Jurgen Klopp sat down in the belly of the Stade de France and tried his best to sound upbeat. There were few positives to take after this Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid but there was a parallel to draw with the previous one. “The difference between 2018 and now is that I see us coming again,” he said, thinking back to the final Kyiv. “Not in 2018. I wished it but I couldn’t know.”
There are a lot of differences between the Liverpool team of then and the Liverpool team of now. A coming force four years ago, they are now indisputably one of the best teams in Europe. Their obvious strengths were undermined by glaring weaknesses back then. Now, there are no soft spots for opponents to easily exploit. Some things do remain the same, though: for example, much of the personnel.
Six of the Liverpool players who started in kyiv also started in Paris. Two more – Roberto Firmino and James Milner – were among Klopp’s substitutes this time around. Despite their best player having just completed his 13th season at the Santiago Bernabeu and playing a three-man midfield of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro for the best part of a decade, Real Madrid’s starting line-up contained fewer survivors from 2018.
For Liverpool, the season after kyiv marked the start of a new cycle. Alisson arrived. It was Virgil van Dijk’s first full campaign. The missing pieces were in place. Since the start of 2018-19, over a run encompassing four full Premier League seasons, they trail Manchester City by a single point. If that gap has been closed by this time next year, Klopp will likely have won a second league title.
Yet less than 24 hours after defeat at the Stade de France, came a sign this iconic group has already danced their last dance. After a season in which much more attention has been paid to Mohamed Salah’s immediate future, word came that Sadio Mane is likely to have made his final Liverpool appearance. At 30-years-old, he wants a new challenge. Liverpool, meanwhile, want north of €30m and a replacement sorted before doing business.
Salah confirmed last week that he will definitely remain at Anfield this summer, at least, but his future will hang over next season unless it is sorted quickly. The expiration of Firmino’s contract is less of a concern given his ever so slightly diminished status but the prospect of the three attacking players that have defined Klopp’s Liverpool all leaving by the time of next summer remains real.
There is uncertainty among those on the fringes too. Relatively little has been made of the fact that Naby Keita’s terms also expire in 2023. After possibly his most effective year since arriving in 2018, he has just another 12 months remaining on his deal as well. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury history and reduced role would suggest an extension is unlikely. This summer’s loss of Divock Origi could be more keenly felt. Players who are happy to have his impact off the bench are hard to replace.
But perhaps most significantly of all, the final Paris also marked the final game of Michael Edwards as sporting director. His influence over the success of the past five seasons has arguably been greater than that of any player. I have signed them, after all. Yet the architect of this squad will not reshape it. That will be left to Julian Ward, his assistant to him and the continuity candidate. And in many ways, the rebuild has already begun.
The arrival of Luis Diaz in January rendered Liverpool’s attack an embarrassment of riches. His impact on him arguably surpassed even that of Diogo Jota, whose 21 goals in all competitions this season was not enough to earn a start in the Champions League final. Ibrahima Konate got one – selected ahead of Joel Matip – and capped an impressive debut year by being Liverpool’s best player in his home city.
Van Dijk has a partner, then, and two years left on his present terms. He will be around for a while yet, though he will also be 31-years-old this summer. Jordan Henderson is 32-years-old next month. Liverpool’s years of success have coincided with the peak years of key players, perhaps unsurprisingly, but the squad is on the older side as a result.
Only three top-flight clubs had a higher average age than Liverpool’s 27.7. All of these factors made Klopp’s about-face and sudden commitment until at least 2026 all the more intriguing.
By signing a two-year extension, he has essentially guaranteed that he will oversee the necessary rebuild. He has every reason to believe it will be a success. Recruitment at Anfield has been exemplary, arguably the best in class. The last time they entered a new cycle in kyiv, it was a winning one. Even so, Liverpool 3.0 under Klopp is coming, and it will be at least partly be a step into the unknown.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.