Jurgen Klopp looked like he’d dropped a fiver and found a parking ticket.
The Liverpool manager knew his words, positive or otherwise, could not dull the pain. He knew that for all the talk of pride and encouragement and fine margins, the bottom line would remain.
Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou may have been harsh, with Liverpool contributing plenty to an absorbing contest, but that will have provided little consolation to Klopp and his players, who must now confront the idea of ending a thrilling campaign without a trophy (or two) to show for their efforts.
That really would be harsh. While many will revel in Liverpool’s misfortune, their performance in Barcelona, for large periods anyway, served only to underline the progress this team have made this season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Klopp afterwards, and he meant it.
The problem is that when you strive to reach the elite level, eventually you run into elite opposition. And sometimes, gulp, you run into Lionel Messi.
Messi’s magic was the story of Wednesday’s game, the Argentine genius’ brace taking him to 600 Barcelona goals. “Ready to color Europe,” read the Camp Nou mosaic, pre-match, and their main man did exactly that.
For Liverpool, the inquest will start immediately. It is fair to praise the Reds for the courage and ambition of their performance in Spain but also to wonder what lessons they can learn in defeat.
Surely, for example, Klopp will need to add to his attacking options this summer? Surely that will be a priority when the transfer window re-opens in a few weeks’ time?
It was a surprise to see Gini Wijnaldum pressed into an attacking role in Barcelona.
The Dutchman started the game, if not as an orthodox No.9 then certainly as something close, occupying centre-backs, dropping deep to receive possession and to lead the press, a la Roberto Firmino.
Given he had started Liverpool’s last two games as a holding midfielder, it was a surreal sight.
Wijnaldum, for all his qualities, is not Firmino, and the Brazilian’s absence – he was left on the bench following a muscle injury, introduced for the last 11 minutes with the score at 2-0 – was keenly felt by Liverpool, who worked a series of promising positions but lacked a sure touch and calm heads when they got there.
Firmino’s importance to Liverpool is unquestionable. Like Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, he is irreplaceable within Klopp’s system, his touch, work ethic and selflessness allowing his colleagues to flourish.
Between them, those three have 65 goals this season, having been responsible for 91 last term. Unsurprising, then, that when you take one of them out of the side, it shows.
It showed on Wednesday, just as it did in last season’s Champions League final, when Salah departed with a shoulder injury and seemed to take Liverpool’s poise and belief with him.
Adam Lallana replaced Salah in Kiev, Wijnaldum stood in for Firmino in Barcelona. Good players they may be, but the drop-off is clear. And what does their selection say about the manager’s faith in his backup forwards?
In Kiev, Klopp left Dominic Solanke on the bench and Danny Ings out of the squad entirely. In Barcelona, Divock Origi was summoned for the final six minutes at 3-0, while Xherdan Shaqiri was unused. Daniel Sturridge, once the Reds’ starting No.9, was nowhere to be seen.
Put simply, those players are not trusted to deliver when the stakes are at their highest. All have contributed at times this season, but none are capable of playing their way into Liverpool’s side on a regular basis. And so any kind of injury to Salah, Mane or Firmino reduces the Reds’ chances dramatically.
Klopp might suggest that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made his return from a long-term knee injury against Huddersfield last Friday, would bolster his options for the wide forward positions once fully fit.
There are also high hopes for teenage striker Rhian Brewster, himself recently recovered from serious injury. The 19-year-old is yet to make a competitive appearance at senior level, but is seen as someone who can, eventually, become a first-teamer at Anfield.
That may well prove to be the case, but if Liverpool are wanting to compete with Manchester City domestically and with the likes of Barcelona abroad, it would make sense to invest in another high-class forward player this summer.
It could, in fact, be the final piece of Klopp’s jigsaw.