Liverpool weren’t meant to reach the Champions League final. Not this season. After all, Jurgen Klopp’s side are far from the finished article. They lost their best player in January. Their two full backs are unproven, inexperienced youngsters. Their goalkeeper is just as likely to throw one in his own net as he is too pull off a wonder-save. And until very recently, their defence was a piping hot mess.
Their fourth place finish in the Premier League provides an accurate gauge of where Liverpool are as a team at this moment – capable of putting on a show, but incapable of maintaining any sort of consistency over any great spell of time. And yet, somehow, the Reds have made it all the way to Kiev where they will face Real Madrid to be crowned kings of Europe.
For most who make it this far, to the biggest single game in European club football, this is the culmination of a project. Look at Real Madrid – years of transfer market investment in Galacticos like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have lead to an era of dominance, with the Spanish side facing their fourth Champions League final in five years.
Pep Guardiola is working towards this sort of thing at Manchester City and when he reaches the pinnacle, clinching the club’s first Champions League title, his mission will have been accomplished. But rather than being a moment of culmination for Liverpool, this weekend’s clash with Real Madrid is a sign of what might follow.
There might have been a massive 25 points between Liverpool and Man City come the end of the season, with Manchester United and Spurs both finishing above the Reds, but nonetheless, they look best placed of all the chasing pack to challenge Guardiola and his side for Premier League supremacy.
Many of the pieces have fallen into place over the past 12 months. Much of the focus has fallen on Mohamed Salah this season, with the Egyptian flourishing into a fully-fledged world beater. But there has also been significant progress in midfield, with Naby Keita set to arrive from RB Leipzig this summer, and even in defence, where Virgil Van Dijk has settled things since signing from Southampton in January.
It’s presumed that Emre Can will leave as a free agent at the end of the season, but that aside, Liverpool will get stronger over the summer. They will enter the transfer market again, with Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir reported to be one of their top targets. Klopp will also almost certainly sign a new goalkeeper, solving another problem area.
Most teams look to conquer their own country first before launching an assault on the continent. For Liverpool, this convention has been flipped on its head. In a sense, their run to the Champions League final happened by accident. Surely even Klopp would admit to himself, if completely candid, that the past few months has caught him by surprise.
With this particular context, glory in Kiev on Saturday would feel like a precursor for Liverpool. From that, they would be expected to sustain their challenge on all fronts next season. Liverpool is a club defined by its success in Europe over the decades, but they crave a Premier League title more than any other. Klopp is briefed with delivering one.
Even if Liverpool suffer defeat to Real Madrid, they will have shown enough over their run to the Champions League final to suggest they are at the start of an upward trajectory rather than at the end of one. Klopp is still building the plane while trying to fly it simultaneously. Imagine just how high Liverpool can soar when they take full flight, whenever that may be.
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Also published on Medium.