Sunday 18 August 2019

Liverpool dig deep as Klopp earns place among Anfield greats

Mo Salah celebrates scoring Liverpool’s first goal from the penalty spot in last night’s 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. Photo: Susana Vera/Reuters
Mo Salah celebrates scoring Liverpool’s first goal from the penalty spot in last night’s 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. Photo: Susana Vera/Reuters

Sam Wallace

The sixth star sewn onto the Liverpool shirt and a place among the Anfield greats for Jurgen Klopp, where they have compiled a European history unsurpassed in the English game of famous victories and great finals - of which, strangely, this, the occasion of their sixth European Cup, was neither.

It is hard to reconcile the immense achievement of Klopp's Liverpool, the transformation of a mediocre Premier League team into the champions of Europe in less than four years, with this their meekest squeak in a season in which they have roared.

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It was admirable in ways different to the team we have come to know, a performance of resilience and concentration, a perfect performance on an imperfect night. In the end it was their cussedness that won them this game, the brilliance of their goalkeeper Alisson, the muscle memory of a tired Virgil Van Dijk, carrying their team on in the defence of a lead gifted to them by a dubious first minute penalty, converted by Mo Salah.

Then as Tottenham Hotspur gathered everything for one last push, that old Champions League assassin Divock Origi, on as a substitute, pounced in the penalty area and this final which had barely come alive was dead at last.

Klopp's team had found a way to win when they had looked at their most vulnerable and that is perhaps their last step on the road to greatness: a team that understands what it takes, in the good times and the bad.

They could not reel in Manchester City this season but they came for the biggest prize with a shrewdness that was beyond Spurs. Klopp's team may well have learned their ringcraft this time last year from Sergio Ramos and his team of once perennial winners.

None of Klopp's circle of stars were firing, not even their penalty goalscorer Mohamed Salah, and yet they seemed to make their peace with this swiftly. They buckled up for the ride on a night when all that mattered was the win.

"I'm so happy for the boys," said Klopp. "I'm so happy for all these people, I'm so happy for my family, they suffer every year when we go to the final last game of the season and we lose it. Did you ever see a team like this? Fighting with absolutely no fuel in the tank any more.

"We have a goalkeeper that makes difficult things look easy, very nice thank you very much. This is unbelievable, what a night, the night will be much better now. It's really the best night of my life professional-wise."

The thunder of two astonishing semi-final comebacks made us believe that this would be the final that had it all, and yet in the end this great showcase of Premier League power and wealth was a discordant note.

What will be the great regret for Mauricio Pochettino? That penalty awarded against Moussa Sissoko for handball, which many referees and many video assistant referees on different days would have advised against.

Then once that was done the hesitancy of his Spurs team in finding that spark that has seen them beat opponents who played much better than Liverpool did on this night at least.

"Of course I think we need to feel very proud about the effort, how we fight, for the ride to this final," said Pochettino. "We were very unlucky, you see the goal from the penalty. We played so well in the second half. It's not easy to play against a team that has played consistently very well, taking risks, I feel so proud."

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