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Liverpool FC in 2020: An unforgettable year, and now to do it again

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As Liverpool end 2020 in the same position in the Premier League table as they began it, the turn of the year provides a chance to reflect on an unforgettable spell.

Another draw and another dose of frustration, but one with a different vibe to it compared to the draw against West Brom.

On another night, we bundle a couple of those chances over the line and take three points at St James’ Park, no matter how determined and well-organised our hosts might be.

Some of us are getting a little bit hot under the collar, as the playing field begins to level out and the bogeymen of Manchester United appear on our shoulder.

This is no time to panic though – although, undeniably, solutions to burning questions need to be reached.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 27, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah lines-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Bromwich Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At the back, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form is fluctuating in a way we aren’t used to, while Fabinho is majestically bearing the weight of responsibility as our senior centre-back, when he had no previous experience of the role prior to being a Liverpool player.

Added to this, Andy Robertson is simply the best left-back in the world.

The loss of Virgil van Dijk has, of course, been immeasurable, but to be dispossessed of the services of Joe Gomez too has been an incredible blow to absorb. As excellent as Joel Matip is, we will always be without him periodically.

If we take Van Dijk as the reincarnation of Alan Hansen, and Gomez as a compelling re-enactment of Mark Lawrenson, then tonight, Matthew, Matip is Gary Gillespie, the talented contemporary of Hansen and Lawrenson who suffered a succession of niggling injuries throughout the second half of his time at Anfield.

Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have risen to the occasion admirably, with confident performances offset by very brief flashes of inexperience.

Behind the defence, Alisson has maintained his impeccably high standards, despite the perpetual alterations in front of him. His two separate absences have offered polarising results: Adrian struggled badly to fill the void, while the goalkeeping of Caoimhin Kelleher provided a wonderful boost.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 1, 2020: Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In midfield, hopes of prolonged states of fitness for Thiago and Naby Keita remain fragile, while the development of Curtis Jones and the wonderfulness of Jordan Henderson are soothing.

Amidst this, Gini Wijnaldum’s future continues to be unresolved, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain maps out his return to full fitness and James Milner is probably taken for granted by most of us. We’ll miss him once he does go.

In attack, we are arguably flattering to deceive. A rise in the collective form of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Bobby Firmino would be most welcome, as would the return to fitness of Diogo Jota.

It’s probably fair to suggest that each of Mane, Salah and Firmino have shone brightly in bursts of varying length, without them hitting the highest gears collectively.

There has been a relay of sorts in operation. One of them steps forward to take the guiding role, while the others have taken their foot off the accelerator to a degree.

Despite all of this, we end the year top of the Premier League, albeit with an increasingly nervous laugh. Liverpool have been vulnerable, there for the taking, and the fact that we haven’t simply crumbled will have been a blow to our rivals.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 19, 2020: Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola on the bench before the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and West Ham United FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Manchester City, the team that should be best-equipped to take advantage of our situation, have laboured. Last season will have taken a lot out of them psychologically; they will have felt that the blow they landed in denying us the Premier League title in 2018/19 would have left us fatigued for 2019/20, despite us winning the Champions League.

That we were so dominant and insistent upon unseating them as champions will have felt like a punch to the stomach, with a second one sustained when they fell short, yet again, in the Champions League.

While I’d still class the threat of Guardiola’s side to be the most likely to drive forward in the New Year, so far, this season, it has been other teams who have bobbed to the surface to show sheepish intentions of a title challenge.

Each of these teams carry baggage, however.

Chelsea spent big in the summer, and they have all the components for success, but when push comes to shove, Frank Lampard will limit their potency. They also seem mentally fragile.

Tottenham had a consistent run prior to losing at Anfield, rising to the top of the table, but just like Chelsea, their fate will be dictated in how quickly they can pull out of the dips in fortunes and results.

Both teams deal in a currency that we used to be all too familiar with. The fine lines that lay between what they can achieve and will achieve deviate in the mind. It comes down to a fixture of self-belief vs. self-doubt. Can vs. will.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 19, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (L) shakes hands with Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Then we come to Manchester United, and their surprising burst of pace since exiting the Champions League. While their shadow unnerves some, I welcome the potential to break their heart.

The damage done to Liverpool in losing out on the 1996/97 and 2008/09 Premier League titles to the team from Old Trafford was seismic. It was the same in reverse for them, when we destroyed their dreams of winning the old First Division in 1979/80 and 1985/86.

This isn’t the Manchester United of old, this isn’t the Manchester United of Alex Ferguson. The name of the club is the same, but the fabric has changed exponentially. They effectively only have one player that remains from the last time they won the Premier League.

Results will turn against them again, and from there they will experience the same self-doubts as Chelsea and Tottenham.

COVID-19 has, however, levelled the Premier League playing field to a degree, but I still expect the strongest to prevail. Despite this, Leicester, Everton, Aston Villa and Southampton have enjoyed bright spells and it will be interesting to see how long they can last the pace.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, June 29, 2020: A new street art mural of Liverpool FC's manager Jürgen Klopp painted on the wall of a building in the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool City Centre after the team won the FA Premier League, their 19th top-flight Championship and the club's first title in 30 years. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For Liverpool, they end 2020 as champions, a year where the long wait for our 19th league title came to an end, but one in which we were denied the opportunity to celebrate it inside Anfield by a pandemic that will leave an indecent human toll in its wake.

There is every chance that 2021 will offer up a repeat of that, and if it does, then it is OK to rejoice that the sun has shone on us again. Jurgen Klopp and his players are the people who will dictate that outcome.

All the best.

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