Super Cup win gives Liverpool a sense of how difficult it will be to eclipse last season's success
ISTANBUL -- It was 17 minutes before 1 a.m. when goalkeeper Adrian saved Tammy Abraham's penalty to win the UEFA Super Cup for Liverpool. It was half an hour later by the time captain Jordan Henderson and his teammates had paraded the club's second European trophy in the space of three months around the pitch.
This was football's version of "A Hard Day's Night" for both Liverpool and runners-up Chelsea.
Winning is an intoxicating feeling for any competitor, and the sight of manager Jurgen Klopp and his players sprinting across the turf at Vodafone Park following Adrian's save highlighted just how much victory meant to Liverpool. They appeared as ecstatic in Istanbul as they did in Madrid after beating Tottenham to win the Champions League in June.
But it is only when the dust settles on this 5-4 penalty shootout win against Europa League winners Chelsea, following a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes and extra-time failed to separate the two English rivals, that Liverpool will discover the true cost of this success.
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However their season pans out from this point on, the 120 minutes plus penalties in Turkey, when they started on a Wednesday and finished on Thursday, might just prove to be their season in microcosm.
It is going to be a tough, long and demanding slog all the way to the finish line. If Liverpool are to build on their Champions League win and end a 30-year wait for the English title in May, they are facing an even greater test of their resolve and fitness than last season, when they came so close to wrestling the Premier League trophy from Manchester City's grasp.
For a start, they must somehow recover their physical and mental freshness in time for Saturday's 3 p.m. local trip to Southampton, after a four-hour return flight to England on Thursday afternoon. Chelsea, who restored pride and showed promise after Sunday's 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, do not play until Sunday, and they also have the benefit of being at home against Leicester rather than travelling again, as Liverpool must do.
The merits of playing the Super Cup in mid-August, just days after the start of the Premier League season, and then forcing the two teams to endure 30 minutes of extra-time before penalties is perhaps a debate for another day, when the wisdom, or otherwise, of playing for two hours is properly scrutinised. Klopp, certainly, was bemused by the decision to play extra-time rather than go straight to penalties at the end of 90 minutes.
"I don't think anyone in the stadium wanted to see twice 15 minutes," Klopp said. "It was really a killer, but that's how it is. Nobody wanted extra-time.
"We play on Saturday and we have to find a way to be ready. At 90 minutes, [Chelsea manager] Frank Lampard asked where and when we play next. I told him Southampton on Saturday, and he laughed and said, 'Congratulations.'"
Yet having won the Champions League last season, this was a taste of what Liverpool must get used to this time around.
They did not have it easy last season by any means, but Liverpool played just 52 competitive games in all competitions last term. They were knocked out of the Carabao Cup after just one game, losing to Chelsea in round three, while Wolves dumped them out of the FA Cup in the third round in January.
Already this season, Liverpool have played, and lost, the Community Shield against City, with this game against Chelsea another fixture they did not have to contend with last season. Winning the Champions League ensures that Liverpool will compete in the FIFA Club World Cup in December, which will involve two games, not to mention the eight-hour flight to Qatar and back.
City played 61 games on their way to a domestic treble last season, and Liverpool must realistically plan to play at least 60 this term, unless they suffer similarly tough draws in the entry rounds of the domestic cup competitions as they landed last year.
It is difficult to envisage City, who should have won the league by a bigger margin, according to ESPN's Luck Index, giving them any encouragement by making things easier for Liverpool this season, so Klopp and his players might just have to get used to their energy being tested as much as it was in Istanbul, when the likes of Fabinho and Joe Gomez ended the game having treatment for cramp.
Klopp also must find a way to manage the fitness and contribution of key players such as Virgil van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, who were all involved in international tournaments for their national teams this summer. Twelve months ago, the Liverpool squad started the season after a much lighter World Cup workload than their rivals, but this year, the boot is on the other foot.
But if winning the Super Cup proved to be a greater drain on their resources than Klopp would have wished, Liverpool still emerged victorious, and that is the major positive that the manager will take from this game. His players have proved their ability and desire to go the extra mile once again, but it won't be the last time they are asked to do so this season.
"It was a big fight tonight," Klopp said. "I didn't know how good it will feel if we won it, but it was outstanding. It was brilliant."
It might only be August, but Liverpool already know they must prepare themselves for a marathon.