The Liver Bird  

Monday, 28 May 2018

Heartbreak in Kiev | Champions League Final 2018

It wasn't supposed to end this way. The Reds were always labelled as the underdogs but nobody could have predicted the way that the Champions League final unfolded on Saturday night. 

Image via The Mirror
I'd travelled up to Liverpool via the Wirral with me fella, brother and a mate to watch the match at Camp and Furnace. I was so excited to head up to Liverpool for the final, I love being in the city in general but even more so for an event like this. 

We pottered around in the centre and popped to a couple of pubs and the bookies prior to heading to Camp and Furnace. Arrived at the venue after a few ciders and some rum around 5pm-ish and then took our places in front of the big screen.

Tucking into my hot dog, still on the cider, that sick feeling which had hit me Friday night after finishing work began to slowly get worse. I'd made the decision that I wouldn't drink during the match. Before long the famous Champions League graphics were staring back at me and I was faced with a starting lineup that was fully capable of getting the better of Real Madrid.

The first portion of the game was brilliant, Liverpool were all over the white shirts and Madrid at times looked like they were struggling. The pressure was high, the Reds were intercepting misplaced passes and forcing mistakes from the Spaniards. The attack was building and surely it was only a matter of time before Salah, Firmino or Mane got a decent chance.

Unfortunately for Liverpool though, Salah never would get his chance. The Egyptian has had a simply phenomenal season and still, two days on while I'm writing this, my heart breaks for him. Nobody expected or wanted to see our star man leave the pitch in tears unless you're Sergio Ramos of course.

Granted, if you check my Twitter at half time from the night, I may have overreacted ever so slightly to Ramos but I will never apologise for that reaction. Ramos may not have planned to dislocate or damage Salah's shoulder but 100% he intended to hold on to Mo or make it difficult for him to pull away from the challenge or the tangle. Ramos has always been a dirty player, the kind that you know will have been instructed to "get stuck in" prior to kick off.

Fair enough, I can take that attitude, Liverpool have had players in the past who would do similar, Jamie Carragher springs to mind, but this moment just felt more sinister. Ramos followed later in the match diving to the floor holding his face claiming Mane had prodded him and also elbowed Karius when neither of them were anywhere near the ball. If Ramos and Real Madrid were that scared of Salah and the rest of our XI then so be it, quite frankly if it was me, I'd be embarrassed at the desperation of my team to take out players.

Having lost Mo, the Reds had a lot to do in order to maintain composure and shake off the incident. We'd started the second half still at 0-0, our heads had dropped slightly but we were still very much in the game, that was until Karius made the first of two unforgivable errors.

Six minutes into the half with Benzema directly and clearly in front of him, for some reason the keeper thought it was safe to distribute and rolled the ball off of the Real Madrid player who of course ended up getting a goal.

That was hard to take but these things can happen, there was no time to let this affect our performance and the Reds responded emphatically. A corner taken by James Milner just four minutes later found the head of Dejan Lovren who flicked the ball forward. There, waiting was Sadio Mane who sent the fans crazy with a Liverpool equaliser.

I bloody love Mane, I made the decision at the start of the season to get him on my shirt and I don't regret it one bit. Sometimes living in the shadow of Salah and Firmino, he did ridiculously well on Saturday night. A solid performance in a Champions League final that was far more tentative than anybody could have predicted.

Below is a video shortly after his goal, we didn't get any footage during but I can assure you that I will never forget celebrating that goal. Absolutely hilarious, screaming my head off bouncing around, I'd lost my brother then felt him grab my arm, grabbed him back, more jumping around. Fella is on the floor, tried to film some immediate aftermath but dropped his phone, smashed the screen, not even a Liverpool fan. My mate Reece about four rows back cheering with new found friends, absolutely awesome. Just awesome. Covered in beer, voice still now on Monday evening is cracking. Unbelievable.

Sadly for us, the goal would not turn out to be as important as it felt at the time. To score that quickly after conceding via such an error, it truly felt as though this was Liverpool pulling off a typical come back but then a Welshman entered play.

