Liverpool held off a stubborn Augsburg, overcame domestic rivals Manchester United, staged an epic second half comeback against Borussia Dortmund, and overpowered Villarreal. In the end, though, when the moment for glory arrived, too many players crumbled under the pressure.
“It’s hard to put into words what happened out there,” Daniel Sturridge told the media following Wednesday’s disheartening 3-1 Europa League final defeat to Sevilla. “In the first half we worked very hard, put everything into it, and in the second half we probably got stunned a little bit with the goal.
“From there, I wouldn’t say it was an uphill struggle, but it was probably the experience we kind of lacked in terms of keeping calm. I wouldn’t come out of this game and say we didn’t work our socks off, but we probably didn’t play to the level we could’ve played, but you learn from your mistakes.”
It’s a harsh lesson, but one it appears this Liverpool side needed. Despite a lot of promising signs under new manager Jürgen Klopp, this is a side that lost in a pair of finals to sides that looked better equipped to handle the pressure of the situation. Still, that they made it that far has to count for something.
Few were expecting to end the season with a chance at European glory when Liverpool got off to a stumbling start under Brendan Rodgers, and that this ending can be so disappointing speaks to the way expectations have been raised—by victories over Augsburg and United and Dortmund and Villarreal.
There’s hurt following a loss like Wednesday’s, but there’s also hope. And having spent much of a season with a squad he inherited, Klopp will now get the summer to make any necessary changes, while those who remain in his long-term plans will be stronger for what they’ve now gone through.
“I feel like when you work so hard to get where you are, you’re in a final and this is the stage for everyone to step up,” Sturridge added. “It’s one of those games where you take it on the chin [but] I just want to thank the fans for travelling out here and making it feel like a home game for us.”