Prior to the Champions League final, the media spotlight was firmly focused on Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The game was painted as being a contest between two of the best players in the world, both of whom have had remarkable seasons and it was widely predicted that it would be one of their nights.
However, by Sunday morning we were talking about neither of the star duo.
Salah had been substituted mid-way through the first half clutching his left shoulder following a tangle of bodies with Sergio Ramos whilst Ronaldo was a peripheral figure throughout the game and had minimal impact.
Instead, the media focus was redirected towards a different pairing.
First, Gareth Bale had cemented his place in Champions League history by producing a remarkable overhead kick just moments after coming on as a second-half substitute.
It was an incredible moment of brilliance by the Welshman and it was a stunning strike that deserved to win any game of football.
If Bale was the hero of the evening, then Loris Karius falls into the villainous category.
The German goalkeeper was at fault for Real Madrid’s opening goal, when he needlessly rolled the ball out against Karim Benzema, and for the Spanish club’s third, when he pawed Bale’s long-range shot into his own net.
However, Karius should not be alone in having his performance critiqued and it is time that we turned a critical eye towards Jurgen Klopp’s reign at Anfield.
Since being appointed as Brendan Rodgers’ successor in October 2015, the German has undoubtedly reinvented Liverpool with his enthusiasm, energy and attacking philosophy.
He has re-established the club as one of English football’s so-called ‘big four’ and the team have produced some of the most dynamic, entertaining football of any Premier League club this year, barring perhaps Manchester City.
Klopp is likeable and clearly connects with the Liverpool supporters, yet that should not make him immune to criticism.
For all of the positive developments facilitated by the 50-year-old, the simple fact remains that he has not been able to bring any form of silverware back to Anfield.
In fact, Klopp has lost all of the previous six cup finals that he has overseen and has not won a major trophy in over six years. His supporters will point to the fact that he has reached three cup finals with Liverpool – but glorious failure is ultimately still failure.
No one is saying that the German should be replaced, at least not any time soon, but he certainly has a big summer ahead of him. In short, he needs to win a trophy next season to validate his philosophy and the progress that Liverpool are making.
Karius’ error-strewn performance on Saturday evening actually underlined some of the mistakes that Klopp has made over the previous couple of years.
It has been no secret that Liverpool have required a world class goalkeeper for some time now and it is an area that the 50-year-old has simply not addressed.
Furthermore, when Salah departed the field during the first half a quick look at the Liverpool bench confirmed that there is a definite lack of strength in depth.
Klopp opted to introduce Adam Lallana, a man who has played very little football during an injury-ravaged twelve months, whilst his counterpart for Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, was able to call upon Bale, one of the most expensive players in history, when he wanted to alter the dynamics of the contest.
This summer will tell us a great deal about Klopp. He needs to ensure that he addresses some of the key deficiencies in the current squad and that will require making significant investment in the transfer market.
It will also tell us a great deal about Liverpool.
Prior to Saturday, Jordan Henderson told ESPN that winning trophies is part of the club’s ‘DNA’, yet that seems somewhat presumptuous.
It is time for Liverpool’s hierarchy to demonstrate that they have the ambition to re-establish the club among Europe’s elite and that means making significant investment. The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in January was a positive step, yet that level of spending needs to be replicated in the summer.
Ultimately, success for a club like Liverpool is based on the amount of silverware that is collected within the trophy cabinet and it is clear that Klopp needs to start delivering on that front.
Rafa Benitez should plot Fernando Torres reunion at Newcastle United
Rafa Benitez should plot a reunion with his former superstar.
Newcastle United are reportedly in the market for new forwards this summer, with Rafa Benitez identifying the Magpies’ attacking output as a key weakness last term, despite their impressive 10th place finish.
The Spaniard is calling for the club to back him in pursuit of a “10 to 15 goals a season” striker this summer, with the likes of Salomon Rondon (Northern Echo) and Bas Dost (the Sun) circulating around the Newcastle rumour mill.
However, both would likely break the Magpies current club-record of £16 million – for Michael Owen from Real Madrid in 2005 – and perhaps Benitez would be better served going for a former favourite.
