By Frank Gamble
How did it happen, and more importantly, why did it happen?
A few weeks ago, I was eulogising about a new chapter but unfortunately, it’s the same script. This hurts; this really hurts because I think this time, everyone understands the implications of what we have let slip. They were urged by their manager to go out and become legends but yet again they choked, fluffed their lines. On paper, this becomes as poor a season as any since Liverpool were promoted back to the big time in 1962; finishing eighth, no cups, no European qualification. Bad “stats”, but hey, when have statistics ever won football matches. You can mould them to suit whatever argument you want but you cannot argue with facts.
And the fact is we simply weren’t good enough on the night. The question is as one learned scribe suggested in this morning’s press: have we been punching above our weight in this season’s Europa League? I would like to think not. I would like to think that the manner in which Manchester United were dispatched, Dortmund surmounted and Villareal punished for having the temerity to score a last minute goal in the first leg counts for something; but what? Seville are a very good football team and were worthy winners last night but for fifteen minutes before half time, we were our real selves and had the ball in the net twice. I don’t know who the imposters were in red shirts for the other seventy five minutes. I genuinely didn’t think it was because our opponents handled our style particularly well, I just think that we lost our way and too many people underperformed. But were they playing to specific orders? I doubt it. Why would Klopp change his tried and trusted methods for a one off game. That said, last night was the first time I wondered about and questioned his tactical nous. In the second half, a blind man on a galloping horse could see that we were being overrun in midfield. Adam Llalana ran around all night like an irritating bluebottle continually being swatted by opponents. Emre Can laboured and the two Brazilians just didn’t turn up and neither did Milner.
Jurgen had his captain on the bench who, if nothing else, would have introduced some energy to the proceedings but chose “Jesus” Allen instead and that spoke volumes and raises major questions.
Is Klopp as tactically astute as we are led to believe or was that a damning indictment of his opinion of his skipper and Henderson’s leadership qualities? Because that is what we lack, leadership. We have no leaders on the pitch and haven’t had all season. If Henderson wasn’t completely fit, then that is another matter but he shouldnt have been taking up such a valuable place on the bench if so, but that’s not his fault. Klopp has been lauded, and rightly, so for his achievements in Germany winning a couple of Bundesliga titles but this was the fifth cup final he has lost. A bit too much for my liking to be just bad luck. It seems more careless to me.
The result will make his summer a lot more difficult than a victory would have. Will he still be able to attract his prime targets without European competition on offer and will it make it harder to move on the players who have failed again?
Of the eleven that started this final, Sturridge is the one I would build the team around. How must he feel now after scoring such an sublimely, outrageous goal like that only for his teammates to submit the lead he gave them without a whimper.
When he’s fit, he consistently delivers the most precious commodity in football, goals. Problem is, if he has a good Euros with England, how many suitors will be knocking on our door and will he want to stay now he has proved what he can do on the big stage? I hope he does because we cannot keep finding prolific goalscorers only to help them enhance their reputations and worth without silverware being put in our cabinet.
I still believe in the Jurgen Klopp, not that many have wavered since last night. So far he has been cute. We’ve had the charm offensive and it’s worked beautifully. He resisted the chance to buy in January opting to utilise his oversized squad and assess what he had, which was canny and done to great effect. But the honeymoon ended in Basel. This was Rodgers’s team and full of chokers, again, so there will be a few divorces over the coming months. If Klopp’s is as good in the transfer market as he is winning hearts and minds then next season will be something special. He will have roughly twenty five percent games less to play so injuries and fatigue will hopefully be less of an issue than the season that has just passed. Ings and Gomez will be like two new signings and the squad leaner in numbers but mentally stronger.
We know the priorities, so he must do too. A keeper who is more than a shot stopper, full backs that can defend as well as overlap. Centre backs that can command and midfielders who show a bit more steel when the going gets tough. Most of all, we need a leader. Is there a young incantation of Souness and Gerrard out there yearning to wear a red shirt? If Jurgen can tick all those boxes, then Dan the Man will be doing a lot of dancing on the touchline.
Its been a strange season. Arduous and stressful with a roller-coaster ride of peaks and troughs. In a way it came full circle, a circle that was twenty seven years in the making. Back in 1989, the final game against Arsenal proved one hurdle too many so soon after the Hillsborough tragedy. Perhaps Seville proved to be the same shortly after the verdict everybody wanted was finally reached. It was a marathon, but not unique. The difference was back in the seventies and early eighties when we played a similar amount of games, there was always a trophy at the end of it.
So we will spend the summer break stoically licking our wounds and being pragmatic about our efforts but by the end of July, be chomping at the bit to get started all over again.
The good news is that the only glass ceiling will be on the roof of our new stand since Leicester shattered the one in the Premier League so what are the odds of a nineteenth title?
As good as anyone else’s I think.