The Premier League was not meant to be. Only for this year though.
Liverpool’s 2-0 victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on the final day of the league season was not enough to claim a nineteenth league title, as Manchester City recovered from a goal down to beat Brighton 4-1 and defend their Premier League crown.
For around twenty minutes, Liverpool were top of the table, and for 83 glorious seconds Liverpool fans thought destiny was on their side once again, following on from the incredible heroics in the Champions League against Barcelona.
Then Sergio Agüero did what he does best and the mood around Anfield changed again, never to recover back towards a genuine belief that the Reds would end the day as champions.
Liverpool gave their all against City juggernaut
The traditional lap of appreciation was far from downbeat, however. While all inside Anfield, both on and off the pitch, felt disappointment at having come so close again to the prize they crave above all others, there was widespread appreciation for the sheer quality, consistency and attitude of this Liverpool team that Jürgen Klopp had built.
Cheers and applause reigned down from all corners of Anfield, saluting both the team’s efforts for this season and providing them with a perfect send-off – both for the Champions League final in Madrid next month, and for next season.
Can the Reds See Off Spurs in Madrid?
Liverpool indeed have one more match to look forward to before their 2018/19 season draws completely to a close. Thanks to the Anfield miracle against Barcelona, the Reds will take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final, with the Reds appearing in their ninth European Cup final. For Tottenham meanwhile, Madrid will be their first.
Tottenham’s talent is considerable, their character and intensity second to none, but it has been a long, hard season for their small squad. A top-four finish and Champions League football was only guaranteed on the final day of the Premier League campaign against Everton, after keeping pace with Manchester City and Liverpool in the first half of the season.
Ultimately, Mauricio Pochettino’s side lost thirteen times in the league and finished twenty-six points behind Liverpool, even slipping behind Chelsea into fourth place.
Moreover, Tottenham will come into this final sharing numerous similarities with the Liverpool team of last season which took on Real Madrid in Kiev:
- Managed by an intense, inspirational manager
- Squeezing through their group into the knockout stage
- Experiencing wild, unpredictable knockout ties, including a quarter-final victory against Manchester City
- Entering their first Champions League final as a team (and as a club overall) against a side regarded as favourites and who enjoyed a more successful league campaign
- Arriving at the final after confirming fourth place on the final day of the season, with injuries and tired bodies to spare, and lacking quality squad depth.
Tottenham and Liverpool are similar teams, but Liverpool are arguably one or two years ahead in the development of a squad equipped to win major trophies. However, any superiority will be blown back in their face if the Reds cannot triumph in Madrid and claim a sixth European Cup.
Both teams will believe fate is on their side after how they have progressed to the final, but Liverpool, in particular, feel they have unfinished business after a 97-point league campaign that did not end with the title, following on from the cruel defeat to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final.
2019 Will Not Follow 2002, 2009 and 2014
Regardless of how events play out in Madrid, Liverpool have not been in a healthier place both on and off the pitch for more than three decades.
Yes they need to start winning the big trophies again if this manager and this team want to go down in Liverpool history alongside the greats of the 1960s, 70 and 80s, plus the heroes of 2001 and 2005. However, Liverpool fans should not fear a repeat of previous periods that have followed failed title challenges since the Reds won their last league title in 1990.
Usually, Liverpool would lose star players and recruit poorly, with both aspects prevalent in 2002, 2009 and 2014.
In 2002, Gérard Houllier failed to sign Nicolas Anelka on a permanent deal and bought El Hadji Diouf instead, plus Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou. The less mention of those three the better – Liverpool missed out on Champions League football the following season.
In 2009, Rafael Benítez lost Xabi Alonso after falling out with his countryman during the previous summer, with the injury-prone Alberto Aquilani an inadequate and unsuitable replacement, though Benitez’s recruitment that year was not helped by the chaos off the pitch from the ill-fated reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Once again, Liverpool did not qualify for the Champions League in 2010.
In 2014, Brendan Rodgers saw Liverpool’s one hand on the Premier League title slip away following events against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, then saw his best player depart in Luis Suárez, who headed for Barcelona.
This summer was the nadir for Rodgers’ infighting with Liverpool’s transfer committee, with both sides far from perfect in their recruitment, as Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert proved, without even looking at the rest. This resulted in a complete mess of a rebuild and the loss of Champions League football once again in the following season.
The demise eventually cost Rodgers his job in 2015, just as it did Houllier in 2004 and Benítez in 2010.
2019 will be different. None of Liverpool’s top stars will be leaving the club this summer, and Jürgen Klopp remains on a mission, in firm unity with Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group, to bring success to Anfield.
Having learnt from their mistakes, FSG and Klopp have a long-term plan and will stick to it with smart recruitment, regardless of if heavy or light investment is needed. Liverpool certainly have the funds now following three straight top four finishes and two successive Champions League finals.
Hopefully with a sixth Champions League in tow, Liverpool will approach this summer to complete the final areas of work required to beat a Champions League-chasing Manchester City to the biggest title on their own shores, and end a thirty-year wait that so nearly closed at twenty-nine.