As Liverpool fans eagerly book their tickets to Kiev for May 26th, they will barely be able to believe they are doing so. When the season began they would not have dreamed they would be heading to yet another European final come the end of it.
It had been a long three years since they had last graced Europe’s top table, and a Europa League run, which ultimately ended in defeat to Sevilla, had only made the desire to see Champions League football at Anfield all the stronger.
Back among the big boys
Now, in their first year back among the big boys they will take on the biggest of the lot in Real Madrid, the current holders and the side with a stranglehold on the competition.
The achievement from Jurgen Klopp and his men cannot be understated, and this is simply something that few would predicted all the way back in August. After all, Liverpool had stumbled into the Champions League by finishing fourth last season, a position that was only secured courtesy of a last day win over Middlesbrough. They were 33/1 to reach the final before a ball hand been kicked.
It is also a Liverpool side that most doubted following the group stages. A 3-3 draw away to Sevilla, in which they inexplicably surrendered a 3-0 lead, had most questioning their ability. Yes, they can score goals they said, but they cannot defend. The bigger teams will pick them apart the experts boldly predicted. How wrong they have been.
First Porto fell to a 5-0 aggregate defeat, then Manchester City, a side most had predicted would go all the way this year, were beaten 5-1. Roma followed in the semi finals and were beaten 7-6, the fact that they had knocked out Barcelona in sensational fashion not even registering on Liverpool’s radar.
Heavy metal football
None of these sides are ones with great European pedigree, but minnows they are not either, and Liverpool blew each away in a manner that has left anyone watching breathless.
Klopp wants heavy metal football and that is what Liverpool have delivered time and time again. No side has managed more goals than his side in a single European campaign. They are only the second team to score 20 away goals in a campaign while the front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah have scored more goals than entire teams, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain included.
It has been football worth watching, played in a manner that gets the blood pumping and often leaves opposition punch drunk. It is not the kind of football you are supposed to play in the Champions League.
Real Madrid’s dominance in recent years has shown that it often not the best side that wins the competition, but the one that has the best defensive discipline and nous at the crucial times. It is why PSG, one of the best attacking units in Europe, have faltered year on year.
It also is why Liverpool were supposed to wane in the latter stages. but here they are in the final having gone completely against the grain. That is a grand achievement in itself.
A remarkable achievement
Factor in the departure of Philippe Coutinho in January, who left so he could win competitions like the Champions League with Barcelona, and their presence in the final becomes all the more remarkable.
Losing a star player like the Brazilian was supposed to halt them, slow them down; knock the wind out their sails.
Instead, Klopp adapted and somehow made his team more potent without him. So much so, his absence has barely been noted. Coutinho will not regret his move to Catalonia in the slightest but there will be a pang of disappointment when he sits down to watch the final.
The question for Liverpool is now whether this is the start of a new era for the club. The obvious answer is that it should be. This season they have reached the Champions League final playing the best football in the competition and beating some of the best teams in it by doing so.
It has been a clear demonstration that the house that Klopp is building is not one built upon sand. The foundations are there and with minor tweaks, albeit for major money, there can be more to come.
This result should be a clear message to owners FSG that more investment is needed and regardless of the result in Kiev their place in the final should be the launchpad to bring Liverpool back to the top of European football.
Failure to utilise this moment to their advantage will only leave them waiting another 11 years to reach a European final.
For now they can celebrate their place in this years, though, and pat each other on the back for an achievement that very few saw coming.
Editorial credit: Marco Iacobucci EPP / Shutterstock.com