Thursday 22 August 2019

Relieved Reds exorcise the ghosts of self-doubt


Divock Origi celebrates scoring the team’s second goal, dashing Spurs’ comeback hopes. Photo: Reuters
Divock Origi celebrates scoring the team’s second goal, dashing Spurs’ comeback hopes. Photo: Reuters

Chris Bascombe

'There are places I remember all my life,' read one of the flags in the Liverpool zone of Estadio Metropolitano. They were talking about Rome, Paris and Istanbul, scenes of the greatest conquests. Athens, Basel and Kiev, where Liverpool have been suffered most recently, are the subject of selective amnesia.

Madrid's place on the memory map was to be determined.

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The dearth of quality in a particularly scruffy first half gave the impression the occasion was destined to be recalled more than the game itself - although it was inevitable Mo Salah would use previous harrowing Champions League experience as motivation.

He will remember Kiev more than most. It took two minutes for the Egyptian to make amends for the personal anguish incurred at the hands of Sergio Ramos, granted the opportunity by generous refereeing. No one could talk about his lack of luck last night.

There was a brief consultation as Salah realised the usual penalty-taker, James Milner, was on the bench. The demons of Kiev sped from his left boot as he fired past Hugo Lloris.

This is a stage where players such as Salah are expected to cement their world-class status. Numerous times Sadio Mané was left to wave arms in frustration as Salah hunted his second goal in preference to the early pass.

This has been the minor defect in Salah's game throughout his extraordinary two years on Merseyside, a tunnel vision easily overlooked by the regularity of goal feats. Liverpool needed him to step up for more than just a penalty.

So sloppy was Liverpool's play in the immediate aftermath of scoring, so worryingly nervous, they could ill-afford trusted match winners to catch the bug.

At one point midway through the first half, Jordan Henderson appeared to perform a jig of vexation as another pass from the back drifted out of play.

Jurgen Klopp would never have acknowledged it, but Liverpool carried a fear into this final, one that showed in their early work. It could not have been a fear of Tottenham, only a fear of the repercussions of failure. The fear was 'what if it happens again?' Despite the gift of an early penalty, Liverpool came out as if they knew the quips lay in wait; bridesmaids too often; perennial losers; the Jimmy White of European football.

The were craving for the victory to reassert the club as the most successful in British football, and close in on AC Milan's seven victories in the competition - second only to Real Madrid. Another loss would consolidate the modern Liverpool's position as the club that has developed an allergy to silver.

Since their fifth Champions League trophy in 2005, Liverpool have taken just two trophies back to Anfield. It is an abysmal return.

Yet within this barren spell is an exceptional collection of near misses.

Taking in last night, the last 14 years include three Champions League finals, a Europa Cup final, three runners-up spots in the Premier League, an FA Cup final defeat and League Cup final defeats. There have been semi-final defeats in all the major competitions and multiple Champions League quarter-final appearances to add to this collection, Liverpool regularly threatening to add to the honours board but fighting against the idea of being paralysed when in sight of the winning enclosure.

The tapestry of banners decorating half of Madrid recalled only the winning European tradition, feeding the romance of Liverpool's continental invasions. Spanish TV previewed the game with the image of Philip II's armada making a return trip draped in Liverpool red.

"Conquistadors," read another of those home-made banners. They looked far from that. How they wanted to plant those flags permanently on Spanish soil in the same way as in Rome when Bob Paisley first won the European Cup in 1977. How they needed to see their players reassert such a reputation in the second half.

For all the excellence of Klopp's work, all the plaudits, these finals continue to be forks in the road. Paisley's win in 1977 was not only the culmination of years of European experience - some of it painful - but the trigger for a dominant era.

Klopp will be hoping the wait for his own Anfield catalyst is now over.


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