Fernando Torres is a free-agent having left Atletico Madrid, following last month’s Europa League triumph and Newcastle should offer the 34-year-old a route back to England’s top flight this summer.
Under Benitez’s tutelage at Liverpool, Torres was widely recognised as one of the most formidable forwards in world football, and though his impact has diminished over the years, there’s no doubting the World Cup winner’s quality in front of goal.
The prospect of an elite level striker arriving at St James’ Park on a free transfer is a no brainier if the player can be convinced and the club should make it happen. He knows the league inside-out, having made 212 appearances for Chelsea – where he won the Champions League – and with Benitez at Anfield, and he could instantly propel Newcastle’s attack to higher levels.
Becoming a crucial part of a new project on Tyneside would be enticing for Torres, as his unwavering desire and tenacity on a football pitch is something that cannot be questioned. And he doesn’t seem the type to move to the States or China in pursuit of one last pay-cheque.
He has all the attributes to become a cult-hero at Newcastle, and the club should act now.
Blow for Liverpool as Real Madrid enter race for Roma goalkeeper Alisson
The Brazilian international has been touted as Liverpool’s priority target since the summer window opened, just days after current stopper Lloris Karius cost Liverpool the chance of winning their sixth European trophy, with two huge blunders in Kiev.
Jurgen Klopp was said to be weighing up whether or not to make a move for the 25-year-old, having been somewhat deterred by the Italians’ hefty asking price of £80 million this week. And another huge obstacle has presented itself, in the form of defending European champions Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants are readying an initial bid, which is expected to be somewhere in the region of £43 million, but the bid will likely be rejected given the Romans’ stance, wanting almost double the amount – making Alisson the most expensive keeper in world football.
However Madrid are reportedly willing to include add-ons that amount to around £60 million, with Sky in Italy suggesting that personal terms are agreed between the player and club.
If Roma are stubborn on their prize asset, Madrid will likely elevate their interest in Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois – who has also been linked with a move to Liverpool – as the Belgian international enters the final year of his contract at Stamford Bridge.
The Reds will keep monitoring the situation of the Roma man, who registered 17 clean-sheets in Serie A last season, but will continue pursuing alternatives. Barcelona’s back-up stopper Jasper Cillessen is on the wish-list, according to reports from Don Balon, should Alisson decide to leave for the Spanish capital, or to stay at the Stadio Olimpico next term.
Will Liverpool regret missing out on Thomas Lemar last summer as Atletico agree deal?
Liverpool’s long-spanning target is set for a move to Spain.
Atletico Madrid are said to have agreed a deal with Monaco to sign French winger Thomas Lemar this summer, according to a statement from the official club website, which will leave a number of Premier League sides feeling disappointed.
The 22-year-old is currently away on international duty ahead of the World Cup, but both clubs are reportedly keen on finalising the transfer before then, according to Sky Sports.
The news will come as a blow to Liverpool, who have closely courted the player for a number of years – notably throughout last season – with reports from the Express suggesting Lemar had chosen a move to Merseyside over Arsenal in January.
Jurgen Klopp reportedly made a £55 million bid for the player’s services last summer, but Monaco were unwilling to lose more key members of the team, having already lost Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea, Benjamin Mendy to Manchester City and Kylian Mbappe to Paris Saint-Germain. That meant Lemar and new Reds midfielder Fabinho had to remain at the Stade Louis II for an extra season.
The Reds were likely to revisit their interest in Lemar this summer (the Express), after the collapse of Nabil Fekir’s highly anticipated switch, as Klopp looks to bolster his attacking options having been reminded that squad depth is a powerful thing in the Champions League final.
Rumours surrounding the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri (the Mirror) and Ousmane Dembele (the Express) suggest Liverpool are still prioritising bringing in high-profile attackers and Lemar certainly belongs in that bracket.
His best return came a year ago, with the former Caen forward amassing an impressive 14 goals and 17 assists in all competitions, sparking the initial interest from Europe’s elite.
A year on, the Europa League champions appear to have won the race, and Liverpool will have to look elsewhere.
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