It’s been almost three months since Liverpool lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid, yet it clearly still plays on the minds of all concerned.
Jurgen Klopp still speaks with a little bitterness about one of the major turning points in the game — Mohamed Salah’s shoulder injury.
For the Real player involved in the incident, Sergio Ramos, the implication is obvious. He was a winner by default, by cheating almost, and nobody would let any hint of that slip by without a retort.
There must be some caution with reports of a player or manager “not letting it go.” For politeness, or merely a wish for a quieter life, media questions must be answered. That can lead to the impression of a toxic rivalry where none exists.
That would change significantly if the clubs were drawn against each other again, however. Klopp vs. Ramos will be the story, and with Cristiano Ronaldo gone maybe the Reds stand a better chance next time?
Before last season, any Liverpool discussion involving Real Madrid would have centered on their cowering display during the Champions League group stages of 2014. If it’s now considered a rivalry, that confirms Liverpool’s progression.
Ramos as pantomime villain, cackling wickedly as the saboteur of Liverpool’s dreams, may play well with the gullible, but Klopp also let slip where he felt the club really suffered.
By claiming he had only 12 genuine players to compete with during last season’s conclusion — he still had to achieve fourth place in England to confirm another stab at the biggest prize in Europe — there was a bigger clue as to where he honestly believed things went wrong.
Of course Salah’s injury affected the team. Who wouldn’t miss a 40-goal man in the biggest game of the season?
What further exacerbated the situation was his replacement, Adam Lallana, charged with a midfield containment role while his direct opponent Marcelo simply abandoned all pretence of defensive duty. Contrast that with the impact Gareth Bale made with his two goals when coming on after an hour.
If that was the impetus behind a big spending spree for Liverpool, by acknowledging the Reds cannot achieve anything with an excellent first XI alone, short-term misery in Ukraine may ultimately lead to long-term joy.
It could also be why the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri and the fingers-crossed rejuvenation of Daniel Sturridge are inspiring as much praise and optimism as their more expensive colleagues. Either would have been a reasonable replacement for Salah in Kiev.
There are doubts over both, Sturridge’s fitness issues long having been a concern at Anfield. Shaqiri’s departure from Stoke caused some bitterness, mainly from Charlie Adam who planted seeds of doubt over the Swiss international’s commitment to the cause.
Liverpool fans couldn’t resist a chuckle or two as their former midfield “dynamo” somehow referred to himself as a water carrier. That isn’t what Anfield remembers at all.