Liverpool avenges a year's worth of setbacks in 90 Champions League final minutes

TOPSHOT - Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah celebrates with the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League final football match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on June 1, 2019. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)
Mohamed Salah and Liverpool were smiling on Saturday, something they haven't done after the conclusion of a major final in over a decade. (Getty)

A year ago, Liverpool sat dejected on the pitch in Kiev.

Three weeks ago, Liverpool sat a point short of a Premier League title.

A few hours ago, Liverpool finally stood upright in earned accomplishment.

The Reds’ sixth European title, won Saturday by beating Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final, served as a giant exhale for one of the giants of world soccer.

Owners of the third-most continental crowns of any club, and almost as many as every other English club combined, Liverpool’s first bit of retribution didn’t take long. Mohamed Salah converted a penalty kick in the second minute to hand the Reds a shock lead.

Salah endured his own shock late last May, when he was forced to leave the Champions League final against Real Madrid after just a half an hour. The shimmering conclusion to Salah’s breakout season had been taken away from him, and the Reds had to fight the rest of the way without him.

They ultimately lost, and they did so in part due to terrible goalkeeping errors. Loris Karius’ toss from the back was blocked by Karim Benzema to concede the first goal, and his howler on Gareth Bale’s clincher has gone down in infamy.

Karius was loaned to Turkish power Besiktas last summer, and Brazilian backstop Alisson Becker was brought in to replace him.

After Alisson’s eight-save performance Saturday, Tottenham probably wished he wasn’t.

Moreover, Alisson’s spine mate Virgil van Dijk endured plenty of criticism after his world-record transfer to Anfield 16 months ago, and the clean sheet in Madrid put the finishing touches on a tremendous season during which he was named Player of the Year in the Premier League.

The league title is arguably what Liverpool’s faithful want most. The Reds ruled English soccer for much of the 20th century, but their last top-flight title came in 1990, two years before the advent of the Premier League.

The closest they’ve come to it was in early May, when Manchester City edged Liverpool to win the Premier League again, 98 points to 97. That’s the most points ever for a second-place finisher, and it’s a different kind of heartbreak from the Reds’ ill-fated runner-up finishes in 2009, when they did the double over eventual champion Manchester United, and 2014, when they fumbled away a lead again against City.

To be sure, most of the world’s fan bases would be happy to have Liverpool’s “problems.” But there’s no question the club has won a lot lately without winning any silverware.

At least until Saturday. As Jurgen Klopp confirmed his place among the game’s all-time great managers, Liverpool fans celebrated their first major title since hoisting the Champions League trophy in 2005 after a memorable comeback vs. AC Milan.

So it’s easy to appreciate what Liverpool has done. And marvel at the manner in which they did it. This is the best team in Europe, every player complementing the next, every tactic drilled into gegenpresience.

Next season will be an incredible opportunity to break the Premier League drought.

Liverpool won’t need to avenge the Champions League crown. That’s all theirs.

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