Liverpool’s team-sheet from their 2018 Champions League final showdown with Real Madrid illustrates just how far the Reds have come in the last four years. Jurgen Klopp has pulled-off a masterplan to transform his side into one of the best teams in the history of the game and they will be seeking revenge on Real after being defeated in Kyiv on that fateful night.
Liverpool went into the 2018 final as underdogs against a Real side who were looking to bag their third consecutive Champions League trophy. And the Reds were dealt a huge blow midway through the opening period as Mohamed Salah was forced off with a shoulder injury following a tussle with Sergio Ramos.
Klopp’s men managed to get to the interval all square – but disaster struck six minutes after the break as Loris Karius threw the ball straight at Karim Benzema as he attempted to roll the ball out to Dejan Lovren, with it ending up in the back of the net.
Sadio Mane equalised for the Reds four minutes later as he stabbed home from close range, but substitute Gareth Bale produced a sensational bicycle kick just after the hour mark to nudge the Spanish giants in front for a second time. And Karius’ personal nightmare was completed with seven minutes remaining as he allowed a tame Bale effort from 30 yards out to squirm through his fingertips and into the back of the net.
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Klopp took drastic action after that agonising defeat and turned his back on Karius, who hasn’t made a single appearance for the Reds since, despite the fact he is still a Liverpool player. But there is no doubt Klopp told the rest of his charges to use the experience as the fuel they needed to become a special team.
Klopp soon brought in Alisson to take over from Karius, and the Brazil international has made a huge difference to the team between the posts. And just 12 months after their defeat in Ukraine, Liverpool did taste Champions League success as they defeated Tottenham in the final. The Merseysiders then landed the Club World Cup and their first Premier League title the following season.
And this campaign they are in line to win a historic quadruple. Liverpool booked their place in the European final courtesy of a 5-2 aggregate victory over Villarreal in the semi-finals. And five players who started their 2018 defeat to Real remained in the line-up for the second-leg of that tie.
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Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Salah and Mane have all survived, while Jordan Henderson was on the bench this week after starting the first-leg at Anfield. Roberto Firmino and James Milner now struggle for gametime, however, while Lovren and Gini Wijnaldum have since moved on.
And on Wednesday night, Klopp instead named Ibrahima Konate in his back four, Fabinho, Thiago and Naby Keita in his midfield and Diogo Jota in attack. But the bench was completely different and the Reds now have squad depth they could only dream about in 2018.
Klopp hasn’t made wholesale changes to his starting line-up over the last four years. But he has inculcated a new sense of belief in his players. And there is every chance they will finally be able to lay their ghosts to rest when Real come between them and the Champions League trophy once again on Saturday, 28 May.
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