League Cup winners for the ninth time, with two and half months of the season to go and three trophies still to play for, Liverpool have obtained themselves a taste of success that will only leave them with a thirst for more.
For a trophy that has been low on Liverpool’s list of priorities for much of the last decade, the magnificent Jurgen Klopp and his wonderful players properly enjoyed that on Sunday.
It was never going to be an easy task as Chelsea have proved stubborn foes this season, if reassuringly, marginally inferior in all departments. It’s great when the League Cup winners manage to better the reigning world and European champions.
Fine saves, disallowed goals, golden opportunities going untaken and pre-match injury curveballs navigated, given that this was a final that panned out into a 120-minute goalless draw, it still kind of had a little bit of everything, with no Liverpool player departing the pitch without leaving an impressive imprint.
I have a dysfunctional relationship with the League Cup. I love it, I have had some of the best days of my Liverpool watching life seeing the club I adore win the competition many times over, but I also think it should be a ghost of football’s past. Already almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century, we really don’t need two domestic cup competitions – at least not for topflight clubs.
Yet, for as long as it does remain, whenever we do take possession of that famous three-handled trophy it will undeniably feel like it has come home, while there was also something quite healing and therapeutic about the occasion.
Wembley, on Sunday, was all about togetherness, it was all about community, something arguably heightened by horrendous events in a country we visited not all that long ago for a Champions League final.
The depth of feeling was palpable, and it pulsated through multiple Red generations, be that the fatherly pride of Klopp, the grown-up nature of his players, no matter what end of the age spectrum they sit at – or Kenny Dalglish, in his role as the elder statesman of Liverpool FC, embracing each individual as they left the much run upon pitch.
That togetherness and sense of community wasn’t restricted only to the pitch, however, as in the stands, young, middle-aged, and autumnal Reds were bonded by a thread of joy that had felt a long time in coming in many respects.
A Champions League lifted in Madrid, a Premier League hoisted aloft in an empty stadium, a Club World Cup paraded in another continent, and a UEFA Super Cup obtained in Istanbul prior to Sunday had represented the rewards for the hard work and vision of Klopp, thus at Wembley, for many, this was a much belated party, a chance to let loose.
It was a small success in terms of the great scheme of footballing things, but it was potentially a gargantuan precursor to a dizzying run of other similar parties between now and May.
It was a day when Liverpool’s FSG years came full circle, and it was quite fitting that they opted to take a backseat in the celebrations. In a year in which we lost Peter Robinson, it was a nod to the way things used to be done at Liverpool. Plot the sustainable strategy, write the cheques, say yes in all the right places, say no in all the right places and keep your head down. Fair play.
A decade ago, League Cup success meant little to Liverpool’s still relatively new owners. A trophy won, but not one that was deemed enough to keep Dalglish in the manager’s office; the king would soon return in a largely symbolic role, as a healing process was undertaken to remedy the brutality of his sacking, a pain felt by all who idolised him as a player and throughout his first spell in the Anfield hot seat.
As much as he is an unofficial head of state for Liverpool, Dalglish has now become a supporter as much as the rest of us are, all be it with a platinum-access all areas season ticket that brought with it a stand being renamed in his honour.
Ten years on from that 2012 League Cup final, this time around it symbolises the most valuable of potential stepping stones, onward to the bigger prizes on offer at the season’s end. It also represents a Liverpool that is maybe reaching Klopp’s very zenith at Anfield.
Since the dawning of Klopp, a theory has always been spun, not by the man himself, that to reach for the stars Liverpool have had to make strategic sacrifices along the way in the domestic cups, that in a world of footballing plates, the only ones we could spin were the Premier League and Champions League ones.
Now we have a Liverpool that genuinely thinks it can win the lot, a Liverpool emboldened and unleashed.
If Klopp is the father of the modern-day Liverpool FC, and come on, lets face it, he most definitely is, then Dalglish is its grandfather. The sense of pride was immense, and the way that everyone is made to feel a part of it is enough to melt even the most cynical of hearts.
Tellingly, Klopp spoke after the game of the balance he attempts to strike between a football manager and a human being, almost as if it had been something he had never considered before. Yet, this is the very source of his success, as on one hand, on the touchline he is the living embodiment of Genghis Khan in a Nike cap, while offsetting this is that he is quite clearly the best mate of everyone he meets.
True to his word, Caoimhin Kelleher took the gloves at Wembley, a principled strategy from his manager on a day when the rest of Klopp’s line-up was the strongest possible, Thiago’s game, unfortunately, ending before it had begun.
Having known for weeks that he would be playing at Wembley, Kelleher could have been forgiven had the occasion and burden proved too heavy to carry, but there was no need for such worries, for either him or everyone that was willing him on.
Amazingly, Kelleher didn’t manage to make a save during what was a masterclass of a penalty shootout, yet he still emerged as the League Cup winning hero by scoring what proved to be the decisive spot-kick, before seeing Chelsea’s pantomime villain of a reserve goalkeeper balloon his own penalty handsomely over the crossbar.
It doesn’t get much more Liverpool than that, and the humanity on show was worthy of the prize.
The party has just begun, but this Liverpool can now go on to make it rumble on through to May.