Champions League final defeat hurts but Reds remain resurgent under Jurgen Klopp
By James Pearce
23:21, 26 MAY 2018
For Liverpool, there was a painful sense of deja vu.
Another tale of final woe. Another major prize eluding them. Another barrel-load of regrets.
The night which was supposed to launch a new golden era for the Reds ended in heartbreak. Ol' Big Ears isn't coming home.
Kings of Europe? No, just the bridesmaids once again. The agonising wait for silverware goes on.
Jurgen Klopp's sixth successive final defeat will cut deeper than all the rest.
There is no disgrace in being beaten by Real Madrid, who celebrated a hat-trick of Champions League crowns. But Liverpool were masters of their own downfall.
Rather than seize the opportunity, they floundered. Rather than showcase how far they have come, they showed the world how far they still have to travel.
Pity poor Loris Karius who dropped to the turf at the final whistle, wanting the ground to swallow him up.
The German keeper endured a personal nightmare as his two howlers gift-wrapped the trophy for Zinedine Zidane.
Karius had grasped his chance since regaining the No 1 spot in January but on the biggest night of his life he fell to pieces. It was horrible to watch.
Buying a new keeper this summer was already on the agenda and now it's shot right to the top of Klopp's shopping list.
Karius' blunders were sandwiched by a moment of magic from substitute Gareth Bale, who helped himself to a double after Karim Benzema's opener.
Sadio Mane's equaliser had briefly given Liverpool hope of a sixth European crown with his 20 goal of the season but it was quickly wrestled away.
On a night when Klopp had begged for a bit of good fortune, Liverpool got absolutely none.
The sight of 44-goal top scorer Mohamed Salah going off in tears with a shoulder injury in the first half rocked them. What a cruel end to his fairytale campaign.
Shorn of their talisman, Klopp's side never looked like producing the kind of attacking masterclass which led them to Kiev.
The travelling Kop, who had descended on the Ukrainian capital from around the world, did their bit. The support was sensational as they turned the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium into a sea of red and drowned out their rivals for long periods.
But they could only sit and watch as their dreams were crushed by embarrassing errors. By the closing stages, 'Allez Allez Allez' had made way for a solemn yet defiant rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.
They know that Liverpool will be back. This defeat doesn't change the fact that 2017/18 was a season to cherish.
Champions League qualification was secured in style and they surpassed all expectations in reaching Kiev.
This will take some getting over but with Klopp at the helm, Liverpool remain a resurgent force. This is a young team with its best days ahead.
Now they need a show of ambition in the transfer market this summer to take it to the next level. There's no doubt that a lack of depth was exposed here.
The Reds will rue their failure to take advantage when they enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges.
There was no sign of nerves as they quickly settled. It was predictably open and frenetic with Mane's pace troubling Real's backline.
Cristiano Ronaldo took up residence next to Trent Alexander-Arnold but the teenage full-back remained calm and composed amid the bedlam. He could hold his head high.
Salah saw his strike blocked after a short free-kick from James Milner before Roberto Firmino's cute pass almost released Mane.
With the midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Milner and Gini Wijnaldum working tirelessly to shut down space, Real were blunted.
Liverpool's first scare came after Firmino sold Robertson short with a pass. Ronaldo, who had drifted across to the right, blazed over from a tight angle.
For the most part it was Zidane's men on edge with Dani Carvajal needlessly conceding a corner. They were almost punished but under pressure from a flapping Keylor Navas, Virgil van Dijk nodded over.
Alexander-Arnold then forced a decent save from Navas after Firmino had turned on to Milner's low cross.
Shortly before the half-hour mark the mood was transformed by the loss of Salah. The Egypt winger landed heavily on his shoulder after being cynically dragged to the floor by Sergio Ramos.
Initially, he returned to action but moments later he went down again and accepted that his night was over. Salah departed wiping his tears with his shirt as Adam Lallana was brought off the bench.
Real were forced into a reshuffle of their own when Carvajal limped off and Nacho replaced him, but it was Salah's exit which changed the game.
Liverpool retreated into their shell and Zidane's side smelt blood. Two minutes before the break Real thought they had the breakthrough. After Ronaldo's bullet header was kept out by Karius, Benzema tucked away the rebound but the offside flag was up.
The Reds got ragged and as Nacho volleyed into the side netting and Benzema went close, they were glad to hear the half-time whistle.
Real Madrid show Liverpool what they must do in the summer transfer market
The second half started in a similar vain. Isco hit the bar when he looked destined to score following Lallana's misplaced interception.
When the breakthrough arrived soon after it was a calamity for Karius.
Alert to dash off his line and gather, his throw in the direction of Dejan Lovren was wretched. Benzema simply stuck out a leg and diverted it into the empty net. Karius' team-mates looked shell-shocked. Not here, not on this stage.
To their credit, the fans responded with a deafening roar of encouragement and within four minutes parity was restored.
Lovren rose highest to meet Milner's corner and his header was expertly turned home by Mane.
It was Liverpool's two best performers on the night combining with Lovren outstanding defensively. He has proved he belongs at the highest level.
Andy Robertson also did himself justice with the highlight being a fine last-ditch tackle on Ronaldo.
Zidane reacted to the Reds' equaliser with a show of force as Bale came on for Isco. The Welshman's impact was spellbinding as his stunning overhead kick looped beyond Karius.
Mane hit the post but there was no way back for the tiring Reds. Liverpool's misery was complete when Bale's swerving 30-yarder somehow slipped through Karius' hands. The keeper looked to the heavens, shaking his head in disbelief.
The Reds' fate was sealed. It was a desperate end to a thrilling adventure.
Liverpool: Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Milner (Can 83), Wijnaldum, Salah (Lallana 30), Firmino, Mane.
Not used: Mignolet, Clyne, Klavan, Moreno, Solanke.
Real Madrid: Navas, Carvajal (Nacho 36), Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Benzema (Asensio 89), Isco (Bale 61), Ronaldo.
Not used: Casilla, Hernandez, Vazquez, Kovacic.
Referee: Milorad Mazic
Goals: Benzema 51, Mane 55, Bale 64, Bale 84.
Man of the match: Dejan Lovren. Didn't deserve to be on the losing side.
Copyright - The Liverpool Echo