Red Letter: Final defeat hurts, but Liverpool can dream again

Date published: Thursday 19th May 2016 3:45

Liverpool: Manner of Sevilla defeat the hardest part

The manner of the Europa League final defeat was devastating for Liverpool fans, but Dave Tindall is confident better times lay ahead under Jurgen Klopp.

And it all went wrong.

It all went so horribly wrong.

At half-time on Wednesday night, I texted a mate and said: “Looks like we’re going to win a final without a massive load of stress for once,” – a nod to previous dramas such as AC Milan, West Ham and Cardiff.

I was also mentally writing this column.

I could talk about how we always win European finals when we’re in red and the opposition are in white (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Bruges, Real Madrid, Roma, AC Milan etc).

I could also write about the enormous impact the fans had made. The St. Jakob-Park stadium was 80%-20% in our favour and the small capacity meant the concentration of pure red was even stronger.

I could also eulogise about Daniel Sturridge’s world-class opener. Its context and pure quality meant it was my goal of the season.

I could also talk about the Klopp effect and how the incredible drive and pure charisma of our manager had turned us from also-rans to trophy winners in the space of seven months. We were off to the Champions League and these wins over Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Villarreal and Sevilla proved we were ready for it.

But, like a gambler who had mentally spent his winnings before actually pocketing them, I’d jumped the gun. I’d underestimated Sevilla and 45 minutes later I was slumped in a chair with egg all over my face.

Just before the second half kicked off, an incoming text from a fellow Red said simply, “So far so good.”

As the referee blew his whistle, my reply whizzed into the ether. They hadn’t had a shot on target in the first 45 minutes so Simon Mignolet was a virtual spectator. We’d be fine.

Seventeen seconds later he was picking the ball out of the Liverpool net.

The accepted narrative is that this was the game changer, the turning point which cost Liverpool the final.

But when I rewind my thoughts – and I’ll be doing a lot of that over the next few days and weeks when mulling this game over – I didn’t for one moment think, “Oh, that’s us done then”. No, I simply thought, “Here we go again, making it hard for ourselves”. At the time, it seemed an unnecessary hiccup on our road to victory.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - MAY 18: Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool and players look on at the award ceremoy after the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Klopp still struggles to get the right English words out sometimes but he was spot on in his press conference after losing in his fifth straight final (is there anything in that?).

“It’s not good to concede a goal immediately after half-time but we have 44 minutes minimum to strike back, so where’s the problem? The reaction was the problem.”

Exactly. It was a blow from which we never recovered, but why?

Klopp doesn’t have a magic wand that instils instant belief. Make no mistake, he’s done an exceptional job in raising confidence and, without doubt, that’s shone through numerous times this season. Think back to those late equalisers against West Brom, Arsenal and Chelsea.

But he’s still just seven months and 52 games into his reign. If belief is going to waver, it’s likely to happen on the ultimate stage when the pressure is at its most intense. In other words, a European final with everything at stake.

The other crucial part of the self-belief equation is that we were up against a team who had bags of it having won this tournament for the last two seasons.

To call their opening 45 minutes mediocre would be being kind. But those wins in 2014 and 2015 told Sevilla that they were the top dogs in this competition. A one-goal deficit after 45 minutes? No problem.

The final stats showed that they had just four shots on target. Three of them went in. As soon as we wobbled, they moved in for the kill. The Spaniards were ruthless.

You’d imagine it would have been a very different story had beaten semi-finalists Shakhtar Donetsk been our opponents in Switzerland. No good bleating, though. They weren’t.

On a night of self-reflection, the ever-honest James Milner also called it right when asked to instantly sum up his thoughts whilst still dripping with sweat and disappointment.

“It’s devastating losing the game but I think the most disappointing thing is that we didn’t show anywhere near what we’re about, didn’t play anywhere near our abilities. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

Seeing your side lose a final is hard. Seeing them losing it from a seemingly comfortable and winning position at half-time is even harder. But, as Milner alluded to, it hurts even more when you watch your team simply fail to have any sort of response or answer when the going gets tough.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - MAY 18: In this handout image provided by UEFA, Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool attends a press conference after the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland. Sevilla won 3-1. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

Self-belief was at the root of that and it’s a brutal lesson to learn when a trophy and the golden ticket of direct entry into the Champions League group stage are on the line.

You win and lose as a team and at least this was a collective failure. Sure, Alberto Moreno messed up for the first goal and was out of position (as he so often is) at other key moments.

But no-one got him out of jail. Apart from one wonderful swing of his left foot, Sturridge wasn’t at his best, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were strangely anonymous and perhaps only Kolo Toure truly did himself proud. Perhaps, as someone who has won lots of trophies before, that is no coincidence.

“We lost faith in our style of play,” Klopp lamented in his press conference later.

What happens next will be the subject of a future column. For now, Liverpool have to take this on the chin and remind themselves that no European football next season is an opportunity to throw some big punches in the Premier League. The lighter schedule worked for Leicester and it worked for us when we went so close to the title in 2013/14.

So, that was season 2015/16. Never dull, full of twists, some incredible highs and some gut-wrenching lows. Many magical chapters but no fairytale ending.

Sure, we go into each season wanting to win every game and lift every trophy but football, like life, is never that simple.

This is the start of a journey under Jurgen Klopp and although losing in two finals is hard to take right now, we all know the words to the song, don’t we.

Roll on next season and let the dark storms of Wembley and Basel give way to the golden skies.

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