Liverpool's swashbuckling style won them fans on the way to Kyiv, where they fell short against Real Madrid. But while Jürgen Klopp’s pursuit of the European Cup goes on, he’s closer than ever to achieving greatness.
Liverpool's brand of high-octane "big balls" football, to quote Jürgen Klopp himself, has captured the imagination this season.
More goals than anyone else in the Champions League and an insatiable desire to outscore the opponent at any cost has made Liverpool a pleasure to watch and their path to Kyiv an infectious journey of emotion and nostalgia.
But what could have been an exciting night to savor morphed into a nightmare as Liverpool were crushed by an early injury to their Egyptian talisman Mohamed Salah, the world's best player this year, and two unfathomable individual errors by German goalkeeper Loris Karius.
While the Liverpool coach could do nothing to stop Real Madrid captain and master of the dark arts, Sergio Ramos, from ensuring Salah's night ended in tears, Klopp can be held somewhat responsible for failing to sign a top class goalkeeper in either of the last two transfer windows. His failure to act on an obvious weakness in his squad has come back to haunt him — and Karius — on the biggest stage and in brutal fashion.
Building something special
It shouldn't be forgotten that Liverpool only reached the Champions League via a playoff against Hoffenheim and Klopp's achievement of getting them to the final, with stylish and memorable victories against Porto, Manchester City and Roma along the way, is a significant one. He is building something special at Anfield, but reinforcements to his squad are vital if Klopp is to end his run of six successive final defeats.
"We are Liverpool, we are different," was his rallying call in the hours leading up to their showdown with Real Madrid, and the Reds were lively and effervescent in the early stages against an opponent who seemed frightened of Liverpool's movement and energy.
But Liverpool eventually succumbed to a Real Madrid side who not only know how to handle anything that is thrown at them, but have the depth of quality that Liverpool lack. While Real coach Zinedine Zidane was able to throw on Gareth Bale, who can bathe in the glory of having scored one of the finest goals to ever grace a Champions League final, Klopp's Plan B for Salah was Adam Lallana, who was recovering form a lengthy injury.
Real Madrid are, in Klopp's own words, a "group of players that work like a clock from Switzerland." And yet Liverpool have looked like a well-oiled machine in European competition as well. The difference is that Zidane had the tools at his disposal to change the game — and did so to great effect. Klopp effectively had one hand tied behind his back.
'Fun, excitement and expression'
But it's all a process and Klopp should now be able to demand the funds to embellish his squad with the kind of quality that wasn't possible when he collected his first Champions League runners-up medal with Borussia Dortmund in 2013. That team disintegrated one-by-one while Liverpool should be able to move in the opposite direction, provided Salah doesn't have his head turned.
This Real Madrid team has now emulated the great Ajax and Bayern Munich sides of the 1970s by winning this storied competition three times on the bounce. It's 13 European Cups for them and Zidane becomes the first coach to win the titel in three consecutive seasons. There can be no doubt that this night belonged to Los Blancos, as Spain seals its 13th of the last possible 19 major European trophies.
For Liverpool, they have brought fun, excitement and expression to the Champions League and won plenty of fans along the way — and that has Klopp's fingerprints all over it. For Klopp himself, he's still closer than ever to achieving the greatness his coaching career deserves.