Saturday 21 September 2019

Stephen Hunt: Klopp was warned - he has to sign a top keeper

Liverpool's Loris Karius is dejected with manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool's Loris Karius is dejected with manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah walks off the pitch after picking up an injury. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Stephen Hunt

Sergio Ramos is one of the most cynical players to have played the game. And if you play on the edge and go out to do the maximum amount of damage, eventually you will succeed.

He will have done worse things than the injury he inflicted on Mo Salah, and got away with them.

Ramos cannot have expected to cause a suspected dislocated shoulder to Salah, but when he dragged him to the ground and rolled on him, he will have hoped to do enough to force him off the field and hurt Liverpool's chances. And he succeeded.

Of course the injury to Salah was a huge blow to Jurgen Klopp's team. Salah has been their outstanding player this season, he's a match-winner and the final in Kiev was made for him and his talents.

It came at a crucial point in the game. Liverpool made a very bright start and they had Madrid pinned into their own half. With the exit of Salah, Liverpool understandably lost their way for a while, allowing Madrid back into the game.

It could also prove a real blow for Salah, not just to miss out on the majority of the Champions League final, but he is also in danger of missing the World Cup finals now. No wonder he was in tears before he went down the tunnel.

In that first 20 minutes of the first half, Liverpool were getting the full-backs forward, involving the front three as much as possible and pressing high up the pitch, especially when Raphael Varane and Casemiro were on the ball.

The first good opening for Liverpool in the 15th minute summed up their positivity in the early part of the game. It came from winning possession inside the Real half; Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah were involved with some intricate passing and it needed a good challenge from Ramos to kill the danger and clear.

And then seconds later, the ball broke to Cristiano Ronaldo in the area and he shot just over. He should have passed to Karim Benzema, but of course Ronaldo had a shot on goal.

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Although every Real player had played in a Champions League final before, they looked nervier than the Liverpool team who were relaxed in the build-up through the week and once the game started in the Olimpiyskiy Stadium the loose passes into touch were very unlike Zinedine Zidane players.

The loss of Salah changed the game for them but Liverpool looked confident from the start and they played at the right tempo. Real Madrid, however, have shown that ability to stay in games throughout the competition, which is why they knocked out the champions from Germany, Italy and France.

Their midfield is built on creativity, and getting the crosses in to Ronaldo. The Liverpool midfield is there to destroy and catch the opposition on the counter attack.

And Ronaldo should have scored before half-time from the Spanish side's one clear-cut chance. Liverpool allowed too many crosses into the area and were fortunate to get away with it on that occasion because usually, if you get the ball into the area for Ronaldo, he will punish you. But Loris Karius read it well, and made a good save.

Unfortunately the Liverpool goalkeeper had a brain freeze for the opening goal. You can understand why he was desperately appealing for a foul by Karim Benzema but it was just an awful error and Karius was simply trying to be too clever and was punished by the Madrid striker. He only needed to take a step to his right to throw the ball out but it was a lazy and arrogant effort.

It was important that Liverpool responded quickly to that blow and Mane's equaliser just four minutes later did not allow Real time to dig in and take the game beyond Klopp's men.

I am sure Mane will have enjoyed the opportunity to be the hero for Liverpool with Salah gone off injured.

But Gareth Bale took the honour instead. Special players do special things on special nights and to score a goal like that in the Champions League final is unreal. It has probably earned Bale a move back to the Premier League. Although how can you sell a man who has scored two goals on an occasion like that?

I would question Karius for that goal too. He was not set properly and he dived rather than taking a step so that he was in a position to stop a shot into the top corner. And it came from a cross.

But his error for the third was unforgivable. Klopp was warned about his goalkeepers this season and he has to act and get a world-class man in during the summer. It was noticeable none of the Liverpool players went over to console Karius at the final whistle. It looks like they have had enough of him too.

I feel for the Liverpool players, who have given so much this season, and Klopp, who has lost six finals in a row. That is cruel.

And I particularly feel sorry for the Liverpool fans who gave up so much to get to Kiev, created a fantastic atmosphere and saw the European Cup slip through their hands through two stupid, horrible mistakes.

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