As the final whistle blew on an exhilarating Champions League final at the Stade De France on Saturday, 28th May 2022, Liverpool fans had once again found themselves at the sharp end of a now familiar feeling— the emphatic demolition of European hopes at the hands of Real Madrid.
Tears of shock were mixed with sighs of unbelief as Los Blancos, who find a way to make themselves underdogs while being undisputed European royalty, had somehow survived a 90-minute Liverpool bombardment (take a bow, Thibaut Courtois) and snatched their 14th UEFA Champions League crown through a moment of brilliance from Vinícius Jr and Fede Valverde.
Defiant after what was a heartbreaking loss where they had certainly been the better team for stretches of the game, Coach Jürgen Klopp had charged the disappointed Anfield faithful to “book the hotel” ahead of the 2023 Champions League final in Istanbul. Such was the overriding sense of belief and self-confidence that Klopp had made such a definite pronouncement, confident in his team’s ability to bounce back as they had done in 2019, after a demoralizing loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 final.
However, as the downcast Liverpool players trudged off the Santiago Bernabéu turf on Tuesday night following an emphatic 6-2 aggregate drubbing by… Well… Real Madrid, one can’t help but wonder where it all went wrong for the Reds in such a short period.
How do you go from Champions League finalists, FA Cup and Carabao Cup winner and Premier League runner-up (by a single point, mind) to this hot mess that is barely holding on to sixth position, has only managed to stink up the Champions League last 16, and is out of all domestic cups?
One could be tempted to go for the easy answers— Sadio Mane’s exit to Bayern Munich, lack of proper midfield investment by the owners, and niggling injuries to key midfield performers like Thiago Alcântara and Naby Keïta, but the glaring truth is that this team’s issues are much more than a few departures and midfield injuries.
Looking at this Liverpool team, they seem to have lost the hunger and ruthless tenacity that is the hallmark of Klopp’s teams. They are sloppy in possession, chase down balls with much less ferocity, and even seem content at soaking up the pressure at times when they used to be famous for cranking up the pressure on their opponents.
Where has Klopp’s Red Machine gone?
After an absolutely shambolic first leg at Anfield where the Reds somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by changing an early 2-0 lead into a 5-2 loss, one would have hoped that this team would have at least switched it up at the Bernabéu and tried to redeem their first leg debacle, especially after witnessing the way they effortlessly decimated a red-hot Manchester United team two weeks ago.
Instead, Klopp’s men had been shaky and uncertain, carrying over their lethargic performance from a 1-0 loss to Bournemouth over the weekend, ultimately not making Real Madrid even have to break a sweat for their qualification.
This is a team that is in a big physical as well as psychological funk, and to have any hope of wading out of this muck, prompt attention has to be given not just to quality reinforcements for the squad, but also to the mentality of existing players, to reinstall that belief and confidence that was surging through this team in the past few years.
As we watch Liverpool flatter to deceive every week, we also hope that Turkish hotels have a hitch-free refund policy, because I reckon many among the Kop will have no need for those Istanbul rooms booked for late May 😉.
By: Emeka Nnaike