Real Madrid emerged 3-1 winners on a night that will be remembered for a defining injury and some goalkeeping blunders
Uefa Champions League final proved a cruel affair for Liverpool pair Salah and Karius
The plot line would have sounded irresistible to Liverpool. A match-winning double from the No 11, one of them the sort of spectacular strike destined to go down in folklore? This, it would have seemed, was the perfect ending to Mohamed Salah’s fairytale season.
It was not, of course. The symbolic sight of Salah exiting in tears, his shoulder or collarbone apparently damaged by Sergio Ramos, his World Cup seemingly over before it began, confirmed that long before Gareth Bale entered proceedings to turn the Uefa Champions League final with a dynamic cameo, forged of brilliance, with his overhead kick, and blundering, from the unfortunate Loris Karius, who let his second goal slip through his fingers.
From a Liverpool perspective, the 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid is destined to be remembered for two players: the luckless Salah and the hapless Karius, who was still more culpable for Karim Benzema’s opener, throwing the ball at the Frenchman’s outstretched foot.
The German has been the antithesis of the timid Simon Mignolet. He can be cocky, but he looked crushed by career-defining mistakes, crying in apology to supporters afterwards. The psychological damage could be considerable.
Even a motivator of Jurgen Klopp’s prowess may struggle to rebuild Karius’ confidence. Even a loyalist like Klopp, whose faith in his players has allowed some to reach heights few foresaw and permitted Andrew Robertson and Dejan Lovren to deliver terrific displays in the biggest game of their lives, may have to admit defeat and resort to the transfer market.
While the indications from Anfield had been that Liverpool would persist with Karius, it is not a kneejerk reaction to suggest they need to sign a goalkeeper. Klopp is an admirer of the Brazilian Allison but Roma are scarred by selling Salah on the cheap last summer: negotiations may be costly.
So, sadly for Karius, was his display in Kiev: this is a third European Cup final that will be indelibly associated with a Liverpool goalkeeper, but it was not a sequel to Bruce Grobbelaar and Jerzy Dudek’s heroics.
Salah’s significance was reflected 24 hours earlier when mobile-phone footage emerged of Jamie Carragher singing Liverpool fans’ salute to their top scorer. Hopes were invested in their “Egyptian king,” including those of a man with 737 Liverpool appearances to his name, and after a bright first 25 minutes, Liverpool looked drained of belief when Salah was substituted. Simply and correctly, Klopp called it “a shock”.
It highlighted faultlines in the squad. Injuries have in effect reduced Liverpool to 11 players in recent weeks; they lost the most important of the 11. It said something that Adam Lallana was Salah’s replacement. A fully-fit Lallana is a bona fide Klopp player: with 16 minutes of first-team football since March and one league start all season, the Englishman was understandably ineffective.
The contrast in the respective benches was underlined when Bale struck twice. Liverpool have lacked that strength in depth since Philippe Coutinho decamped for the Nou Camp.
Their front three had camouflaged his departure; as Klopp only signs players he really wants, Liverpool should not be faulted for panic-buying a substandard replacement.
Plans are now afoot to bring in Lyon’s Nabil Fekir to adopt similar duties, either in the midfield or the front three; how Liverpool could have done with him in Ukraine.
Because, for different reasons, only one of their supercharged Key Three was at his best. Roberto Firmino was uncharacteristically sloppy, with passes misplaced and decisions misjudged.
Over the season, Sadio Mane has been the least prolific of the trio, but in the two biggest matches, he has been the best. He scored and struck the post, just as he found the net in the semi-final second leg against Roma. His final leveller made Liverpool the first team ever to have three players record 10 Champions League goals in a season.
It is another indication of how extraordinary their European campaign has been. It could be the springboard: with Naby Keita definitely joining and Fekir perhaps following, they may return stronger.
Yet it will be a feat if Salah regains the astonishing momentum that propelled him to such statistical and footballing feats and a surprise if Karius is back as Liverpool’s first choice. In different ways, this was the cruellest of Champions League finals for them.