And that’s the season, people. It took longer to get here than anyone expected it would last August. It also ended being a little less than some of us were thinking in February. There will be no slam-bang CL tournament in Lisbon for the Reds. Arsenal will probably win their umpteenth FA Cup. We didn’t hit the century mark of points that Man City managed two years ago and we didn’t set a record for points between 1st and 2nd, finishing with a mere 18-point gap on the Oilers.
But what we did do is win the English football championship for the first time since 1990 and, in the end, that’s the only thing that a lot of us really wanted. (We also won it with seven games left to play, which is a record.) Now we can close the door on that particular chapter of our club’s history and look forward to opening another one: winning it again next year. Plus the CL. Plus the FA Cup. (It’s been nineteen years since we’ve done a treble…) Thankfully, most of the cast of this year’s champions are coming along for the ride next year, too; most notably, League Managers’ Association manager-of-the-year, Jürgen Klopp. Only three managers in all of our long history have won both a league title and a European Cup: Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Jürgen Norbert Klopp. That alone enshrines him on that banner in the Kop alongside those two and Bill Shankly. But there’s so much more that the club has gained from Klopp that, by the time he leaves, I think we’ll be talking about statues, stands, and any number of possibilities. He’s returned our identity. He’s made it so that when we look at our incredible squad today and then look back at our last league winners of 1990 (John Barnes, Alan Hansen, Ian Rush, Steve McMahon, Ronnie Whelan, and player-manager Kenny Dalglish), we see the same thing. A squad that’s always on the same page with one another; that’s always pushing for the next challenge, the next height.
This is the aura that we’re carrying now. This is what the all-red uniforms were supposed to inspire when Shankly introduced them in ’64. This is the message to the most-watched sports league in the world: the team from Merseyside is the one that no one wants to play. (And, no, not that other team from Merseyside… How far is the distance between Anfield and Goodison? It’s been measured: 50(!) points.) And it’s not just English football, of course. A lot of clubs- and a lot of players -are looking at Klopp’s Reds and saying: “That’s the benchmark.” The club’s appeal goes well beyond Europe, too:
It’s a global brand. That’s why the new Nike deal is in place. That’s why the commercial revenue is slowly, slowly climbing the ladder put in place by the Mancs down the road (No, the real Mancs. Not the ones who fake their books.) You could have argued that “Liverpool is back” last year after putting up 97 points and only one loss in the league and winning our sixth European Cup. No one would have questioned that assertion. But now you can really say it and anyone who argues otherwise is just a fool.
The Magpies and wrapping things up. Leave it to Jonjo Shelvey to be just the same sort of shit-starting irritant that he was when he played for us. It’s like the Bill Laimbeer rule: Yeah, he’s an asshole. But he’s our asshole. Now he’s Newcastle’s. That quick free kick to put Dwight Gayle in over the top in the first minute was just the kind of thing to get most of us to roll our collective eyes about the way the season had progressed for much of the restart. It seemed lackadaisical. Credit the broadcasting crew for also citing Gayle’s influence on the match vs Crystal Palace that firmly shut the door in ’13-’14, too. Twist the knife a little harder, thanks. And for a lot of the first half, that knife remained. Neither side really had anything to play for, but it seemed like Newcastle had more of the impetus to lift one off the champions. But when Virg got the equalizer, things sorted themselves, and when the second half started, it was clear that LFC were back in control. Divock Origi’s go-ahead goal was nicely played; driving home the nail yet again that he can have moments of brilliance, but consistent play in our system is simply beyond him.
But the real turning point came on the hour mark, when the Usual Suspects replaced Origi, Takumi Minamino, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain across the front line. Both Taki and Ox had played well and moved the ball, but there’s simply no comparison between them and the skillful interplay of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohammed Salah. From that point forward, Liverpool controlled the game. It was a rapid-fire assault of one-touch passes and constant efforts into the box and coordinated runs, at speed that the backups simply didn’t have. That’s understandable, given the number of hours that those three have played together and the second-string hasn’t. But it’s also a measure of ability. It may sound strange to suggest this, given that the backups contributed to 2 goals while they were playing (an assist from Ox to Virg and Origi’s goal), while the top group contributed only 1 (Bob’s assist to Mané), but all you have to do is watch a few minutes of play before the hour mark and after it to see the difference. As often cited here, no one can do what Bob does. He came in and immediately poured in xA at a ridiculous rate; getting an actual assist for Mané’s goal that closed the game out, but also feeding Salah twice, one that went off the post, and another that Federico Fernandes made a herculean effort to get in front of. Due credit to Steve Bruce for having his side ready to play, but when LFC’s normal starting XI are on the field, there’s simply no contest.
