Liverpool fans have been on a roller coaster ride this season, without a doubt. However, it could be argued that things should have ended much differently following their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Naturally, fans of the Reds were quietly confident going into the final, believing that they could prevail as underdogs as they did in 2005 and topple the colossus of a team that stood before them.
On the night it wasn’t to be, with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale notching three goals between them on the night, cancelling out the efforts of the Reds and ending their European fairy tale.
However, it could have very easily been different, as Real Madrid’s will to win by any means necessary and Liverpool’s naivety combined in the most unfortunate manner in order to end their dream of a sixth European Cup.
And that will be what stings so much for Kopites across the world; not that they lost, but that things could have so easily been different. As such, the mystery shrouding what might have been will only serve to make this defeat taste all the more bitter.
For the first half hour of the final, Liverpool were comfortably in control. They were imposing themselves on Madrid better than anyone could have dreamed and looked certain to reap the rewards of their efforts.
Trent Alexander-Arnold came the closest to breaking the deadlock when a venomous strike was expertly denied by Keylor Navas. Madrid were under to cosh, and struggling to keep pace with Jurgen Klopp’s electrifying Reds.
Then, half and hour into the match, the definitive turning point – Mohamed Salah was wrestled to the ground by Sergio Ramos, resulting in the Egyptian winger, Liverpool’s talisman, having the biggest night of his career so far ended prematurely.
Had Salah’s injury been the result of an unfortunate collision, or something to that effect, there wouldn’t be nearly as much controversy surrounding the match’s outcome. However, Salah was instead injured as the result of a cynical, snide and sneaky ‘challenge’ from Ramos.
Make no mistake, Ramos knew exactly what he was doing when he linked arms with Salah and hurled him to the ground, and that’s what makes it much more difficult to accept – Madrid were out of their depth, and so the team billed as ‘the best in the world’ felt their best possible chance at victory was to injure their opposition’s most influential player.
From that point onward, it was clear that the Reds had been shaken by the loss of their top scorer, and Madrid began to work their way back into the game.
As the first half came to an end there had been a very clear power shift in the game, with Madrid beginning to dominate as football fans the world over had expected them to, all seemingly because of Salah being forced off the pitch prematurely.
Perhaps most galling of all though, is that Ramos’ assault on Salah was being billed as intelligent play by pundits. The Madrid captain was being praised for fouling with malicious intent someone but not being caught.
Following Salah’s departure, it was up to the remaining men on the field to perform under pressure and bring home the win, and to their credit, the majority of the players played their hearts out and, at the end of it all, didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
Liverpool’s heavily criticised back line in particular performed admirably, with each of the Reds’ defenders putting in the performance of their lives and not giving Madrid an inch.
In the end, all that separated the two sides were two of the most unfortunate goalkeeping mistakes ever witnessed in the Champions League, and perhaps the best goal ever scored in the Champions League final.
Madrid required a series of unfathomable goals in order to overcome Liverpool, and as such the Reds should be proud of their performance and their achievement.
After all was said and done, it can be noted that Madrid were deserved winners, but they didn’t deserve to win in the way they did. The way they emerged victorious belied Liverpool’s true quality and made them look less than Madrid’s equal, and while few would argue that Madrid are far more accomplished than Liverpool, the final was a disappointing whimper when it should have gone off with a bang.