Liverpool doing it the hard way once more, but for good reason

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Liverpool have never done anything the easy way, from cup finals and semi-finals to a Premier League title which is now indefinitely on hold. But patience and safety is key this time around.

Since the Premier League era started, Liverpool have never won things the easy way. Whereas in seasons such as 1978/79, 1982/83 and 1987/88 the Reds cruised to league titles—or casually swept up four League Cups on the bounce—the modern way has been to put us all through the wringer.

The evidence is overwhelming. 2000/01. League Cup final against lower-league Birmingham City in Cardiff. Should be a guaranteed win, but no. Gerard Houllier inexplicably starts Igor Biscan on the left-wing and just when it looks like a Robbie Fowler goal will be enough, Stephane Henchoz concedes a late penalty.

Extra-time ends goalless, with Michael Owen bizarrely spending the entire game on the bench, so to penalties where the Reds win 5-4 thanks to a sudden-death spot-kick from Jamie Carragher and a Sander Westerveld save from Andy Johnson. The irony of Johnson being denied by a dive won’t be lost on anyone that remembers him.

Next up was the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal, also in the Millennium Stadium. It was a hugely one-sided game dominated by the Gunners, but about 25 goal-line clearances from Sami Hyypia (following a fine one-handed goal-line save by Henchoz—thank god VAR hadn’t been inflicted upon us by then) kept Liverpool level until Freddie Ljungberg scored.

Liverpool's Michael Owen (left) celebrates his second goal during today's FA Cup Final against Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Picture by: Tom Hevezi / PA Archive/Press Association Images

For 10 minutes it looked like the Reds’ treble dream was over, but two late Owen goals turned heartbreak into pure joy. At the time, Owen’s winning goal was the best single moment many Reds had ever experienced inside a stadium. The celebrations were wilder than a night out with Didi Hamann. Or Martin Keown’s eyes.

Liverpool had done extremely well to also reach the 2001 UEFA Cup final, beating Olympiakos, Roma, Porto and Barcelona along the way to Dortmund to play Alaves. Who?

The Spanish minnows were in just their third season in LaLiga since 1956, their stadium had only recently been renovated to take the capacity up to 19,000 and they had so few members that the club had all of their names designed into the shirts they would wear for the final.

Essentially, Liverpool were playing the Spanish Fulham to win the UEFA Cup and when they went 2-0 and 3-1 up in the first half it looked like taking candy from a baby.

So, just to make us all sweat out the German pilsner consumed in Dortmund’s Alter Markt, the Reds blew their two-goal lead in the opening five minutes of the second half and, even when Fowler appeared to have scored the winner, yet again conceded in the 90th minute to send the game to ‘next goal wins’ extra-time.

Liverpool team celebrate after winning the UEFA cup on the Golden Goal rule against CD Alaves in the UEFA Cup Final at the Westfalen Stadium, Dortmund. (Picture by: David Davies / PA Archive/Press Association Images)

By the time it came, courtesy of a 117th-minute Delfi Geli golden own goal from a Gary McAllister free-kick, Alaves were down to nine men and the travelling Kop were more mentally shot than the players.

Still, it was a comparative cakewalk compared to Istanbul four years later when what looked like being the worst defeat in Liverpool’s European history became the best win thanks to three goals in six minutes and the best save I’ve ever seen from a Reds keeper.

Jerzy Dudek keeping out Milan penalties like Billy the Fish in the shootout was helpful too.

That fifth European Cup win was the ultimate ‘do it the hard way’ trophy success for Liverpool and because they enjoyed drawing 3-3 and winning on penalties so much Rafa Benitez’s side repeated the trick in the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham in Cardiff.

At least this time they only had to come back from 2-0 and 3-2 down, ultimately preventing Paul Konchesky from becoming the new Lawrie Sanchez thanks to Steven Gerrard scoring a couple of howitzers. He was so far out for his 90th-minute equaliser he was pretty much in Swansea.

Liverpool then took a break from winning silverware with the 2012 League Cup the only trophy of note to be lifted in 12 seasons, and they even made hard work of that against Championship side Cardiff City at Wembley.

From 1-0 down in normal time to 2-1 up in extra-time, Kenny Dalglish’s Reds conceded a 118th-minute equaliser and promptly missed their first two kicks in the penalty shootout. Charlie Adam’s is still travelling.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates with the Carling Cup Trophy

Thankfully, Cardiff were even worse from 12 yards out and missed three. Another trophy was won with the last kick of the game when, on paper, it should have been much easier.

An FA Cup final, Premier League title, League Cup final, UEFA Cup final and Champions League final have all been lost since, but finally, in 2019, Liverpool won a major trophy in relatively comfortable fashion. Er, overlooking the Champions League semi-final and all that!

Yes, Alisson had to make a decent number of saves, but when Mo Salah opened the scoring early on in Madrid it never really felt like Tottenham would get a goal back before a swing of Divock Origi‘s left foot put European Cup number six on the mantlepiece.

It now appears this angered the gods. That the universe decided that instead of letting us all watch Liverpool run away with that elusive first Premier League title by racking up a 25-point lead while setting all kinds of records, we all needed to start bricking it again.

Enter the worst global flu pandemic for 100 years. For COVID-19 to strike at any time is horrific. To happen when the team you support are doing so well is incredibly unlucky. The uncertainty it has caused about how, when and if future events will take place has added to the anxiety around trying to avoid catching this awful disease.

Which is why Thursday’s decision that the 2019/20 season will be extended indefinitely until it finishes was so important. The season will be concluded. Liverpool will be champions. That particular worry has been eased.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (R) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was Pope John Paul II who said: “Of all the most unimportant things, football is the most important.” Many would disagree, but for people who live and breathe the game—people like you and I—and those who earn a living from it, or even escape the life they’re living by immersing themselves in it, football is important.

We all go through the stress of seeing our team fail to celebrate the joy of watching them succeed. And this is a time when Liverpool will succeed despite some desperately wishing for the opposite.

We’re now having to patiently do it the hard way again due to an unprecedented life-changing pandemic, but the hope of being back at Anfield, of watching the Reds wherever you are, of hearing the Kop in full voice, of imagining the moment Jordan Henderson shuffles his feet and lifts the Premier League trophy aloft is as good a reason as any to do everything required to stay safe for however long it takes.


Chris McLoughlin writes for This Is Anfield each week; he’s also senior writer for the Official LFC Matchday Programme and LFC Magazine – the next edition of which will be available from the usual stockists from April 6 subject to ongoing developments.

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