John Aldridge: 'The final was awful but Liverpool should revel in their status as Champions of Europe'
ALL the pressure was on Liverpool in the Champions League final against Tottenham in Madrid and that could explain why they turned in their worst performance of the season.
Amid the joyous scenes I witnessed first hand at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium and then back on the streets of Liverpool as 750,000 fans turned out to give the new European champions a fitting welcome home, it was easy to forget about the dreadful game we all witnessed on Saturday night.
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Winning is all that matters when the biggest trophy of them all is up for grabs, but the match, watched by a huge global audience last weekend, was not what we should have got from two excellent teams who looked jaded long before the final whistle sounded and the Liverpool celebrations began.
It was very humid in Madrid but that should not have disrupted the two sets of players to the point where they couldn’t perform to anywhere near their potential on the biggest night of their careers.
UEFA have to take some of the responsibility for ruining their own final as the 20-day gap between the end of the Premier League season and the Champions League final clearly meant that both sets of players were short of match sharpness.
Something needs to be done to ensure all European leagues start and finish at the same time because the three-week break meant the Liverpool and Tottenham players spent a lot of the game trying and failing to get up to full speed.
In truth, Liverpool probably played better in last season’s Champions League final against Real Madrid, when they had a similar wait for the biggest game of the season, but UEFA should do something to prevent their big game from being ruined by factors that should not be part of the story.
The fluency was missing from Klopp’s side on a night when they needed to get over the line at all costs, with Tottenham’s agony all the more acute as they could not take advantage of Liverpool’s limp display.
Roberto Firmino looked a long way short of fitness after his time out with injury, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah lacked their familiar spark and it needed another outstanding performance from keeper Alisson Becker and defensive man mountain Virgil van Dijk to secure the victory.
While I was delighted to see Liverpool crowned as European champions for the sixth time, I had some sympathy for Tottenham because the penalty that was awarded to Liverpool after 22 seconds of the game rocked them to the core and it was very harsh.
The laws of the game might state that it was a deliberate handball from Mohamed Sissoko as the ball deflected off his chest and onto his arm, but I would have been gutted if that decision had gone against my team in such a massive game.
That early goal put Liverpool in the driving seat and they felt comfortable sitting back and making life difficult for Tottenham, with the handful of saves Alisson made enough to secure the victory.
If the game had been decided by that dodgy penalty decision, Liverpool’s critics could have said they were lucky to win the final and that is why I was so delighted to see Divock Origi fire home a second clinching goal to ensure those in red shirts could enjoy the last five minutes of the game.
After all that has happened in recent years, the prospect of Liverpool losing another final would have been a crushing blow and I’m not sure how they would have handled it.
Defeat last weekend would have condemned Klopp to a seventh successive loss in Cup finals, including three in the Champions League, so it was a vital first trophy in the cabinet and getting the biggest one of them all silenced any doubter who questioned this manager and his team.
We can think about what happens next for Liverpool when the dust has settled on a wonderful season, but for now, Klopp, his players and all Liverpool fans should revel in their status as champions of Europe.
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