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Liverpool’s regret: Season for the ages has sour ending

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold reacts at the end of the Champions League final soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France in Saint Denis near Paris, Saturday, May 28, 2022. Real Madrid defeated Liverpool 1-0. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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PARIS (AP) — Sixty-three games. Four losses. Two trophies.

And a whole lot of disappointment.

That’s the scenario facing Liverpool’s players as they return home on Sunday from their painful Champions League final loss in Paris to a trophy parade through their city.

They’ll smile on that bus. They’ll accept the cheers from their adoring fans. But deep down, there’ll be thoughts of what could have been.

“Even if nobody on this planet would understand that we have a parade, we still will do it,” Klopp said, “and I really hope that everybody who has the chance to get to Liverpool is there and celebrates together with us a fantastic season which we all had together.

“It didn’t end like we wanted. But, yeah, that’s facts.”

It was only a week ago that Liverpool stood on the cusp of immortality. A quadruple of major trophies, for possibly the greatest ever single season by a club in football history, was in tantalizing reach.

Except Manchester City pulled off a stunning late comeback — three goals in five minutes — in a final-day win in the Premier League last weekend to finish one point ahead of Liverpool. Then Klopp’s team lost 1-0 to Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday to be denied a seventh European Cup.

The history books will say Liverpool finished the 2021-22 season with the League Cup and FA Cup trophies, both secured after penalty shootouts following 0-0 draws.

Somehow, it all feels so hollow, even though it really shouldn’t.

“The dressing room is quiet, devastated,” Liverpool left back Andrew Robertson said.

The crowd problems that surrounded the final in Paris also leave a bitter taste at the end of a long season that might just have caught up on Liverpool, which had players on the field who weren’t at 100% fitness and might have been mentally fatigued, too, after getting to the last game of all four competitions they competed in.

Yet, even though it wasn’t the smoothest and sharpest performance by the Reds at the Stade de France, they still had 24 shots compared to Madrid’s four and it needed a man-of-the-match performance from Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to keep out Liverpool.

Courtois said his fingertip save onto the post from Sadio Mane’s shot in the first half was his best, though the one from Mohamed Salah’s right-foot blast in the 81st — the Belgium goalkeeper stuck out his right hand and palmed the ball just wide of the post — really took the breath away.

There was lots of talk of Madrid having that winning culture that other teams can’t match — and the Spanish team’s haul of trophies is testament to that — but the match could easily have gone the other way.

As Klopp said: “They scored a goal, we didn’t. That’s the easiest explanation in the world of football.”

“When the goalkeeper is man of the match,” he added, “then something is going wrong for the other team.”

Liverpool knows how to respond to major setbacks. After losing the 2018 Champions League final, also to Madrid, the team bounced back by winning the competition the following year.

When Liverpool missed out on the Premier League title by one point in 2019, the team won the title the following year.

No surprise, then, that Klopp was in a bullish mood.

“I have a strong feeling we’ll come again,” he said. “The boys are really competitive. It’s an outstanding group together. We will have an outstanding group next season.”

And his message to fans?

“Where is it next season?” he asked about the Champions League final. “Istanbul? Book the hotel.”