Keita, Fabinho & now for Fekir? Klopp's Liverpool already moving on from Champions League heartache

Naby Keita Fabinho Nabil Fekir Split
It has been a season of progress at Anfield but they need more if they are to become a winning team, as Saturday's loss to Real Madrid underlined

Fair play to Jurgen Klopp, he never stays sad for long.

The Liverpool manager cut a disconsolate figure as he exited the NSC Olympiyskiy Stadium in Kiev on Saturday evening, and no wonder.

His team had seen their Champions League dreams dashed in a blur of tears, blunders and overhead kicks of the most absurd quality. His losing run in finals now stands at six. He knows what people will say about that.

His post-match press conference, meanwhile, had been hijacked by enthusiastic locals offering ill-timed compliments, a round of applause and, at the end, requests for selfies. Credit to Klopp for keeping his composure while being told he is “a true rock and roller” and that he “makes football better” after such a painful experience. His face, though, said it all.

Soon, the mood had changed. As Liverpool fans began making their way home from Kiev – some direct, many via various European outposts such as Minsk, Krakow, Warsaw, Rome and Copenhagen – a video emerged on social media.

Posted by German punk-rock band ‘Die Toten Hosen’ (The Dead Trousers), it showed Klopp in good spirits, singing and dancing with friends, including Reds coach Peter Krawietz.

“We saw the European Cup,” they began. “Madrid had all the f*cking luck! We swear we’ll keep on being cool. We’ll bring it back to Liverpool!”

Echoes of the Europa League final of 2016, when Klopp had used song to issue a rallying cry to his players after a painful defeat. Then, as now, Liverpool needed to take the hit, re-group and come again – only stronger.

Defeat to Real Madrid hurt, but it is the manner of it which will sting the most. Liverpool were undone more by misfortune and two inexplicable goalkeeping errors as by the superiority of their opposition. They left Kiev with pride, for sure, but also regrets. Did they show all they were capable of? Did they give themselves the best possible chance? 

In the cold light of day, it goes down as another missed opportunity, a disappointing end to a promising season. Liverpool have made progress over the last two years, but that final step, the biggest of all, is still to be taken.

Since 2012, the Reds have lost the FA Cup final and the League Cup final, they’ve contested both major European finals and been beaten, and finished second in the Premier League having led the table with three games to play. Throw in defeats in the FA Cup and League Cup semi-finals, and the ‘nearly men’ tag makes even more sense. They’re a competitive side, but not a winning one. Yet.

To change that will require strong minds as well as strong recruitment. Liverpool’s players have proven they can get to the line, but are yet to show they can get over it. Not all of them, you suspect, will get the chance to do so again.

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It was somewhat inevitable that two of the main areas of concern among supporters should be highlighted so starkly on the grand stage. Concerns over the goalkeeping situation have not subsided despite an improved run of form from Loris Karius since Christmas; the German’s horror show in Kiev means the club must reconsider its view that he is the undisputed No.1 to take the club forward.

Squad depth, too, remains an issue and was exposed the second Mohamed Salah tangled with Sergio Ramos. Liverpool employed only two substitutes while chasing the biggest game of their lives; the only striker they had on the bench, Dominic Solanke, remained unused.

Liverpool must address these issues in the summer. Word from the club is that there is a reluctance to spend big on a goalkeeper, but doing so could make a huge difference going forwards – providing they do so on the right one. Alisson Becker, for example, would be a huge upgrade; Jack Butland less so.

At the other end of the field, it is all about giving Klopp more options to play with. He has been blessed this season by the brilliance of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who finished the campaign with 91 goals between them.

However, a team with Liverpool’s ambitions cannot pin their hopes on keeping three players fit across a 60-game campaign. The manager must be able to rotate and to freshen things up when necessary, whether off the bench or from the start.

At least one multi-functional forward signing is required, while it will be interesting to see if any of Harry Wilson, Sheyi Ojo or Divock Origi are given a chance to shine. Danny Ings, left out of the 18-man squad in Kiev, is likely to leave, while Solanke has a long way to go if he is to be considered a reliable first-team option.

Rhian Brewster, a teenager with immense promise, is considering leaving the club for Germany; it would be a blow to lose such a highly-rated talent before he has played a first-team game for the club.

In midfield, the revolution is already underway. On Monday evening, the club confirmed the signing of Fabinho from Monaco in a deal worth up to €50million . It was a transfer that was kept impressively under wraps, and one which will go down well with supporters.

The Brazilian is an accomplished defensive-minded No.6 with excellent pedigree, who can also operate as a right-back if needed . Having seen off interest from a host of rivals, including Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, his capture represents a coup for the Reds.

As does the purchase of Naby Keita, whose move from RB Leipzig was set up last summer. The Guinea international brings a thrust, aggression and energy from the middle of the park that has been needed, for all the good work done by the likes of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner. Klopp is particularly excited about this signing.

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The defence looks a little more straightforward, although it is easy to argue that Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren are yet to prove that they can provide the consistency a title-winning club needs.

Lovren, in fairness, has had a good season and was exceptional in the Champions League final; Klopp rates the Croatian highly, and so any central defensive signing this summer would more likely be to take the place of Ragnar Klavan as fourth option. Joe Gomez, perhaps, could do that job from within.

The good news is that Liverpool’s business, generally, has been good over the past two years. Mane, Salah and Andy Robertson have been unqualified successes, as has Virgil van Dijk, while Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who is likely to be sidelined until October with a knee injury – have made significant contributions too. Only Karius and Solanke are yet to convince.

Michael Edwards, the sporting director, shares a close and healthy relationship with Klopp, and the club's reputation in the transfer market is growing with every window. So much so, in fact, that the club fear the idea of rivals 'piggy-backing' on their research and target identification – in essence allowing Liverpool to do the donkey work before they gazump the Reds with a higher offer to player or club.

Klopp's reputation, though, helps counteract that possibility. He is a manager players are keen to play for, and the way his team plays appeals to Europe's best talents.

Liverpool were able to see off significant competition for both Keita and Fabinho, and are hoping to do the same with Nabil Fekir , the Lyon attacking midfielder. With the transfer window due to close earlier than usual this year, expect progress on other targets to move quickly.

The objective is simple, to retain the kind of thrilling, attack-minded football we have seen over the course of this season, and add to it an extra layer of steel and defensive resilience. Liverpool finished the campaign fourth, securing Champions League football for a second successive season, but a gap of 25 points to Manchester City says it all; consistency eludes this team.

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Seven league draws at Anfield, including against two of the three relegated sides, show the need for more creativity and ruthlessness against deep-lying defences, while Liverpool recorded just two wins in 10 meetings with the rest of the ‘big six’ teams, conceding 16 times in five away games. There are clear areas for improvement.

Clear progress too, though. Poor teams do not reach Champions League finals, nor do they finish in the top four. While the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea prepare for summer overhauls, Liverpool look far more settled and secure. They have a manager who is both trusted and loved, players who have shown they can go toe to toe with Europe’s finest and, it is hoped, the ambition and financial power to make things even better.

The present is painful right now, but the future can be bright. A big summer awaits, and is already well and truly under way.