Jürgen Klopp saw the European Cup. A year ago in Kiev, Real Madrid had all the luck. Klopp swore he would keep on being cool and, one year on, he brought the European Cup back to Liverpool.
Klopp and Liverpool have suffered heartache too often in recent years, with last year’s Champions League final and the ninety-seven point runner-up campaign in this season’s Premier League particularly painful.
However, finally both can celebrate a happy ending to the 2018/19 season following a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid. For a sixth time in the club’s illustrious history, Liverpool are champions of Europe again.
Substance over style for Reds’ success
Liverpool’s performance in the Champions League final was hardly sparkling, and the final itself will not be regarded as a classic, but Liverpool were ultimately too efficient and effective for their opponents.
The Reds found a way to win, as they have so often this season, demonstrating the flexibility that they did not possess a year ago.
Tottenham, playing in their first ever European Cup final, were overawed by the experience, and Moussa Sissoko’s first minute penalty for handball only added to Spurs’ trepidations on the night.
Both sides were poor, with various reasons being cited for the underwhelming all-English spectacle that was meant to showcase the brilliance of the Premier League in the biggest match in club football.
Why was the match in Madrid such a struggle?
The three-week gap was ironically too long a period for players to rest and expect to retain the majority of their sharpness.
One week, even two, is welcomed after a long stretch of matches in quick succession, but normally players only have breaks of three weeks or longer when the season has ended, hence the lower levels of quality and intensity in pre-season and quite often in summer internationals.
Neither side could establish any rhythm in the match, demonstrating that training ultimately cannot be a substitute for matches, though Klopp made full use of the training time to hone his tactics for Tottenham with the match against Benfica’s reserves behind closed doors.
If anyone still doubted the German’s tactical acumen and saw him only as a charismatic man-manager, then Klopp’s preparation for Madrid should banish those utterly undeserved doubts.
The early goal, a penalty by Mohamed Salah after Sissoko’s handball, blunted the atmosphere, as Tottenham fans digested the depression of falling behind so early in the biggest game of the club’s history, while Liverpool fans immediately felt the added anxiety of having something to lose.
The Reds knew they could not fall short again, therefore leading so quickly, having already been established as favourites for the match, was almost too much agony for Liverpool fans to bear.
Their stress was only released when Divock Origi scored with a few minutes left, underlining the tense atmosphere which had pervaded the Wanda Metropolitano for almost the entire encounter.
For the players, their fitness was tested extremely by the enduring heat in Madrid, sapping them of energy and rendering any pressing tactics useless, if not dangerous for Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, as tired players would be left behind in an attempt to win the ball high up the pitch, leaving space in behind.
Conversely, this tactic was rarely utilised effectively by either side because the attackers at the other end of the pitch were so tired as well.
After barely twenty minutes the majority appeared shattered, never a good sign for a neutral when they want an all-action, intense and exciting clash.
Instead the final was tense and tactical (the dry pitch also contributed to the slow tempo) until Origi settled matters, earning his place in Liverpool folklore as he repeated his semi-final heroics against Barcelona to confirm the return of the European Cup to Merseyside.
Klopp and Liverpool both back on top
With six Champions League crowns, Liverpool have moved ahead of footballing giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the all-time winners' list, with only AC Milan (seven) and Real Madrid (thirteen) ahead of the Reds.
Not only are Liverpool back amongst the elite, but the elite will be scared of the current level of this Liverpool side and the potential they have to become even better still. This is a young team with players either in their peak, coming into their peak or still years away yet playing at a supremely high level.
Most importantly, they now have the cast-iron self-belief that they can win the biggest trophies on offer – after all, they currently own the biggest in club football.
Klopp can no longer be regarded as a failure, which was a frankly ridiculous statement before uttered only by a minority, who dwindled further as the season went on. His work and progression at Anfield has been clear to see season after season and was finally richly rewarded in Madrid.
The final may have been poor but Liverpool will not care – they delivered the trophy their season deserved, and after years of close misses, the Reds are no longer the ‘nearly’ club but back at the level appropriate to the club’s size and history.
The club craves success, thriving on the power of a fanbase which cannot be matched when silverware is brought to Anfield, as the trophy parade on Sunday illustrated.
Premier League title, Champions League Istanbul repeat next season?
Liverpool will rest, strengthen and go again next season, knowing for the first time in decades that they will not have to fear the departure of their best players, as who would want to leave Liverpool right now?
Even Xherdan Shaqiri, a squad player in his debut season with Klopp, has already expressed his sheer love and enthusiasm for Liverpool and the potential that exists for both himself and the club to enjoy an even more successful season in 2019/20.
Another trip to Istanbul, fifteen years after Liverpool’s glorious last, will certainly be on the bucket list in the Champions League. However, a first league title in thirty years will be the firm priority.
One long drought has ended – now, after going one better one year on in the Champions League, can an even longer drought end in a year’s time?
Klopp’s key theme throughout his time at Anfield has been belief. With this team, and the continued progress achieved by all associated with Liverpool, who would back against it?
The possibilities are endless.
That is what the joy of six brings.