At 64 minutes, having come off the bench just minutes earlier, Gareth Bale scored arguably one of the best goals you will ever see. His bicycle kick was stunning, there's just no stopping that kind of goal you just have to hold your hands up and appreciate it.

At 2-1 down with just under half an hour to go, being a Liverpool fan, you know full well anything is still possible. It continued to feel possible right until the 83rd minute.

It was Gareth Bale again, taking a bit of a chance with a long-range shot from outside the area, it looked as though Karius had it covered but the German fumbled the save and kopites around the world looked on in horror as another goalkeeping error practically ended the chances of Liverpool lifting a 6th European Cup.

Loris Karius has never been my favourite person to be honest, as those who read my blog will know, I never really saw him as any better or worse than Mignolet. What I will say though is that he has definitely shown improvement of late, however those errors, in a final? It's just extremely hard to accept. Even more so when you realise that our back four on the night were absolutely superb.

No matter what we might think though, nobody is feeling that pain more than Karius. He showed true guts to go over to the fans and apologise on the night, everybody makes mistakes it's just frustrating that his focus was flawed on Saturday and two errors led to Jurgen Klopp's team walking away as losers.

On another night, with Salah still on the pitch and no goalkeeping mistakes, Liverpool could have had that Madrid side. Bale from the bench was their most influential player, Ronaldo to be perfectly honest barely did anything and that was down to a solid performance elsewhere on the pitch from Liverpool.

Salah would definitely have punished, he'd come too far this season to not find the net or assist a goal in the final, I'm convinced of it. We'll never be able to prove it of course but with him on the pitch for the whole match? I think we'd have got over the line.

It was heartbreaking to watch us lose in such a way but now having had time to truly reflect on this season, we must not be ashamed of our efforts. Klopp has done extremely well with that side, a side that most would agree still has weaknesses and a bench that lacks in impact.

I contributed towards a piece for This Is Anfield earlier in the season, I think it was close to that horrendous Spurs' result. They were asking for thoughts on Klopp and I will admit I was quite critical, I never expected us to reach the Champions League final and at points was getting concerned about 4th place but the manager has shown that he can consistently put the Reds in a position for silverware, we just need to tweak things a bit to ensure that next time, we walk away with the prizes.

It's been a fantastic season that I don't want to remember via images of Salah and Karius tearfully walking off the pitch in Kiev. I will instead remember the goals, the power of the attack, the thriving youngsters Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold coming through, the addition of van Dijk which spurred on Lovren, Henderson proudly captaining his side, Milner at 32 topping the assists boards...

There's a hell of a lot of good in this Liverpool side and with some solid spending during the summer transfer window, we could be on for a cracking 2018/2019 season.

Thanks for reading through the year folks, since working full time I've found it very hard to blog as often as I used to but I still thoroughly enjoy it and will continue to write as and when I can.

I hope to do a season round-up at some point so stay tuned and for those of you with a team at the World Cup this year, enjoy and good luck!

#YNWA - Kirsty

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Monday, 21 May 2018

It's Time For Kiev | Liverpool FC | Champions League

It's 2005, I'm 15 years old, starting to really hone my obsession with Liverpool Football Club, sat in the living room of our Wolverhampton council house, waiting for the Reds to kick off in Istanbul.

Image via The Metro
Like many Liverpool fans back then I never seriously thought we would find a route to the final with that team but the magic was tangible. The Olympiakos game and that infamous Gerrard goal, Hyypia scoring against Juventus and the ghost goal at Anfield. None of those things really should have happened, but I quickly learned as a 15 year old that Liverpool in Europe are just something else.

Twenty years after reaching their last European Cup final in 1985, Rafa Benitez's Liverpool side proved they had the stamina to not only make it to the final but also come back from 3-0 down to win on penalties. At half time I had retreated to the bathroom and I'm not afraid to say, I had tears in my eyes. I was absolutely gutted, we'd worked so hard to get there and it was crumbling away. Still a bit young and perhaps a bit naive, I was adamant I would not watch the second half, but my Dad being the wise man that he is convinced me to continue to watch. I was running out into the street with my Liverpool flag, utterly elated by the final whistle.

