By 90Min
May 08, 2018

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp stands on the brink of making history. He is just 90 (or possibly 120) minutes away from potentially winning his first UEFA Champions League trophy, and Liverpool's first since their extraordinary comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final.

If the Reds overcome Real Madrid in Kiev on May 26th - and, for reasons discussed here, that's a very big if - Klopp will become the fourth Liverpool manager to lift the European Cup or Champions League, after Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Rafael Benitez.

To the dismay and disbelief of Reds fans, he could still also emulate Benitez in another, far less admirable respect. When the Spaniard led Liverpool to the first of two Champions League finals under his stewardship, they finished outside the top four of the Premier League, and would have missed out on the following season's Champions League if they hadn't upset Milan in Istanbul. 

Admittedly, Liverpool only need a home win against lowly Brighton to guarantee a top-four place, and the Seagulls have already secured their Premier League status. Still, Klopp must be scratching his head, wondering how his side have managed to transform what should have been a routine task into a potentially tricky one.

Despite that scintillating 5-2 win over Roma at Anfield, the Reds' record in their last five matches is actually extremely sobering for Liverpool fans - they have won one, drawn two and lost two.

What makes it even more sobering is that those two draws came against West Brom, who are still likely to be relegated despite an extraordinary late surge, and Stoke City, who have since been relegated.

Those five results illustrate that Klopp still hasn't addressed three familiar Liverpool failings - defensive frailty, poor game management, and a tendency to struggle against sides that have been set up to defend.

Both results against AS Roma in the Champions League semi final - including the home win - are perfect illustrations of those first two weaknesses.

Once the Reds had taken a 5-0 lead at Anfield, they should have shut up shop and frustrated Roma. In the previous round against Manchester City, they did exactly that to their opponents after taking a 3-0 lead in the home leg, and a 2-1 lead in the away leg.

And yet, partly through complacency but also thanks to awful defending - most notably by Dejan Lovren - the Reds let Roma back into the tie, when the Italians should have been dead and buried.

To concede two late goals in one match could be treated as a misfortune. To do it in three matches, looks like a pattern. Home and away against Roma, and in the 2-2 draw against West Brom at the Hawthorns, the Reds were guilty of serious defensive lapses and tactical naivety.

If Liverpool are to beat Real Madrid in Kiev, or mount a credible Premier League title challenge next season, these inadequacies need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The other two matches - the goalless stalemate with Stoke and the 1-0 defeat away to Chelsea - are classic examples of the third weakness.

Both Stoke and Chelsea were set up to frustrate Liverpool and, if possible, plunder at least one goal. Chelsea's game plan worked perfectly at Stamford Bridge - and had it not been for a bad miss by Ryan Shawcross towards the end of the Stoke clash at Anfield, the Reds' top-four hopes would be hanging by a thread now. 

In a way, Liverpool's magnificent front three of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah - who have netted an incredible 89 goals between them this season - have done exactly what Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard did for Brendan Rodgers' Reds in the 2013/14 season. Their extraordinarily prolific form has distracted attention from their side's fundamental weaknesses.

If Liverpool's first choice lineup hadn't generally been so fortunate in terms of avoiding injuries this season, we might also have been reminded of the club's lack of strength in depth. For example, Danny Ings is a good striker, but not a great one - as has been all too evident in his recent appearances.

Of course, if Klopp wins the Champions League, he will rightly earn plaudits for his achievement. Yet - as is discussed in depth here and here - the Reds are somewhat fortunate to be in the final at all.

Yes, they've been a joy to watch at times and have arguably been this season's most exciting team in both the Premier League and the Champions League. Then again, so were Brazil in the 1982 FIFA World Cup; so were Newcastle United in the 1995/96 Premier League season under Kevin Keegan; and, of course, so were Liverpool four seasons ago.

But let's not forget one crucial detail: none of those sides won any trophies.

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