It wasn’t the greatest Champions League Final of all-time nor was it the most fluid in terms of high-quality play. Yet, Liverpool got what they deserved for the season they put together both domestically and on the continent.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has led the Reds to three European finals in less than four seasons. On Saturday night in Madrid, Klopp’s hard work at Anfield paid off with a first European trophy. It wasn’t just Klopp’s first piece European silverware with Liverpool, but it was his first ever.
Three times previously Klopp was on the losing end in a European final. The first came in 2013 during his time with Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund. The yellow and black fell to league rival Bayern Munich on that occasion in London, 2-1.
In his first season in charge of Liverpool, Klopp led the team to the Europa League Final. Despite leading at halftime thanks to a Daniel Sturridge goal, Liverpool lost to Sevilla 3-1.
Last season’s Champions League Final was another heartbreaker and the impetus for Liverpool to sign goalkeeper Alisson Becker from Roma for £56 million.
On Saturday night, Alisson was the man of the match as his late-game saves prevented Tottenham Hotspur from producing a comeback.
The man who sealed the victory, Divock Origi, once again showed Klopp’s belief in his players. The Belgian looked set to depart Anfield last summer after spending the season on-loan at Wolfsburg. The loan worked out well for Origi in the long run. Despite scoring just six goals in 34 appearances, Origi returned to Liverpool with an increased desire to win.
Minutes were difficult to come by early in the season, but Origi got his chances and produced seven of Liverpool’s most important goals of the season. Origi’s two goals against Barcelona were part of the reason Liverpool were in the final. It was only fitting the striker would come on as a substitute and clinch victory with a textbook low effort.
And what about Liverpool’s new Steven Gerrard, captain Jordan Henderson? The midfielder may have had better season’s statistically (just two goals and five assists) but Henderson is an indispensable part of the team. The addition of Fabinho to sit deep allowing Henderson to get forward changed Liverpool defensively.
Had Liverpool got their wish in 2012, Henderson wouldn’t even be at the club. Henderson was considered a bust and Liverpool attempted to swap Henderson for Tottenham Hotspur’s Clint Dempsey. Henderson refused to leave Liverpool while Spurs were in no need of purchasing the midfielder anyway.
Today, Henderson is the captain of a Champions League winner and his refusal to leave turned out to be a blessing for the Reds.
Many will focus on the vast sums of money Liverpool spent on Virgil van Dijk and Alisson post-final. Yet, Liverpool signed several players for very little – in some cases on free transfers – knowing they would become better under Klopp.
James Milner and Joel Matip were both signed on free transfers. Milner was a Premier League winner with Manchester City and has brought a winning mentality to Anfield. Andy Robertson was signed from Hull City for £8m and Trent Alexander-Arnold came through the youth academy.
Klopp has built Liverpool into a machine that few would have believed they could be 10 years ago. While the Premier League title may still have eluded them, they achieved something Manchester City could not, a Champions League trophy.