On that note, shall we talk again about the rock of ages? Virg scored again, his fifth of the season, which is more than Adam Traore, Lucas Moura, and Wilfried Zaha. He’s also the highest-scoring defender in the league this year and, with 9 career goals, has more than any centerback currently playing in the PL. Virg is also only the fifth outfield player in the PL era to play every minute for a title-winning side in a season (that, of course, ignores who knows how many players in the 100 years of league football prior to the PL, including those where substitutions weren’t even allowed.) I think he’s good, yo. On the other side of expectations, Mo’s xG is somewhere between sample size irrelevance and a concern. He’s almost 1.5 goals off what xG says that he should have been and we’ve all seen the outright sitters that he hasn’t put away since the restart. Could be a blip. Could be a thing. Regardless, it’s nothing to panic over.
Off-season discussion. More front line depth, of course, will be a key point in the few weeks between now and the start of the new season as, despite Liverpool’s obvious success on minimal spending over the past year, competent depth is still a concern in some areas. Note that when I say ‘competent’, I don’t mean to say that the depth we have now is poor. It’s simply, as cited above, a pretty significant step down when anyone on the front line has to come off. The transfer window has been open for a while and will remain so through September this year. Chelsea has entered it, all guns blazing, and there will certainly be LFC fans wondering if the club can really go through three consecutive windows buying only a Dutch teenager (Sepp van den Berg) and Minamino, especially given that Chelsea will be far from the only club spending, since both Mancs will be determined to have some better results on the backs of their ridiculous salaries. Taki is supposed to be part of that front line depth but, like many Klopp recruits, he still hasn’t quite melded with the plan. Now that Watford has gone down, in addition to Todd Cantwell whom I mentioned last time, Ismaila Sarr becomes a real possibility for recruitment.
However, the key to remember is that the squad is built for the long haul. Klopp signed an extension to make sure that the club is on firm footing when he does finally walk out the door and FSG wants the club to operate on a self-sustaining basis. The club still owes them money, so they’re not putting anymore in. Cue the “FSG out!” idiots…
On that topic. We say good-bye to two veterans of the Klopp era: Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren. The former will be joining Brighton and Hove Albion (and taking a pay cut to do so), while the latter is heading east to the mighty Zenit St. Petersburg. Good luck, fellas. We’ll always remember Norwich and Dortmund, respectively.
So, that’s a wrap. I’m thinking of doing something detailed on the whole squad, looking at their performance over the season and where they could be headed, but nothing definite right now. I’ll leave with this:
This is a story about football, betting, and in the end, doing the right thing for a cause that’s even larger than this game we love so much. This man placed the above bet and was about to see it pay off, when Jesse Lingard, with virtually the final kick of the entire Premier League season, scored a goal in the 98th minute of ManU’s match against Leicester. So, he lost and this thread blew up a bit on Twitter and Reddit. Paddy Power, who took the bet, heard about it and decided to be magnanimous and paid out, anyway, which is a really great gesture. But Antony said he couldn’t accept that money, since he’d lost, and donated all of it to the UK wing of Black Lives Matter and also encouraged everyone else following this humorous story to do so, as well.
We’ve been reminded of this issue with every game since the restart, as the players knelt to show their awareness of the insidious plague of racism that still pervades our society, alongside the other, currently more obvious plague. But it’s easy to forget in the excitement of watching the net ripple and ending a 30-year quest that some things are bigger than football and this is one of them. In the downtime between seasons, when there’s nothing to watch on TV because Klopp and the boys are taking a break, I’d ask everyone to take a moment to think about others who may still be struggling with problems that some of us never experience. This man was thinking of them and he’s a better man for it.
Take care. Be safe. Hope to see you at Magee’s sooner than later. I’ll be back writing soon because the ball will be back on the turf before we realize it’s gone.