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Liverpool will be defined by response to their most heartbreaking season

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This was meant to be the season that saw Liverpool’s dominance of English football continue, but that natural next step has been snatched away in gut-wrenching fashion.

Back in September, everything appeared rosy for the Reds.

Jurgen Klopp‘s side were again the team to beat in the Premier League, strutting into the new season as English, world and only recently dethroned European champions.

The bonus of keeping hold of Gini Wijnaldum was given an extra boost by the addition of Kostas Tsimikas, Thiago and Diogo Jota, whose arrivals represented a strong transfer window that made the squad even more formidable.

What has unfolded in the six months since has been nothing short of a disaster, however, in one of the most heartbreaking spells Liverpool have experienced in the last 30 years.

 

A season of injustices

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 17, 2020: Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk is fouled by Everton's goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s easy to forget that the Reds actually won their opening three league games this season, seeing off Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal.

From the moment the freakish 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa took place, however, nothing has been the same.

Alisson‘s absence through injury in that game should have been a warning sign, in terms of injuries, and Adrian‘s performance at Villa Park played a key role in an embarrassing loss.

In the next outing at Everton, Virgil van Dijk‘s season was ended, Thiago was taken out for three months and VAR robbed Liverpool in cruel fashion.

If last weekend’s limp defeat to the Blues felt predictable and deserved, that 2-2 draw back in October made the blood boil.

Joe Gomez swiftly joined by Van Dijk in having his season ended, while the continued fitness woes of Joel Matip – also out until the summer, incredibly – has been added to by issues for the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Diogo Jota.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s Joe Gomez (L) and Virgil van Dijk before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

A relentless stream of VAR injustices have also become the norm, with the shocking offside call against Sadio Mane at Goodison Park just a taster. Here are a few more to refresh your memory:

  • Salah being blatantly fouled in the box at Villa went unpunished
  • Welbeck winning a stoppage-time penalty that nobody appealed for at Brighton
  • Fabinho conceding a spot-kick for a foul outside the area to Sheffield United
  • Gomez harshly giving away a penalty for handball at Man City
  • Mane being brought down by Darlow away to Newcastle, again nothing
  • Calvert-Lewin winning a penalty for falling over Alexander-Arnold

The list goes on.

This mix of unprecedented injuries, appalling officiating and lifeless empty grounds have turned Liverpool’s title defence into a nightmare – one that very few envisaged.

If the Reds were simply under-performing and wilting under the pressure of being champions it would be far easier to accept, but this season feels unjust.

It’s almost as though the footballing gods felt one league title was suffice before inflicting misery on the Reds as some sort of punishment for enjoying their long-awaited success too much.

 

Most heartbreaking season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold looks dejected after missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. Everton won 2-0, the club’s first win at Anfield since 1999. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There will be supporters of other clubs sneering at Liverpool fans for bemoaning a bad season in which are they still the reigning champions, but it’s all relative.

Given the expectations everyone associated with the club had last summer, the 2020/21 campaign looks like being one to forget in an instant.

Liverpool have had far worse seasons, including endless failures to get into the Champions League, but pre-season projections were never as great as this one and so missing out has rarely felt as miserable.

This was meant to be the year in which Klopp’s men sealed back-to-back titles and drew level with Man United‘s record tally, further adding to their legend.

It was supposed to be the next act of brilliance in one of the truly great chapters in Liverpool’s history, cementing their place as the best team ever to grace the Anfield turf.

Instead, this has all been snatched away in brutal fashion with the vast majority of the Reds’ issues completely out of their hands.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp and his players certainly haven’t been blameless, especially since Christmas, but there comes a point when it is impossible to keep fighting off increasingly sizeable obstacles.

Imagine Man City having to cope without Ruben Dias, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for the season and having to get by with Fernandinho and Eric Garcia at the back.

Then picture both of them getting injured as well and Pep Guardiola fielding Rodri at centre-back alongside an unknown youngster from the academy, with six or seven other key players also getting injured.

This is what Klopp is having to deal with and it’s bordering on impossible, especially with an inferior squad to Guardiola’s.

This season offered so much hope, and because of those ambitious-but-achievable dreams that existed in September, the magnitude of Liverpool’s fall makes it their most despairing season since the Premier League‘s inception.

The most important thing now is proving that this is a true one-off – a year in which unrivalled levels of misfortune took over.

 

The Reds will be back

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 17, 2020: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (R) celebrates after scoring the second goal with team-mate Sadio Mané (L) during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There is still a lot to play for until May, but regardless of what happens, it is next season that will truly define this Liverpool team.

The Reds produced off-the-charts brilliance for three successive years, reaching the Champions League final, winning it the following season (as well as getting 97 points) and clinching Premier League glory 12 months later before this speed-bump appeared.

Liverpool can look at City as the perfect role models when masterminding their return to the top, with Guardiola’s team experiencing a Reds-esque blip in 2019/20 before roaring back and threatening to win a quadruple this time around.

The doom merchants will be reading Klopp’s champions their last rights already, signalling this as the end of a glorious cycle, but that is wide of the mark.

Any team that loses its three best centre-backs for the vast majority of the season is instantly going to become far less effective before you add in all the other absentees, obstacles and everything else making up this strange current version of football.

Once Van Dijk and Gomez are back, legs and minds are rested, Diogo Jota is a fixture in the team and fans are inside Anfield again, Liverpool will be back as title contenders.

Barring a Champions League miracle, this will forever be viewed as the season where everything transpired against them at once, making their hopes of consecutive league titles and more record-breaking magic impossible.

August can’t come soon enough, whether it be for Klopp, his squad or the supporters.

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