Liverpool face Real Madrid in a very different Champions League final on May 28 compared to four years ago.
It was a first appearance in the showpiece game since 2007, a chance for Jurgen Klopp to smash his trophy duck from Anfield by getting his hands on the biggest prize of them all, but perhaps more importantly, an opportunity to correctly reaffirm as one of European football’s true superpowers.
Opposite them in kyiv, there was of course Real Madrid. A continental juggernaut in their own right, the Spanish giants were bidding for the title for a third consecutive season under Zinedine Zidane, and were stacked with an array of generational talent – many of whom will go down in history as certified club legends.
In the end, we all know what happened. Liverpool fans won’t need to remember the 3-1 defeat their team suffered that night – the ups and downs, the howls and the injustices.
To some degree, redemption was brought about 12 months later, when the Reds won a sixth Champions League title by beating Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid, of all places.
But still the old wounds of that fateful night in Kyiv are smart for many associated with the club, and after seeing Real pull off one of Europe’s all-time great comebacks against Manchester City on Wednesday night, Liverpool and their ardent fans will licking their lips at the prospect of cold, hard revenge when the two sides come face to face in Paris later this month.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look back at the 2018 final, the key moments that ultimately took it away from Liverpool, and how the Reds are better off now…
Salah and Ramos: a rivalry
There are perhaps few lingering images from that night in Kyiv as enduring or as painful as the sight of Mo Salah leaving the pitch in tears, his arm clearly injured.
The Egyptian king was as influential for the Reds then as he is now (perhaps even more, but we’ll get to that shortly), and losing him midway through the first half did a lot to lessen their threat against a cocksure True defense.
The villain of the play, at least from a Liverpool perspective, was of course Sergio Ramos. It was his bossy defiance that kept Salah from continuing, and in retrospect, with the game still deadlocked, his physical contribution was the first blow Klopp’s men suffered that night.
Ramos, for his part, is no longer on the books at Real, having joined PSG on a free transfer last summer, but there’s no doubt his challenge over Salah has left a sour taste in his mouth all around. of Anfield.
Klopp himself described his actions as ‘ruthless and brutal’ shortly after the final, while Salah made no secret of his disdain for the Spaniard when he openly snubbed him during a handover ceremony top-flight UEFA awards a few weeks later.
He may not end up directly against Ramos in Paris, but you can bet there won’t be a Liverpool player as keen to make amends against Real as Salah.
The Calamities of Karius
In fact, cross out that last sentence. There could be a Liverpool player even more desperate than Salah to put things right – although he certainly won’t get the chance.
Loris Karius’ disastrous display in Kyiv has, in the years since, become infamous, spawning a barrage of cruel talk on social media and, to some extent, completely derailing his career.
The German was responsible for two horrific errors – one in which he simply threw a ball over Karim Benzema and into his own net, and one in which he failed to cope with a routine long-distance drive from Gareth Bale.
In the end, these blunders would be enough to hand Real the game and the trophy, and a few weeks later Liverpool would move to bring in current number one Alisson Becker from AS Roma, ending Karius’ career. at Anfield.
Shortly after the final, it emerged that the 28-year-old had in fact suffered a concussion for much of the match following a collision with Ramos, but at that time , the damage was done and his reputation was decimated.
Speaking from his nightmare in Kyiv, Karius openly reflected on his regrets over the way he handled the situation and the scrutiny it has brought.
“Believe me, I learned a lot from that! In retrospect, I should have handled it more aggressively in public,” he said. Sports Picture.
“I had a concussion after a blow from Sergio Ramos, which restricted my spatial vision. This was unequivocally confirmed in a detailed study by one of the world’s leading brain specialists.
“At first I was happy to know what was going on in this match. I didn’t want to go public myself. When the result came out, there was a lot of meanness and insult, often well below belt. I never used it as an excuse. But when people make fun of someone who has seriously injured their head, I don’t understand anything.
“All my efforts and my good performances before were suddenly out of date. The reactions were exaggerated and disrespectful, especially since it went on like this. Errors are measured with different dimensions, even abnormal, and are not assessed fairly.
Karius has since been sent out on a number of loans by Liverpool and is expected to leave the club this summer.
The evolution of Liverpool
Of the 11 players who started in the 2018 Champions League final, nine (including Karius) are still on the books at Anfield. Only Dejan Lovren and Gini Wijnaldum left the club from Kyiv.
Tellingly, however, of the seven players named to Klopp’s bench that night, not a single one remains on Merseyside.
Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Dominic Solanke are all gone, and the truth is that Liverpool are a much stronger team for that.
That’s not to say either of these players had anything to offer the Reds, but in a situation where his side were chasing the game against Europe’s most imperious side, with their prized asset sitting crying in the bowels of NSC Olimpiyskiy, arms outstretched, the only two substitutions Klopp saw fit to make were the introductions of Lallana and Can.
Compare that to the strength and depth Liverpool boast of now.
The arrivals of Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota have significantly bolstered the Reds’ options in attack, while the signings of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita have rejuvenated an engine room that lacked variety, flair and, to some extent, defensive. solidity.
Even at the back, Ibrahim Konate and Joel Matip look like far more worthy talents to partner with Virgil van Dijk than Lovren ever did, and the difference Alisson has made in net is almost immeasurable.
In short, the drive and determination of Klopp’s project at Anfield means Liverpool are a massively different beast to the one that faltered in 2018.
The Reds have evolved, and Real should be worried.