Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Wolves was not enough to win the Premier League title as Manchester City came through an early scare to win 4-1 at Brighton. It was tough for the Anfield crowd to take but these supporters have every reason to believe in Jurgen Klopp’s team, writes Adam Bate.
Jordan Henderson puts Trent Alexander-Arnold away down the right wing and his cross finds Sadio Mane in the box. Liverpool are one up. Liverpool are top. It is the spark for an outpouring of emotion at Anfield, a crazy 10 minutes in which there are premature reports of a Brighton goal swiftly followed by an actual goal for the hosts against Manchester City. Hope.
It did not last long. Sergio Aguero’s equaliser proves the first of four City goals that took the title back to Manchester. Jurgen Klopp’s team duly did their job, completing a 2-0 win over Wolves, and the Liverpool crowd gave them the ovation they deserved. What they could not give them was the trophy that the performances – and the points haul – of this team deserved.
- Mane double but Reds fall short
- As it happened at Anfield
Through no fault of their own, it was not to be. Liverpool, while progressing to the final of the Champions League, won their last nine Premier League games to reach 97 points. It meant that City had to be perfect throughout their final 14 games to clinch this title by a solitary point. Unfortunately for Liverpool, incredibly for Liverpool, they were.
It has been challenging mentally. How could it not be? Seeing City so relentless but always offering that bit of hope – and not just on the final day when going behind to Brighton. They were goalless at half-time against West Ham, Bournemouth and Watford in consecutive games in late February and early March but went on to win the lot of them.
It was a similar story in April when City successfully negotiated three games in eight days, surviving a nervy finale against Tottenham, before winning at Manchester United and Burnley. The one-goal win over Leicester completed another sequence of three games in which City played out a stalemate in the first half before crushing Liverpool’s hopes after the interval.
“I can’t do anything about it,” said James Milner of his plans ahead of the Manchester derby. “Maybe I’ll put my phone away for a couple of hours and check it after. Maybe I’ll go and grab some food or whatever.”
But the emotional toil must have been tough. Knowing that there was simply no room for error – and still delivering under those trying circumstances.
These Liverpool players will have known that had they faltered during the run-in then the mockery would have been swift. When Steven Gerrard slipped in 2014, nobody focused on the fact that City won their last five games. Few recall that Manchester United won 12 of their last 14 in 1996. It is Newcastle who will forever be associated with throwing it away.
Any excuse to blame Klopp’s side would have been seized upon. But the mistake never came. There are those who will point to the game against Leicester at Anfield but if critics are looking back to a draw in January as evidence of a bottle job then it’s clear they are reaching. Draws at Manchester United and Everton hardly fall under that category either.
Liverpool were brilliant. That brilliance will not be rewarded with a trophy but that should not mean that it is not rewarded with high praise.
Alisson was superb, inspiring much needed confidence in his back four. He just makes Liverpool better. Virgil van Dijk was the PFA player of the year. The full-backs Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson were both in the team of the year. Joe Gomez was excellent in the first part of the season, Joel Matip an underrated force in the second.
In midfield, an area of the team that they needed to strengthen, the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita achieved that. The former took time to get his chance but certainly took it, the second took time to settle but went on to play a big part in the spring, scoring a crucial goal at Bournemouth. Milner, Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum were typically reliable.
And in attack, Mohamed Salah was the victim of such outsized expectations following his heroics of last season that it was almost overlooked that nobody in the Premier League scored more goals. Few scored a better one than his stunner against Chelsea either. Mane had opened the scoring moments earlier and matched Salah for goals. One or the other was always firing.
Roberto Firmino was his selfless self but still managed to score a hat-trick against Arsenal. The supporting cast of strikers rose to the challenge too. Most notably, there were Divock Origi’s late winners against Everton and Newcastle, of course, but do not forget the point that Daniel Sturridge sensationally salvaged against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge either.
It was the season where everything seemed to go right. There was just one problem. Another team somehow managed to be one point better.
- Final day as it happened
- Premier League top scorers
Do not call it failure. Liverpool went on their joint-best winning run of the season when it mattered most. Will they be able to go again? That will be difficult, of course, but there is little reason to expect them to fall away. The circumstances are different this time around.
Back in 2014, Liverpool lost Luis Suarez to Barcelona and the fragile Sturridge to injury. Raheem Sterling left the following summer. When Rafael Benitez took the Reds to second spot in 2009, Xabi Alonso departed to Real Madrid and the manager was gone within a year. There is little chance of Klopp’s team unravelling quite so quickly.
They are building and they are building from a position of strength. The age of the players suggests they can continue to grow and it would be no surprise if the first-choice back five are still at the club long after Pep Guardiola has left City. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will supplement the midfield and Liverpool have the financial power to add to the squad too.
This was not the day that Klopp or any Liverpool supporter wanted it to be, but this does not feel like the end of something.