Under the floodlights of the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Liverpool suffered heartbreak as they fell 3-1 to Real Madrid.
Despite dominating proceedings for the first half an hour, Liverpool were unable to find a breakthrough. Mane’s equaliser following Benzema’s opener gave Reds reason to believe. Substitute Gareth Bale had other things in mind though as he notched a brace to seal victory for the Madridistas.
With Real Madrid clinching their 3rd sucessive title, and their 4th in 5 years, here are the talking points from the night in Kiev.
Nightmarish Outing For Karius
Since ousting Mignolet as Klopp’s No 1, Karius has hardly put a foot wrong in goal. In fact, he has kept 10 clean sheets in 19 Premier League appearances, and a further 6 clean sheets in 11 Champions League outing. Some fans were convinced that Karius is the right keeper for next season, and his reflex stop to deny Ronaldo at close range early in the game seemed to affirm that. However, that was as good as things got.
With the score at 0-0, Karius came to collect a loose ball and looked to throw the ball out to start an attack quickly. All that was great, except that he didn’t consider Benzema in front of him. What happened next was either comical or painful to watch (depending on your view), with the Frenchman netting probably the easiest goal of his career.
Things didn’t get any better after that. As the Reds were chasing the game with the scoreline in Real Madrid’s favour, Gareth Bale decided to take his chances and attempted a speculative shot from range. Instead of a routine catch, the German inexplicably spilled the ball into his own net.
At the final whistle, Karius was understandably distraught. He knows, as everyone does, that his mistakes caused Liverpool the game. The travelling supporters were full of sympathy as Karius sought their forgiveness, but deep down everyone knows that his No 1 spot is now no longer in safe hands.
From the start, Liverpool were without a doubt the better side. Real Madrid had no idea how to deal with Liverpool’s heavy metal football, with the men in Red swarming them at every instance. With both Salah and Mane running in behind the Real Madrid defence, it felt inevitable that Liverpool would find the opener sooner or later.
Then came Salah’s injury.
Up until that point, Salah had been Liverpool’s chief creator with 2 chances. However, Sergio Ramos WWE-style tackle left the Egyptian clutching his left shoulder in pain. Despite his valiant efforts, Mo was unable to carry on and he left the pitch with tears in his eyes.
Immediately, Liverpool’s style of play switched with the Reds forced into their own half for the majority of the game. Without Salah, they only had Mane to rely upon for pace and directness. In fact, a statistic provided by Twitter user @PaulCarrTM revealed that up until the 31st minute, Liverpool had 111 attacking touches to Madrid’s 57. However after Salah’s departure, Liverpool only had 7 attcking touches while Real Madrid had a whopping 149.
Speaking to liverpoolfc.com, Wijnaldum conceded that “with Mo Salah we are a better team”. He went on to say: “We started well, the first 30-35 minutes I think we did a great job and stopped them from playing and everything. We created a few possibilities to score a goal, but I think after the injury of Mo it was really difficult for us.”
Without a doubt, Salah’s injury severly hampered Liverpool’s ability to win the tie. We can only now hope that our Egyptian King gets well in time for the World Cup.
2 Contrasting Squad Depth
With the score at 0-0 and the net wide open, Isco somehow slammed his shot against the crossbar to let Liverpool off. This was followed up by another crucial miss when both teams were tied at 1-1. Real Madrid’s manager had obviously seen enough and decided to haul off the Spanish for Bale.
Bale’s impact was almost instant, with the Whelshman meeting Marcelo’s cross with an acrobatic overhead kick that left neutrals applauding. And that was barely 3 minutes after being subbed on. Bale then followed it up with another crucial goal to become the first substitute in Champions League history to notch a brace. Effectively, Zidane’s substitute won the Madridistas their 3rd successive European crown.
In contrast, Salah’s replacement was Lallana, a player who had just returned from injury and was lacking match fitness. As much as he huffed and puffed, the former Southamptom man couldn’t make a telling contribution to Liverpool’s attack. And at 3-1 down, Emre Can, another player to return from injury, was sent on to try to salvage something out of the game. Obviously, that didn’t work but no one could fault Klopp for that given the options he had on the bench.
Liverpool’s starting XI is more than a match for Real Madrid’s, but as a squad, their without a doubt weaker than their opponents. Zidane could call up the likes of Bale, Asensio and Kovacic to change the game. Klopp on the other hand had the virtually untested Solanke to call upon, with Lallana and Can lacking match fitness.
Such a gulf in class between the substitutes only emphasise that Liverpool have to spend in the summer. To win titles, a manager not only needs a strong XI, but a strong squad. Hopefully, the night in Kiev reminded Klopp of that and he’ll address the issue come this transfer window.