Liverpool making progress under Jurgen Klopp but need a trophy to show it
KIEV, Ukraine -- The street cleaners were out in force at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning in Kiev, attempting to wash away the detritus following the Champions League final at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium which had seen Real Madrid triumph once again, thanks in no small part to the calamitous mistakes of Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius.
There will be many Liverpool supporters who would wish to see the German goalkeeper swept up and dumped with the empty bottles and cans which littered the streets of the Ukrainian capital in the aftermath of the match, following the two errors which led directly to goals for Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in Real's 3-1 win.
It was certainly a night that will quickly be consigned to the trash can of history for those wearing red in Kiev and only time will tell whether Karius, the 24-year-old former Mainz keeper, will be allowed to rehabilitate himself and rebuild his career at Anfield.
But how Liverpool react as a team and as a club is just as important as what happens next for Karius.
Perspective is required on both counts. Karius has not become a bad keeper in the space of 90 minutes -- just as he wasn't a great one before it -- but Liverpool must also locate the right place to stick the pin on their map of progression.
Had they beaten Real to win the European Cup for a sixth time, Jurgen Klopp's team would not have been the best team in Europe, they would simply have been Champions League winners. There is a distinct difference.
But in defeat, they are also not a team of chokers or a collection of players, and a coach, who are unable to take the crucial final step from nearly men to winners.
The problem with finals of this magnitude is that winning and losing leads to an exaggeration of the ramifications of the result, whichever side you end up on. And there is a danger that Liverpool will now be over-scrutinised and dismissed as a team with too many flaws to win the big trophies.
But Klopp and his players have arguably over-achieved this season by making it all the wait to Kiev.
Considering that Liverpool did not even compete in Europe last season, reaching a Champions League final this campaign was a remarkable feat, especially so when the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have each spent in the region of £1 billion in recent years without reaching a final.
Liverpool have played some breathtaking football, scored goals by the bucketload and beaten City three times in the space of four months, but they have still ended the season with nothing to show for it.
And in the cold light of day, the second-most successful club in English football history has won just one major trophy -- the 2012 League Cup -- in 12 years.
They have finished as runners-up in every other competition in that time -- twice in the Champions League -- so they are knocking on the door, but it is all about winning and Liverpool have won as many trophies as Swansea City and Leicester during the past decade.
So how do they achieve tangible reward for their progress?
Klopp will be allowed to strengthen his squad this summer, with midfielder Naby Keita already secured form RB Leipzig and efforts ongoing to sign Nabil Fekir from Lyon.
A new goalkeeper is a must, as was the case before Kiev, but Klopp has so far stubbornly refused to accept the need for a new No. 1. Though Karius' efforts may now have changed his mind.
But this season has shown that Liverpool can compete with, and beat, the best in England and that is the platform on which they must build.
Champions League success will always be the ultimate goal for a club of Liverpool's pedigree, but they have gone too long without silverware and giving greater importance to the domestic cups is perhaps a route they must now take. They simply have to stop the cycle of being second-best and get back to winning major trophies.
Manchester United have endured a difficult five years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, but nonetheless, they have won three major trophies during a time of transition, so have managed to keep on winning despite the fact other teams are stronger than them.
Liverpool need to rediscover the ability to do that because it is too much of a gamble to target only the Champions League and Premier League, especially with the likes of Real around in Europe and City only getting stronger in England.
But if they strip away all of the emotion of Kiev and dampen down the pain of defeat, Liverpool and Klopp will see that they are making progress and building a team to be feared at Anfield.
Trophies are the key, though, and next season needs to deliver at least one, regardless of which competition it comes in.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_