Any neutral would vote that as one of the best football matches in history and this season the Reds have captured some of that tenacious 2005 spirit.

Depicted as the underdogs once again, Liverpool may be unfavoured by most but Jurgen Klopp and his side have 100% earnt their place in the final on Saturday. Brushing aside teams like Porto and comfortably beating Manchester City does not come easily. The two legs against Roma were perhaps not as straightforward but we wouldn't be Liverpool if there weren't a few blips along the way.

Looking at the opposition, they are of course European royalty in their own right but they are by no means perfect. For me, it's a good time to be playing Real Madrid, the Spaniards have had questions hanging over their defence the whole season and while they clearly have a solid attack you would be stupid to question the power of Liverpool's forwards.

It's going to be a huge challenge for the Reds, no doubt about it but they are hungry, prepared and able to win this final. 

A back four rejuvenated by the introduction of Virgil van Dijk will have its work cut out but the Reds have improved immensely on the defensive front and are could keep out Real Madrid. Perhaps not for the whole 90 but for enough time to get the upper hand.

In the midfield, Jordan Henderson must get a mention, I can't say I'm his biggest fan. I've never disliked him but I haven't always sung his praises, however, he has led his team in this European campaign and nobody can doubt his passion. He will be willing the team on from the centre of the field and pulling the strings with a bit of luck.

Then there's the matter of the forwards, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah are a force to be reckoned with. Madrid will argue they have come up against similar, dealing with Messi, Suarez and co but I honestly don't think they've met this type of attack in a very long time.

The Reds' ability to switch up the play so quickly, a front three all injected with immense pace and a real connection on the pitch? I genuinely think they could get stung. Mo Salah has had a phenomenal season, you're telling me he's not going to be giving his absolute all to find the net in the Champions League final? 

Salah WILL score and he will be supported by Firmino and Mane who will both also be chomping at the bit to score for their team mates, manager and fans.

The Spanish papers can brand this a piece of cake all they want. I don't think they truly understand what is coming for them in Kiev on Saturday 26th May.

We've conquered all of Europe, and we're never gonna stop. Fingers crossed for number six.

Enjoy the match folks, wherever you are watching! I will be in Liverpool with me fella, me brother and me mate if you spot me, say hi!


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Monday, 14 May 2018

Champions League Secured

A comfortable win for Liverpool over Brighton at Anfield on Sunday has secured the Reds' place in Europe's elite for another season. Prior to kick off with Chelsea on their tail, it could have been a tricky afternoon for Klopp's side but in the end, it was a walk in the park.

Image via The Irish Examiner
Mo Salah opened up the scoring, stretching his lead for the golden boot. Harry Kane tried his best in Spurs' tie with Leicester but thankfully the forward remained behind, nobody that desperate to steal a goal off a teammate should win the boot! Salah thorough deserved the award. In the process, the Egyptian also broke the record for the most goals scored in a 38 game Premier League season. Phenomenal. 

The remainder of the score sheet for the Reds contained some interesting names. Dejan Lovren who we've seen net a couple, but not often, managed to find a header just before half time. 

In the second half, Solanke with a great strike put his side 3-0 up. It was his first goal for the club. 

Then finally with five minutes left of the match and also scoring his first goal for the club, up steps Andy Robertson. You'll often find the youngster making runs into the box, his crosses are second to none too but on this occasion, he fancied a go himself and boy did it pay off. 

Defensively, Robertson and the rest of the lads must also be praised after yet another clean sheet. The defence has felt like a weak link for a lot of the season but with the help of Virgil van Dijk it appears as though the back four are beginning to work as a solid unit.

It's been a positive season for Liverpool I feel, 4th place is probably where most would have predicted we would finish this year. To secure European football while scoring all those goals and coping with the loss of Coutinho? Just brilliant. 

