This was not the grand finale and the game didn’t really reflect either side’s glorious runs. The Champions League was a bit ‘Game of Thrones’, the conclusion couldn’t really top or do justice to the whole saga.
When you consider our squad and the resources we have, getting to the final should be enough of a miracle. However, it is always about more. We needed to win it. History is only ever kind on the winners, which is why history can be a pretty brutal judge to the nearly men.
Fortune was not kind for the penalty. In fairness, it was probably more naivety on Sissoko’s part. Conceding in the first minute is horrible and it dampened the atmosphere at the Lane, where I watched the match. The screening was well organised with the exception of the beer delivery system, which caused huge queues and has proven to have issues in delivering the goods when they’re needed. Some comparisons can be a tad near to the knuckle…
Going a goal down early is not usually disastrous for us, we did this against Ajax and we did it against City. We’re usually a better second half team as well. This time there was a flatness to our performance that never really went up a level. We weren’t hard done by. We failed to ask the questions of Liverpool’s defence or really test Allison, barring maybe the Eriksen free kick. You could put it down to the 3 week gap or the fact that Liverpool are a good team too. Although they didn’t quite look at the races either, just a little better drilled at the back, a bit more canny. They took their chances when they came, where ultimately we didn’t.
This was not the grand finale and the game didn’t really reflect either side’s glorious runs. The Champions League was a bit ‘Game of Thrones’, the conclusion couldn’t really top or do justice to the whole saga. For Liverpool, they can take something significant from a season where they lost just one league match. For us, we can take some lessons and no short measure of pride. Up to this point we played some stone cold thrillers. To put out City over 2 legs shouldn’t be possible. To come back from 3 goals down in Amsterdam in the space of a half left us breathless with excitement. Even the neutral fan will remember the nights they watched those matches. We’ve played a huge part in what’s been an absolutely compelling Champions League competition this season.
This should not be seen as a failure. Any football club’s development is not about one or two seasons, they are on an arc which can encompass a huge tranche of time. A season is just a chapter in the whole story. It’s about the long term, losing, improving, squad building and eventually becoming the team you’re destined to be. Something Liverpool fans will attest to. There’s nothing to say it won’t prove to be true for us in the next few seasons. But even with this philosophy, for the club to realise it’s ambitions, there needs to be the will to make the right decisions and that has to translate to spending more money either on wages or transfers.
The big question is if we can make the right investments, develop talent within the squad and get that balance right. I see so many articles about how much needs to be spent and all the raft of players that need to leave and need to join. We need that incremental improvement which looks organic rather than tearing up the squad and having to deal with the fallout. Sea changes tend to sink clubs rather than save them.
The elephant in the room for us is changing the wage structure. Take Manchester United. Alexis Sanchez is probably the most expensive signing of all time, not just because of his extortionate wage, but the fact it immediately creates a scenario where other top players in the squad demand parity. That situation could easily cost Manchester United an extra £500k a week on wages. The difference is simple though, they can afford to take that type of hit, we can’t. Even with better revenue and more commercial income at the moment.
Taking our future concerns to one side, the flat finale should not define the season. We had a hell of a lot of challenges and the games in the Champions League still remain an immense source of pride. We got to the final ahead of a lot of teams, teams who spent millions on their squads than us (wages & transfers) in challenging circumstances.
I reflected on the night coming back from the Lane screening. As I was walking back to Northumberland Park, a little more sober than I wanted to be, the atmosphere was not exactly celebratory but not downbeat either. I got the sense that our collective world had not caved in and we were together in this moment of communal reflection. As the queues formed around the station entrance a ball was hurled up in the air, songs were sung.
We’d made a final and we hadn’t disgraced ourselves. Our expectations had already been surpassed. No one likes losing but we all know the context, this has been a memorable run and this wasn’t a time for any bitterness.
We’re not at the end of our arc. This is one chapter in our story and there is still a lot more history for us to make. Next season we’ll see how it plays but it is now down to the club to define what their ambitions are and whether we can deliver the goods in the future.
Time for a bit more daring and doing.