Jürgen Klopp, 54, had already been informed that he had to take part in the interview tour. But he did not want to miss the salute to the approximately 2,000 Liverpool supporters who had accompanied his team to Villarreal. Klopp walked towards them, looked at them, and what could be seen from afar were gleaming white teeth framed by a distinctive full beard. Klopp clenched his right fist and slammed it – once, twice, three, four times. Then he patted his chest, where the heart is, put both hands over his mouth and let a kiss fly into the night. And you didn’t just see it, you felt it: there, on the almost deserted lawn, near the penalty area, was a completely happy man.
Klopp’s ‘Reds’ had won 3-2 at Villarreal, and that means on top of the 2-0 success in the first leg: the six-time winner of the National Cup and the Champions League, Liverpool have the final for the tenth time the most important trophy in European club football in its history. Klopp himself can look back on some impressive work with some pride: after 2013 (with Borussia Dortmund), 2018 and 2019, he will play the fourth first-class final of his storied coaching career. One man, Liverpool club legend Bob Paisley, had managed before Klopp to lead Liverpool to three Premier League finals – Paisley also lifting the trophy in 1977, 1978 and 1981; Klopp has ‘only’ won in 2019 so far.
Klopp can also still hope to win four titles this season. His team has already conquered the Coupe de la Ligue; they show promise in the league, facing Chelsea in the FA Cup final and have now reached the Champions League final. “Huge,” Klopp said. He told his players in advance that he wanted to read the title after the game: “The monsters of mentality were in town!” He wanted to sign him later for the second half, but not for the first half. Said it and jokingly wondered if they were called “mentalitare monstrosos” in Spanish. Which is certainly not the case. But who cared that night, on the Klopp by the way extended an impressive streak: the last three Champions League titles have been won by German managers: Klopp himself won in Madrid in 2019; In 2020, Hansi Flick inherited it with FC Bayern in Lisbon – and last summer Thomas Tuchel led Chelsea FC in Porto to the greatest consecration imaginable in club football.
Liverpool mastered the ‘football problems with football solutions’ diagnosed by Klopp after the break
Liverpool’s entry into the final matched the logic that resulted from Liverpool’s history, the much higher budget and performances in the home stadium. But behind the result hid a job that Klopp’s side had apparently imagined easier.
On a rainy day, when one could hardly have been surprised to come across a Noah building an ark on the way to the Estadio de La Cerámica – it was sort of the reds their time – startup failed unexpectedly. Villarreal took the lead after less than three minutes – through Boulaye Dia, who had only played as an extra this season. And: It couldn’t have been ruled out that referee Danny Makkelie gave away a 37th-minute penalty when Giovani Lo Celso and goalkeeper Alisson Becker clashed inside the Liverpool penalty area. Alisson had literally knocked Lo Celso down; the referee found Alisson had played the ball first. A few minutes after this very controversial action, Villarreal took the lead 2-0 thanks to Francis Coquelin (41st).
Liverpool looked disturbed enough to believe a third Villarreal goal was plausible. Alone: Liverpool escaped the fate suffered by FC Bayern in the quarter-finals. Through the mentality sung by Klopp. Mostly, however, because the team got their ‘football problems’ under control in the first half ‘with football solutions’, as Klopp diagnosed. They also had the outrageous, albeit marginal, luck that Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno, who initially played brilliantly, suffered a muscle injury midway through the first half. “We couldn’t take it emotionally,” Villarreal coach Unai Emery said.
“We didn’t have a single problem in the first half, we had eleven,” Klopp said.
“I don’t remember exactly what I said at half-time,” Klopp explained, although his exchanges with the players revolved around the need to play better than in the first 45 minutes. Klopp had asked his analysts before the break to spot a scene in which Liverpool performed well to show the players onscreen at half-time. “But Peter Krawietz (coach’s assistant; Noted. editor) said: He found none.”
Klopp saw the reason for this in the early deficit, which paralyzed his team’s thoughts and movements. “We didn’t have the right structure, we weren’t playing in the right spaces, we suddenly started playing long balls to force him, we were too static…” complained Klopp. He broke that momentum by bringing in Luis Díaz for Diogo Jota. Not that the Portuguese was the cause of all ills at Liverpool, Klopp stressed: “We didn’t have in the first half a Problem, we had eleven problems.” But it was obvious that Díaz brought more agility and flexibility to Liverpool’s game – which had repercussions throughout the midfield. Even on Fabinho, who until- there had not only been alongside Thiago, but above all beside him And: It played on Liverpool’s cards that Villarreal goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli dropped to dramatic proportions.
When Fabinho scored first (62nd), he let a relatively harmless shot go through his legs. But what no one suspected was that this would only be the prelude to further mistakes by the Argentine keeper and, ultimately, the hosts’ emotional meltdown. When Luis Díaz equalized in the meantime, Rulli again slipped the ball between his legs; when the score was 2-3 he ran out of the penalty area largely without rhyme or reason but was then cornered by Sadio Mané so the Senegalese only had to maneuver the ball into the empty goal. Liverpool’s third goal made the rest of the game a matter of protocol. There remained the dismissal of Étienne Capoue. And the pride of Villarreal. “We showed we weren’t there by invitation,” Coach Emery said. “But it hurts.” Klopp, on the other hand, can look forward to the Paris final, which will also be the 62nd of a possible 62 games for Liverpool this season. Not much more is possible.