63 games, 4 defeats, 2 trophies, and oh so close to an historic quadruple. A stunning season of quite remarkable highs, yet, so obviously tinged, with the disappointment of what might have been.
In tasting the bitterness of defeat to Real Madrid in Paris, there’ll be those who’ll belittle a parade in Liverpool, sighting the failure to be successful in the season’s two biggest competitions. Having followed this remarkable squad of players across England and Europe, and witnessed firsthand only the joy that football at its finest can bring, there is no team in our club’s history more deserving of an open-top bus journey through Liverpool. Not only do the players and officials of the club warrant the adulation they’ll receive, but the fans, once again treated with disdain and contempt, by the authorities that are somehow still entrusted with administering the beautiful game, are more than worthy of the chance to celebrate a season like no other.
Of course, the celebrations would have been unparalleled had the Premier League crown, and a seventh European Cup, been added to the trophy cabinet. The case can certainly be made, that in securing 92 league points, a total previously good enough to have been crowned champions on many occasions, Liverpool can consider themselves unlucky not to have won their second championship under Klopp. Likewise, if the Champions League final were replayed, the chances of Courtois pulling off two world-class saves to deny Mane and Salah, whilst his opposite number didn’t have a save to make, would at best be minimal.
The save that tipped the effort from Mane onto the post was undoubtedly the turning point for Liverpool. Having dominated the first half, a 1-0 lead at half-time would have certainly been merited. Thiago first feared to have been unable to play, controlled the tempo of midfield, and with Fabinho, another pre-match injury worry, along with Jordan Henderson, shielding an almost entirely untroubled defence, Madrid were outplayed.
Goals, however, change games, and Vinicius, who’d had very little change from the superbly commanding Konate in the first 45 minutes, struck for Real. Madrid had started the brighter in the second half, with Liverpool unable to get a foothold in the opening exchanges, but Alisson’s net was never threatened. He hadn’t had a save to make, but the Spanish champions found themselves in front with thirty minutes remaining. Diaz, who never quite hit the heights of his two previous cup final appearances, was replaced by Jota, whilst Keita and Firmino soon replaced Thiago and Henderson.
Klopp’s changes certainly signaled a determination to continue to take the game to Madrid, whilst having no choice other than to risk conceding a second on the counter-attack. Then came the opportunity that a clearly frustrated Salah had been waiting for. With a sublime first touch, a change of pace, and the creation of half a yard of space to get away a right-footed shot, he struck what looked like a goal-bound shot to the right of Courtois, but, yet again, the huge frame of the goalkeeper rescued Madrid – and the ball somehow deflected away for a corner after striking his right arm.
Liverpool continued to push. Just as in the pursuit of Manchester City though, it just wasn’t quite enough. That vital bit of luck deserted them when they most needed it. Never giving up didn’t reap the reward they deserved, with the ball refusing to break kindly for a player in red when ricocheting around the penalty area. Yes, Keita could and should have shown greater composure on the edge of the box, with not a single Real player within ten yards, but instead blazed the ball high and wide. Madrid saw out the game without too much further alarm.
So, a gloriously successful season has closed with a team that, having played the maximum number of games possible, looks certain to be minus Sadio Mane in its next campaign. 2021/22 will be writ large in the history books of our club. Fans old and young will recall remarkable performances, a two-time drubbing of our more usual Manchester rivals, two successful cup final appearances out of three, including our first Wembley FA Cup Final success in 30 years. Our failure to score in any of those three finals might pose some deeper reflection. The man who’s had the biggest hand in making all this possible, Jurgen Klopp, will no doubt be spending his well-earned summer break pondering how his team can avoid that in the future.
Do not let anyone tell you that this season has been anything other than a glorious success. It’s been stunning, the stuff of dreams. Dreaming is what great clubs and great teams allow us fans to do. This team, this manager, gave us the chance to dream bigger than we’ve ever done before. Revel in it and, after we’ve all enjoyed a summer to recoup, let’s cheer on our club to do it all again next season.