Peculiar – that might be one word to describe Liverpool’s season in 2015/16. Their Premier League campaign never got going under Brendan Rodgers, with Jürgen Klopp always playing catch-up with another man’s squad as the German accustomed himself into English football.
With little to play for in the league, where the Reds could yet miss out on their minimum of a top eight finish, the cup competitions have instead provided salvation, as they have done in the main since Liverpool’s last league title in 1990.
However, this season will perhaps be best remembered for the arrival of Klopp himself, a manager Liverpool fans have complete faith in, believing he can restore them at least to the status they occupied generally under the likes of Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez – remaining near the top of the league and challenging for silverware.
He could take the Reds even further; such is his quality, charisma and eye in the transfer market.
Klopp has resembled the silver lining in what thus far has been a disappointing season, but already the new manager has begun to leave his mark without signing players in January (with the emergency exception of Steven Caulker).
Losing to Manchester City on penalties in the League Cup final was a bitter pill to swallow for Liverpool fans, but Klopp did well to even guide the side to Wembley in his debut campaign, and it could yet be two cup finals given their progress in Europe.
This season has been a rollercoaster, with ups and downs, and whilst the downs have been regular, Liverpool will have some extraordinary highlights to take away from Klopp’s first year at the club.
Beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, following that up in even more spectacular fashion against Manchester City at the Etihad (before registering a league double over Manuel Pellegrini’s side with an aggregate score of 7-1), hitting Southampton and Aston Villa for six, edging out Norwich City in a 5-4 thriller – it’s a list of truly memorable matches.
Yet none will quite beat what happened last Thursday night.
The raw power of Anfield and the Kop was in full force during Liverpool’s extraordinary comeback against Borussia Dortmund, and it could even be experienced through the television, such was the electric atmosphere.
Anfield on a European night may be a cliché, but it has been many years of waiting for another night like this, and Liverpool fans truly made it worthwhile, driving the team on in their miraculous recovery.
The Europa League could yet provide more memories before the season is out – a season of frustration but also one of promise and spectacular scenes.
Before Klopp and Liverpool can focus on their European semi-final against Villarreal, there is the small matter of the Merseyside Derby.
Everton have experienced a completely flat season, with discord mounting against Roberto Martinez, but the FA Cup could yet save their own fortunes – indeed winning a first major trophy for 21 years would automatically make it a successful season for their Spanish coach, regardless of their league form.
The only problem for the blue half of Merseyside is that their semi-final at Wembley against Manchester United is this weekend, and they have to face their city neighbours first.
Martinez would be forgiven for thinking he was in a nightmare situation, as in reality there is nothing to play for against Liverpool, except the not-so inconsiderable issue of pride and rivalry. Martinez cannot afford a hammering by their greatest rivals given their season so far, and it would hardly leave Everton in good spirits ahead of their trip south.
Conversely, Martinez is so confident in his own methods that he will likely rotate at Anfield, whereas Klopp can field his strongest line-up, and rotate himself at the weekend against Newcastle United, with their Europa League fixture in Spain over a week away.
He will want to keep Liverpool’s improving run of results going, with the Reds in their most consistent form of an incredibly inconsistent season. They have yet to win successive league games at Anfield this season – achieving the feat in the Merseyside Derby would be perfect timing ahead of Villarreal.
After defeating Stoke City and Bournemouth, and the emotional occasion of the final Hillsborough service, let alone the manic Dortmund game, Liverpool are in a great position to use such an unforgettable week as inspiration to sweep a potentially under-strength Everton aside and finish the season strongly.
Reds cannot underestimate importance of Merseyside derby, although there's little to play for
Martinez’s side cannot be underestimated, whatever team they put out, but everyone is fighting for places and futures at Liverpool and confidence is flowing through everybody at the club, so motivation should not be an issue.
Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi should start together in the Merseyside Derby, as both are in a great form, Liverpool need to be on the attack at home and their options in midfield are limited with Jordan Henderson and Emre Can both out injured for the rest of the season.
Going gung-ho against Dortmund was the wrong option, as the Reds quickly found out, but Everton are not in the same class and are unlikely to be in a similar mindset with the FA Cup firmly in their thoughts.
Joe Allen and James Milner will probably both start, as they currently form part of Liverpool’s strongest eleven. For Adam Lallana though, he may be feeling nervous once again about his future at Anfield.
After finding his best football in 2016 since joining Liverpool nearly two years ago, his contributions have begun to wane again, and he was anonymous against Dortmund last Thursday before being substituted, with his miss-kick summing his night up.
Nevertheless, he made an encouraging cameo against Bournemouth and will look to rediscover top form quickly, as the emergence of Sheyi Ojo and the continued presence of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Milner and even Jordon Ibe mean Lallana’s place in the squad is far from secure, let alone the first-team.
Moreover, Lazar Markovic could yet return to Anfield for the long-term and new arrivals look a certainty, with Bayern Munich’s Mario Gotze heavily linked with a move to Anfield.
Regarding Allen, the Welshman needs to convince Klopp of his qualities as a starter, and his performance against Bournemouth was the perfect start in what should be a long run in the side given Henderson and Can’s misfortunes.
However, barring a spectacular run of form it seems unlikely that Klopp will ever consider him as a long-term regular, and it is whether Allen is happy to remain a very useful squad player that will determine his future at Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Milner has quietly grown into a very important player for the Reds, especially when he plays in his best position for the club, which is out wide – ironic given his motivation to join Liverpool was for regular playing time in central midfield.
However, barring his corners, he has been far more effective offering his work-rate and deliveries from the wing, and with a total of 19 goals and assists this season, ultimately the vice-captain has proved to be a good signing on a free transfer, even with his extreme wages.
Whether his age and finances prove Milner’s undoing this summer is up to Klopp, but the 30 year old fits Klopp’s ‘gegenpressing’ style and has been far more effective than Liverpool captain Henderson – two figures who are extremely similar in their playing styles, albeit Henderson has suffered from injury issues this season.
All three, like the rest of Liverpool’s squad, need to remain alert and focused as otherwise Klopp will doubt their value to the Liverpool cause for next season and beyond. Regardless, such form and concentration is only good news looking ahead, with potential European glory somehow still possible at the end of what could be a breakout season for Klopp and Liverpool.
First though, there are bragging rights to win.