Salah suffers again
This should have been the year that confirmed Mohamed Salah as the greatest player in the world.
Instead, 2022 has seen Liverpool’s Egyptian King having to deal with one sickening blow after another.
Sure, there was the joy of the League Cup final win over Chelsea. But even the FA Cup final triumph against his former side earlier this month saw him limp off after barely half-an-hour.
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Salah had hopes of Africa Cup of Nations glory and World Cup qualification dashed on penalties and his belief he had fired Liverpool to the Premier League title last weekend was cruelly shortlived.
And now this, “revenge time” against Real Madrid following events four years ago that merely heaped more misery on the Reds forward.
While Salah hasn’t been at his best since returning from AFCON, it wasn’t for the want of trying that he failed to find the target here, among the many Liverpool players frustrated by Thibaut Courtois. But, after only two goals from open play since February, he needs a rest to recharge his batteries before talk inevitably turns to his contract situation, even if the forward has already stated he’ll be at Anfield next season.
Talk of the Ballon d’Or has long fallen by the wayside, as perhaps it has done with Sadio Mane, Liverpool’s most powerful forward on the night as he has been for much of the last three months.
Whether the Senegalese has played his last for the Reds remains to be seen. Certainly, this wouldn’t be how he’d want to bow out.
Konate promise continues
Despite being brought up just a few miles away, Ibrahima Konate had never before played at the Stade de France.
And the Liverpool defender didn’t take long to make himself at home, bullying the dangerous Vinicius Junior on the flank in the opening moments before calmly taking the ball from the feet of the Brazilian.
Konate had been given the nod ahead of Joel Matip to partner Virgil van Dijk, presumably due to his greater pace in helping deal with Vinicius.
The 23-year-old, though, became an increasingly regular fixture in the Champions League campaign, and was perhaps Liverpool’s most impressive player here, making another important interception from Vinicius second half and, on occasion, stepping out of defense to augment the attack .
After a slow start, Konate has grown in maturity and confidence in this Reds side and, next season, will surely be pushing strongly to be Van Dijk’s regular partner.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, had a strange evening, never overly perturbed by Vinicius – who had given him a torrid time last April – and, for spells, putting Liverpool on the front foot with his distribution.
But fingers will be pointed at the right-back failing to spot the Real man ghosting in for the winner, such is the unforgiving spotlight of this showpiece occasion.
Transfer questions begin
It’s a curious fact. But for a team laden with goals – 94 in the Premier League alone – Liverpool found them hard to come by when it really mattered this season.
In their three final appearances, the Reds failed to find the back of the net once, albeit it largely due to impressive displays from opposing goalkeepers.
During the closing stages here, Liverpool could perhaps have done with the unpredictability and more traditional forward play of Divock Origi, even if Roberto Firmino made a positive difference with his late cameo.
Food for thought over the coming weeks for Klopp with Origi now leaving on a free transfer. And which others follow will intrigu as thoughts now turn to the summer window, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino – both on the bench in Paris – among those likely to seek new pastures.
Klopp spoke before the game of overseeing a “transformation” that will now be ramped up over the coming months. But there won’t be any kneejerk to this defeat, and nor should there be. Evolution will continue as planned.
Now comes Sunday’s parade. It won’t be as joyous as 2019 – how could it be after this disheartening night? – but Liverpool should celebrate this season. It will be a long time before they experience anything like this again.