Liverpool's final defeat shows Jurgen Klopp the task he faces
Jurgen Klopp was supposed to take Liverpool Football Club into a new era and break new boundaries, but not in this fashion. Losing on penalties in a cup final for the first time -- this was the sixth time a Liverpool team had gone to a shootout -- was an unwelcome new emotion for their supporters.
Klopp described his own feelings after losing as "s---" before downgrading them later to "rubbish". He had been unable to break a personal sequence of sinking spirits, with Wembley making it four final losses in a row; last May he signed off from Borussia Dortmund by losing the German Cup decider to Wolsburg.
The scale of Klopp's Anfield task was laid bare at Wembley. Had Raheem Sterling not frozen against his old club and missed two second-half chances, Liverpool would have been well beaten before Philippe Coutinho's 83rd minute equaliser of Fernandinho's opener, which sent the game to extra time.
Manuel Pellegrini's team had superior performers in each department including, as it turned out, goalkeeper. Willy Caballero, City's second-choice behind Jose Hart, saved three penalties and outshone Liverpool's Simon Mignolet.
The Belgian, who recently signed up to a new five-year contract to the incredulity of many fans, suffered calamity in letting Fernandinho score through his legs, which meant three other superlative saves, two from Sergio Aguero and one from Yaya Toure, could not save his blushes.
Klopp has made Mignolet his own problem by backing the goalkeeper both publicly and privately, describing him last month as "perfect for us" and signing off on that contract deal. Wembley, though, must have shaken such faith.
"Manchester City should not have scored their goal," Klopp said, though that almost certainly extended the blame to Alberto Moreno, the left-back left hapless by Fernandinho, a central midfielder playing out of position.
Moreno's subsequent removal from proceedings, which saw James Milner drop deep to replace him, left Klopp's defence featuring two converted midfielders in Milner and Lucas, plus a veteran in Kolo Toure, leaving only Nathaniel Clyne as a long-term option.
Injuries have taken their toll, with Mamadou Sakho leaving the game early with concussion to add to the absences of Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren. Liverpool do not have the spending power of City but, even if all that group were fit, few could suggest that Klopp had a crack unit to call on.
Sifting through the personnel left by the previous managerial regimes of Brendan Rodgers and Kenny Dalglish, as guided by the club's transfer committee and at a cost of almost £400 million, looks a daunting assignment. And players who might be expected to form a spine of the team have not starred consistently since Klopp took over in October.
Wembley was not a pleasant experience for Jordan Henderson or Daniel Sturridge. The striker was hardly given a kick by the imperious Vincent Kompany, and his manager later suggested that cramp precluded him from taking a penalty.
Henderson meanwhile, was anonymous in midfield, a performance not befitting of the club captain who succeeded Steven Gerrard and his absence from the penalty takers' list was confusing considering that a year ago, in a Europa League tie with Besiktas, he and Mario Balotelli tussled over who would take a spot-kick.
Both players' injury problems appear to have ravaged their confidence; Henderson has a degenerative heel problem and Sturridge has scored just once in five matches since returning from his latest absence.
Without the all-action roadrunner midfielder that Henderson is supposed to be, or Sturridge the fleet-footed striker, Klopp is ill-suited to recreate what made his name at Dortmund, defending and attacking at breakneck pace, all the while overpowering the opponent.
There was little sign of "gegenpressing" at Wembley as Liverpool proved wholly unable to repeat their November 4-1 win at City's Etihad Stadium, when it appeared Klopp might work a quick miracle and convert Liverpool into overnight contenders.
That was always an unrealistic expectation considering that, at both Dortmund and Mainz before that, Klopp took three years to deliver successes. Liverpool may still be in the Europa League, with Manchester United drawn in the next round, but the groundwork for the future is taking place already, with Joel Matip added from Schalke for next season to add to January's signing of Serbian teenager Marko Grujic.
At Wembley, Liverpool's solace in defeat lay in the collective spirit shown in fighting back to equalise and then take the game to a shootout, where history had previously suggested they could triumph.
Such doggedness needs to be a bedrock of the new Liverpool but Klopp still requires much more than that if his regime is to be successful.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.