Calamity Karius shows work still to be done at Liverpool
A thrilling run to a first Champions League final for 11 years put Liverpool back among the European elite, but a painful 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in Kiev exposed frailties that still need eradicating -- and top of the list in a new goalkeeper.
Most frustrating of all for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be that his side did as much damage to themselves as the now 13-time European champions, despite a stunning overhead kick from Real's Gareth Bale that will live long in the memory.
Either side of Bale's wonder strike, Madrid's first and third goals came courtesy of huge errors from goalkeeper Loris Karius which eased the Spanish giants towards a third straight Champions League win.
As he attempted to throw the ball to a defender, Karius bowled the ball off Karim Benzema's outstretched foot to open the scoring and then sealed Liverpool's fate by letting a long-range effort from Bale slip through his grasp.
"Loris knows it, everybody knows it. It's a shame, in a game like this and after a season like this," said Klopp as a disconsolate Karius, in tears, went to apologise to the travelling hordes of Liverpool fans. "I really feel for him, he is a fantastic boy."
Klopp, though, paid a heavy price for his loyalty to Karius, who he bought from his old club Mainz two years ago.
Dropped for his poor performances in his debut season, Klopp put his faith back in the 24-year-old German by making him Liverpool's number one at the expense of Simon Mignolet since the start of the year.
"I feel sorry for Loris Karius, because he will be absolutely heartbroken after his nightmare display in the Champions League final -- but I don't see any way back for him at Liverpool now," former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson told the BBC.
- Salah-dependent? -
It was Liverpool's brilliance at the other end of the field that carried them to Kiev as Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane ended the season with a combined 91 goals.
However, after a bright start, Liverpool's belief seemed to drain away as soon as 44-goal top-scorer Salah was forced off by a heavy landing when pulled to the ground by Real captain Sergio Ramos inside the opening half hour.
The Egyptian could now also be robbed of the chance to lead the Pharaohs at a first World Cup since 1990 in Russia next month.
And the extent to which Salah was missed further demonstrated how Liverpool can't let him follow in the footsteps of Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho should the likes of Barcelona or Madrid come calling if they are to be a European power once more.
After a sixth straight defeat in a final for Klopp, Liverpool are still yet to win a trophy in nearly three years under the charismatic German coach.
But there is no doubt Klopp has Liverpool headed in the right direction, as evidenced by how he has energised the tens of thousands of fans who defied a logistical nightmare to make their way to the Ukrainian capital.
For the first time in a decade, Liverpool have qualified for the Champions League in successive seasons.
Klopp, whose contract an Anfield runs till 2022, also has a promising young squad that should only be better for the experience of the run to this year's final.
Full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have shown themselves capable of competing at the highest level, while another young England international defender Joe Gomez will be back after an injury-plagued campaign next season.
Despite costing a world record £75 million for a defender, Virgil van Dijk looks like a shrewd acquisition and is in his prime at 26.
Energetic Guinean midfielder Naby Keita, 23, will join from RB Leipzig in the summer and, having spent only half of the record £142 million they received from Barcelona for Coutinho on Van Dijk in January, there should be plenty more funds available for Klopp to strengthen.
© 2018 AFP