On Saturday evening, a week after Manchester United’s bitterly disappointing FA Cup final defeat against Chelsea, we braced ourselves for our season to reach new depths of misery.
Liverpool took on Real Madrid in the Champions League final in a bid to take their tally to six European Cup wins, double the number United have to their name.
A few weeks ago, a surprisingly high number of our supporters were ready to admit they would take losing to Chelsea at Wembley if that meant Liverpool would lose in Kiev, which illustrates just how desperate United fans were for our hated rivals to be beaten.
While we may have been cursing God the weekend before, or at least Jose Mourinho and Phil Jones, United fans were euphoric on Saturday night as Liverpool’s European dream was ruined.
The game started badly for them after Mohamed Salah went off with a shoulder injury after half an hour. Social media was awash with United fans claiming it was no surprise he’d done his shoulder in after carrying Liverpool all season. Having scored an incredible 44 goals in 51 games this season, sections of United’s support were rejoicing at the injury.
Very quickly, the #stayclassy brigade were out in full force claiming it was wrong to celebrate the injury of a footballer. These arguments might have had more weight had Liverpool fans not once crafted a song in honour of John Arne Riise for breaking Alan Smith’s leg. Many of these virtuous comments were prefaced with comments like “I’ve supported United for 20 years and…”, as they patted themselves on the back for their morality.
Don’t get me wrong, Salah seems like a sound bloke and it’s rare that a United fan could feel anything but disdain for a player representing the scousers, and that is a credit to how humble and talented he is. There won’t be many in Manchester hoping that the injury keeps the Egyptian out of the World Cup. Yet that doesn’t take anything away from the huge relief felt over seeing Liverpool’s best hope of lifting the trophy walking off the field in tears. He hurt his shoulder, he didn’t break his neck, yet the same bores trotted out the line of “you should never celebrate the injury of a footballer.” Yeh, alright. These are likely the same folk who support all English teams in Europe.
Who knows what might have happened if not for Salah tangling with the villainous Sergio Ramos, with the striker initiating contact when linking his arm around the Spaniard’s, before the pair tumbled and he landed awkwardly on his shoulder? To quote Clive Tyldesley 19 years ago, with the greatest of respect, who cares?
Ramos with a cynical, premeditated, horrible horrible assault, right @MaddockMirror ?
Or did maybe Salah initiate the contact and they both fall over?
Dry your eyes mate. pic.twitter.com/sAaIGEYOR8
— Stephen Howson ?? (@MrStephenHowson) May 26, 2018
With the heads of the Liverpool players understandably dropping, Loris Karius stepped forward to compound their misery. “If he was not a good goalkeeper I would be the biggest idiot in world football,” Jurgen Klopp said in March. I’ll leave that there without comment.
Under no pressure to act fast and with the opportunity to allow his teammates to get back in to position, Karius opted to throw the ball out, despite Karim Benzema lurking a few yards away. The Frenchman only had to stick his leg out to block the throw and the ball rolled in to the back of the net. It was disastrous goalkeeping.
Thankfully for Karius, Sadio Mane equalised within minutes and Liverpool fans had hope again. With the odds stacked against them and the supporters in full voice, their thoughts drifted to the legendary night in Istanbul.
But Gareth Bale spoiled the party when coming on to score arguably the greatest Champions League final goal of all time. There was nothing Karius, or any other goalkeeper, could have done to stop that one.
This is the best goal EVER in a final.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 26, 2018
With time running out and Liverpool chasing an equaliser, Karius put the game to bed when fluffing the easiest of saves from a tame shot from Bale. The Welshman could hardly believe his luck when Karius patted the ball in to the back of the net. It’s hard to fathom what he was trying to do.
Last season, Gary Neville claimed that Karius transmitted anxiety to his teammates, which the goalkeeper reacted angrily to, claiming the United legend was just a failed manager, before mockingly calling him an “expert”. Neville unsurprisingly was unable to hide his delight at the final whistle when posting up altered lyrics to Liverpool’s “Allez Allez Allez” chant.
People have reflected on Karius’ inexperience and talk about him as though he’s a child, ignoring the fact he will turn 25 in a few weeks. At the same age, De Gea was the best goalkeeper in the league and one of the greatest in the world. Karius is not a kid, he’s just not very good and Klopp has paid the price for not addressing the alarmingly obvious goalkeeper issue at Liverpool in the three years he’s been their manager.
“You’ll never walk alone” is the famous Anfield anthem but they should add a caveat to that. You’ll most certainly walk alone if you make mistakes in the Champions League final, as Karius found when his teammates abandoned him as he cried his eyes out on the pitch without any of them coming to console him.
'Not one of the #LFC outfield players has gone to Karius. That tells you all you need to know'
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) May 27, 2018
Liverpool supporters took to Twitter to wish death on him and his family. Who knows who these people are but it’s hard to imagine they are match-going fans.
At the end of the game, Klopp was left to walk past the trophy with a runners up medal around his neck for the sixth consecutive final he’s overseen. Mourinho once famously referred to Arsene Wenger as a specialist in failure but it appears as though the German is keen to take the title.
After the game, Liverpool supporters were quick to hail the progress they’ve made and how next year will be their year, as they have done for the past three decades. The truth is that even with a striker who has as many goals as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they finished fourth, again, and won nothing, again.
There has been plenty of comments about how far United have fallen for our fans to take so much joy from Liverpool’s failure. It’s not as if we’ve had any silverware of our own to celebrate this season. But back in 2007, when we were the champions, and Liverpool lost to AC Milan in the final, I was just as delighted. When did it become wrong to take pleasure from seeing your rivals suffer?
“It’s in the DNA of Liverpool Football Club to win trophies,” captain Jordan Henderson said ahead of the final. The truth is they have won just one trophy in 12 years and that was the League Cup on penalties against Championship side Cardiff in 2012.
But hey, there’s always next year, right?