Next up is the small matter of Real Madrid in Kiev... 

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Thursday, 3 May 2018

Real Madrid Await...

Liverpool have made it to their first Champions League final in 11 years. A competition that resonates with the L4 postcode, the Reds should never have been missing for this long. Yes, losing 4-2 isn't exactly the best way to secure your place but Klopp's side had done most of the hard work in the first leg and still managed to put two past a Roma side who hadn't conceded a single goal at home in the Champions League until Wednesday night. 

Image via Independent
Liverpool's first goal was a lovely composed finish by Sadio Mane. Scoring after just nine minutes it was a perfect start for the Reds but it didn't quite take the wind out of the Italian's sails as they were gifted a goal off of James Milner's face shortly afterwards. 
A second goal for the Reds followed at 25 minutes, this time a header from Gini Wijnaldum. He doesn't score often but he deserved the header and it was great to see how much it meant to the midfielder. 

Roma had to wait until the second half for an equaliser, scored by the influential Dzeko. For a while, it then felt as though the pressure had died down. At this stage, Klopp was making subs and we should have coasted to the whistle.

Liverpool though never make things easy do they? It can't ever be straight forward. 

A lovely goal from Nainggolan at 86 minutes was quickly followed by a penalty that he also converted. That was never in a million years a peno but hey, who cares?! 

In typical Liverpool fashion, the Reds went through 7-6 on aggregate and I wouldn't have it any other way. Doing things easily is boring anyway. 

Rampant celebrations from the travelling Kop with Allez Allez Allez ringing around Rome closed out the night.

Real Madrid await. Is it going to be a tough final? No doubt about it. For a neutral it could be a stunning affair, importantly though, the Spaniards have shown they are vulnerable and I honestly think Liverpool can punish. 

Roll on Saturday 26th May!!! 

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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

When In Rome...

Don't do as the Romans do.

The Italians know how to defend, but despite having a three-goal lead Liverpool should not take a leaf out of their book on Wednesday night. The Reds would have every right to play this cautiously but for me, the answer is all out attack.

Roma's two away goals late on at Anfield last week added a few nerves in many fans hearts, it's amazing the difference a couple of goals can make. Should we be fearful? Certainly, we shouldn't take Roma for granted but at the same time, we have Salah, Firmino and Mane at our disposal.

I say we net a few more and put this game to bed, don't even give the Italians a chance to settle or grow into the game. Roma have played brilliantly in the Champions League this season, phenomenally well when you think they pushed Barca aside but could they deal with a 6-2 or 7-3 aggregate? I don't think so. An early goal from the Reds could really take the wind out their sails.

Liverpool suffered a blow after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up a serious injury in the first leg but other than that Jurgen Klopp should be able to field his favoured XI. Roma have no real injury worries aside from Kevin Strootman who will undergo a late fitness test.

The stats are also mainly in favour of the Reds, however, Roma are yet to concede a single goal at home in the Champions League so far this season. Despite that fact I just can't see them stopping Salah, I genuinely can't. The pressure will be immense, the atmosphere historic but I cannot see them stopping us from finding the back of the net.

Roma must keep a clean sheet and score three goals before anything even changes in this tie. We have to accept that the Reds have their weaknesses and if Roma exploit set pieces we could find ourselves in a sticky situation but for Roma to have any hope of going through they must come at us, come at us quickly and constantly.

This, in turn, will open up gaps, gaps that Salah, Firmino and Mane will more than happily take advantage of. On paper, Liverpool should seal their place in the 2018 Champions League Final tomorrow night. In heads and hearts they should be there too but you just never bloody know do you, football is a funny old game!

Enjoy the match folks wherever you are watching. As well as the desire to see Liverpool reach another Champions League final I also have two hotel rooms on the Wirral riding on this so let's hope we don't balls it up! (We won't. #ForzaLiverpool)

I leave you with one of my favourite tweets from today:

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