It’s been a few days since Liverpool’s loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final, and hopefully in that time fans of the Reds have managed to put the pain of the result in proper perspective. Yes, it sucks to see a magical season like that end in such heartrending fashion, but make no mistake: This Liverpool season was absolutely phenomenal, and the future is only looking brighter.
Even when looking at the final itself, Liverpool can be proud of what they accomplished. Simply making it that far in the tournament as a club of their stature—one of the bigger clubs around Europe, to be sure, but nowhere near the size, financial might, or prestige of the traditional giants—should be enough to earn the club an unending stream of props. Liverpool came into the season without a proven superstar on the roster, and had to endure one of its best players try to and eventually succeed in forcing his way out of the club. They had to contend with the likes of Barcelona, a team armed with the greatest player of all time, and PSG, a club that in the offseason bolstered their already fearsome attack with Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the two most expensive transfers ever, and Bayern Munich, a club that practically has an entire league as its farm system from which it plucks the most promising prospects, and Manchester City, a domestic rival led by arguably the best manager to ever do it and a nearly infinite bank account, and a couple more teams that on paper had better prospects at winning the most prestigious trophy in the game. That all those clubs failed to do what Liverpool did, despite starting from considerably better positions, is a testament to how awesome of a feat Liverpool simply qualifying for the final truly was.
Liverpool’s performance in the final was impressive in its own right, too. Consider this: a combined best XI mixing both Liverpool’s and Real Madrid’s rosters would probably only include a single Pool Boy (Mohamed Salah). Meanwhile, the White Boys have multiple bench players who would easily start for Liverpool. At nearly every single position both in the starting lineup and in reserve, Real Madrid’s players were galaxies more talented than their Liverpool counterparts.
And yet not only did the Reds outplay their far-superior opponents during the stretch when the game was still a real contest—meaning before the notoriously scuzzy Sergio Ramos perfectly executed his fully intentional judo takedown of Salah that fucked up the Egyptian’s shoulder—they were even able to hold their own after they’d lost their star man. Absent two staggeringly awful boners by keeper Loris Karius and the goal of a lifetime by Gareth Bale, Liverpool very well could’ve beaten Real. Liverpool had no business hanging with the all-star team Madrid ran out on the pitch this weekend, especially not after playing the majority of the game without Salah’s services, and yet they did. Going forward, manager Jürgen Klopp’s ingenious tactical strategizing and the dedication of the players to Klopp’s gameplan that kept Liverpool in the game aren’t going anywhere, and those will be the building blocks upon which the team’s even more successful future should be constructed.
The Salah transfer will obviously go down as one of the coups of modern transfer market history—some €60 million for a 30-goal right winger is a steal in today’s market—but at the time during last summer’s transfer window Liverpool’s delayed signing of RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keïta was arguably even more highly regarded. The weakness in Liverpool’s squad has clearly been in the center of the pitch, and Keïta is just about as ideal a candidate you could hope for to come in and fix things. He is an all-action player with the speed, power, and work rate needed to thrive defensively in Klopp’s pressing-intensive strategy, and he combines that with creativity and range in his passing, superb dribbling, and a hell of a shot to add exactly what the Liverpool midfield needs in attack, too. He looks like a perfect fit for how Liverpool play, and he should immediately become the team’s best midfielder. With his existing skill set and almost unlimited potential, it’s hard to overstate just how sensational a player Keïta already is and how much better he can still get.
And the savvy transfer moves have only continued. Just yesterday, Liverpool announced that they’d strengthened their team even more when they finalized the signing of another midfielder, this time getting Fabinho from Monaco. Not only is the versatile Fabinho just the kind of mobile, indefatigable, smart-passing deep midfielder Liverpool needed in order to upgrade the roster, he also signifies the club’s ambitions. After such a remarkable season, the easiest thing in the world would be for Liverpool to get complacent. Because they’d done so well in Champions League play and looked like the second-best team in England for most of the Premier League campaign, you might’ve thought the club’s leadership would’ve sat back and run out more or less the same squad next year, banking on improvements to their still quite young key players plus Keïta to get the club closer to their goals of winning trophies.
Instead, Liverpool followed up their Champions League exit with the immediate purchase of a very good and expensive player, Fabinho. The club’s new Brazilian will presumably take the starting defensive midfielder job away from their club captain, Jordan Henderson, which is itself a sentiment-free act of a club that cares about little else other than putting out the best team possible. Fabinho’s addition instantly makes Liverpool’s starting lineup better, and also gives the squad some much-needed depth by relegating a really good player like Henderson to what had been a painfully thin bench.
The team’s seemingly impending signing of French attacker Nabil Fekir is similarly ambitious. It looks like Fekir is going to cost the Reds something like €60 million. If Liverpool’s bid proves successful, it’s likely that they will have spent all that money on an expensive rotation player who they’ll task with giving Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino a breather here and there, and with coming off the bench as an impact sub—the lack of a top-quality attacking sub probably being what cost them the final against Madrid once Ramos knocked out Salah.
Remember, Liverpool weren’t expected to mount any serious challenge for the big trophies this season. In international play, they were long shots for the Champions League title; in the Premier League, the club was probably more concerned with trying to eke out a top-four place in the dogfight between England’s ruthlessly competitive Big Six than with the prospect of them actually winning the thing. By the end of the season, the Reds nabbed that all-important top-four spot, clawed their way into the Champions League final, unleashed upon the world their newly emerged superstar, Mohamed Salah, witnessed their manager cement his status as one of the very best coaches in the game, and along the way became the most viscerally thrilling team to watch in European soccer with their fire-and-fury style of play. Along every possible grading metric, Liverpool passed the season’s test with flying colors. And there’s good reason to think the good times will only get better.