It was a season of mood swings as an incredulous campaign ended on Sunday with what had at one point seemed like an improbable third-placed finish.
We totally Liverpooled the life out of those last five games. Imagine a world where Alisson’s goal at West Brom acts as the symbolic springboard to becoming the champions of Europe for the seventh time.
Honest to god, we’d never shut up singing songs in celebration of it. Accusations of being unbearable AOTS.
Gaining entry to the stadium was akin to passing customs and border control. Mobile phones as tickets, photo ID, health questionnaires completed, lateral flow tests taken and specific arrival times to be adhered to. It was off to the match we went, but not as we knew it.
Alien, yet familiar; eerie, yet comforting. In some ways, it felt like I’d never been away from Anfield, while on the other hand there was this mad sensory experience that suggested you’d stumbled into some sort of parallel universe where you didn’t belong. I’d imagine it is how people feel when they get tickets to be part of the studio audience for the recording of their favourite television programme.
The unseasonably cold weather seemed entirely apt. I still rather optimistically wore shorts.
Having been occupied by the task of ticking every box required to be allowed to click through the turnstiles, the concept of an important 90 minutes of football had drifted to the back of my mind, until I reached my seat.
Champions League qualification in the palm of our hands but faced with the spectre of our perennial party poopers, Crystal Palace. It was only during that impatient half an hour or so waiting for the game to begin that the nerves made themselves mildly known.
This was Roy Hodgson though, with his default setting to be aiming for a point, even during what is expected to be his last game in football management. Although, when Andros Townsend broke free on Alisson there was a very impressive sharp collective intake of breath, one that might just have put the Palace No. 10 off his stride and target.
Happily, Liverpool took control of the game from that point onward. Lots of movement; lots of hustle, yet without being able to break the deadlock until the 36th minute.
While we were awaiting goals at Anfield, Leicester City had edged ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea were level at Villa Park. We were fifth as things stood, but beyond Townsend’s miss, it never seemed likely that Palace would score. It was just a case of whether we would contrive not to score ourselves.
Sadio Mane stepped up to the plate, however. His first one scruffed in, his second taking a bit of a deflection. From the upper Main Stand, the deflection for the second was undetectable. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed the simple things about being present at the football, like seeing a goal once and once only. Then only finding out after the game that not all was as it seemed.
This was a day of redemption for Liverpool. We will have confounded our rivals in recent weeks. Champions League football conjured out of thin air, and a third-place finish to boot. These will be unsettling broadsides for Manchester’s teams, despite European finals looming for them, and the silvery glow of the Premier League trophy.
Liverpool are the team that refuses to stay down; Jurgen Klopp is a terminator of a football manager. During this late run of ours, we’ve not always been at our fluent best, but we have played with a belligerence and determination that has been hard for opponents to live with.
A summer of subtle regeneration lays ahead. Unless a dramatic u-turn takes place, Gini Wijnaldum’s exit was visually and verbally confirmed on Sunday, while with James Milner in his mid-30s, plus question marks over the future of Naby Keita and the fitness of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, our midfield will need some attention before August.
A centre back is being touted to arrive, while a decision on whether to stick or twist on some of our attacking options will be interesting to observe. A big departure would not be unexpected, maybe even the biggest of them all if rumblings of Mo Salah seeking pastures new prove to have any substance.
Either way, I’d trust Klopp to solve the puzzles presented to him. The man who took the Coutinho money and turned it into Alisson and Virgil van Dijk; the man who took a dysfunctional football club and turned it into Champions League and Premier League winners.
A few weeks ago, partly in a hit and hope frame of mind, I stated that what we needed of Klopp right now was for him to deliver us the same landscape for next season that we went into this one with. Genuine hope of winning the Premier League and a Champions League campaign to look forward to.
As ever, Klopp has given us so much more, as we’ll already be burrowing our way under the skin of our rivals.
The attempt for league title number 20 started at around 5.50pm on Sunday.