley and Basel with a squad comprised completely of players brought in by previous Liverpool managers.
Brendan Rodgers’ demise was set before the start of that season, and he was swiftly dismissed after a disappointing opening few months. Klopp came in, and immediately reinvigorated a team that was previously ponderous in possession, poor in defence and lacking confidence, both in themselves and from the fans.
So close in 15/16
Klopp began instilling his famous pressing game from Germany, and Liverpool became exciting but erratic for the rest of the 2015/16 season. Nevertheless, that was good enough to play Manchester City in the League Cup final and beat Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal in highly memorable Europa League clashes to reach the final against Sevilla.
Sadly, both finals ended in defeat, with the Sevilla loss especially gut-wrenching. Liverpool led 1-0 at half-time through Daniel Sturridge, who was enjoying the final productive spell of his Liverpool career. Yet the second half exposed all of the weaknesses that Klopp’s rollercoaster ride of a team possessed, and the Reds collapsed to Spanish pressure, losing all shape, rhythm and belief, and eventually the match.
Hopefully, there will not be a repeat against another Spanish opponent, who, with twelve European crowns and bidding for a third successive title, carry an aura far beyond Sevilla.
Yet Real Madrid know they will be facing a different Liverpool to the one who lost their last European final two years ago. Now, Liverpool play completely in Klopp’s image, with a side almost full of his own players.
Since the 2016 Europa League defeat, Liverpool have become more reliable at the back – with recent additions Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson causing a notable improvement – and telepathic in attack, with few attacks in world football able to rival Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané.
Consequently, Klopp’s Liverpool have become increasingly consistent.
Moreover, in just two European campaigns under Klopp, the German has delivered two finals, while no one talks anymore of the point-per-game comparison with Rodgers, which critics used as a stick to beat Klopp with during his early period at the club.
Whilst the Reds actually finished their Premier League campaign with one point less in 2017/18 compared to 2016/17, this season they have had to juggle a European campaign that has taken them to the Champions League final.
When Liverpool reached the Europa League final, they effectively gave up on the league and finished eighth as a result, increasing the pressure on the final in Basel to deliver Champions League qualification and a trophy.
This year, the Reds have already ensured they will be among Europe’s elite next season with a second successive top four finish, despite injuries and fatigue stretching a shallow squad that will be strengthened further in the summer.
Liverpool have improved markedly since the pain that was inflicted by Sevilla in Basel, and that improvement will be capped if the Reds can win a sixth European Cup. However, even if they fall short again, the progress under Klopp will undoubtedly continue and the trophies will make their way back to Anfield.