The Enthusiast

The ‘defiant’ Enthusiast

Let’s not mess about here, losing in that way is hard to take. To watch your goalkeeper make not one, but two horrendous mistakes that cost you the game invokes indescribable feelings of anger. The game may not have been any closer if it weren’t for Loris Karius’ errors but it certainly wouldn’t have been so easy for Real Madrid to win. Gifting them the trophy is a bitter pill to swallow and I’m sure many people would prefer to have been outclassed by Real instead. I can understand that view, I really can. It would certainly make it easier to look at Karius today.

Just think about that for a second though, and think about what you’d be asking for. You’d be asking for Real Madrid to deserve what they go on Saturday. You’d be asking for a gulf in class that would probably be devastating to watch. Do we really want Liverpool to be behind any team? Do we want to be off the pace of anyone? Do we want anyone to really be better than us? Of course, we don’t, that’s stupid. We want to be the best. We want teams to have to catch us on an off day or have some sort of uncanny luck to beat us. We definitely don’t want mistakes on our end but we don’t want to be shown up either.

For me, that is the most heartening thing to take from the game itself on Saturday night. We were in it throughout. Yes, Real probably were the better side in the second half but we were competitive for around eighty minutes. In fact, for the opening half-hour, I believe we shaded it. The sheer presence of Mo Salah had them rattled to the point that they had to injure him and put him out of the game to not have to deal with. We have Sergio Ramos to thank for that. Credit to him. He’s nasty and he uses it to his advantage. I only wish we had more nasty players in our side.

Real Madrid are born winners and know how to win this competition in particular. Making us favourites before kick-off was naive on anyone’s part who did so. We went to Kyiv and we stood toe-to-toe with the reigning champions of Europe for eighty minutes. They had to take our best player out of the game and capitalise on two huge goalkeeping errors to win.

They couldn’t handle our pressing at the back for the opening half-an-hour. We went 1-0 down and showed tremendous character to peg them back just two minutes later. Our nineteen-year-old right-back silenced one of the greatest, the greatest in my eyes, for the majority of the game. Do you see now how much went against us here? Do you see how unfortunate we were to lose this football match?

It’s disappointing, yes, but it isn’t disheartening. Good times are back at Anfield. We have made it to three cup finals in as many years and we may not have won them, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. We have a man steering this ship who understands us, who gets this club and its fans.

We have a team built in our image and players who also get us, the fans. We came up short on this night but what about all the other nights? What about Roma and Manchester City? What about Porto? They were great nights we’ll never forget. This is by no means a failure. This is not the end. This is only the beginning.

There were performances all over the pitch from players who had a point to prove. Dejan Lovren has taken massive stick this season, a lot of it from myself. On Saturday night though he showed he belongs at this club. He was admirable for ninety minutes, is right Dejan lad.

Virgil Van Dijk is another I wasn’t keen on in the beginning. He looks like £75 million well spent now but some said he hadn’t come against truly testing opposition yet. Well, how does Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema sound? He led fantastically and proved he belonged. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have apparently been in “great form”. In Kyiv, they proved that class is permanent. Alexander-Arnold had one of the best to ever play the game in his back pocket for ninety minutes. The lad is going places.

I’ve said all season that this team, these lads, are on the verge of something special and I couldn’t put my finger on what. I really thought it was the Champions League but, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. That doesn’t mean that destiny has deserted them or their fate has been derailed, it simply means that this train is still rolling.

There is plenty more to come from this team, plenty more work to be done to improve it. It isn’t perfect and I don’t want it to be. Flaws have proved to be thrilling this season but we want more of these nights. We want to go back to another Champions League and we want more trips to Wembley. Klopp will strengthen in the summer but now isn’t a time for that. It’s a time for appreciating what these lads, this gang of insane, intense, composed, fantastic lads, have accomplished over the past nine months. We hadn’t played Champions League football for three years before last August and we made a show of ourselves that time. This season we announced our return by beating some of Europe’s best and making it all the way to the final.

This Champions League run has inspired some great fan songs but one of my favourites is a reworking of ‘Solsbury Hill’ by Peter Gabriel. The final two lines are “we’ll travel Europe up and down until we regain our rightful crown.” Our crown hasn’t been regained yet. I suppose we’ll have to keep travelling around Europe until it has been.