So, once more unto the breach we go when it comes to the 2021/22 Premier League season, and Sunday’s conclusion could still bring with it the prize of the trophy itself.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have been truly ludicrous this season. We were all led to believe that they didn’t have the depth of squad, nor the strength of legs and minds to be able to put up a fight on all fronts, yet here they are, with just two games remaining. One of which will play its part in deciding the fate of the Premier League title race, and the other to determine the winners of the Champions League. This, while both domestic cups already sit in the trophy cabinet.
We’ve come a very long way since October 2015, when Klopp breezed through the doors of Anfield to proclaim himself the ‘The Normal One’.
In October 2015, Liverpool were a football club that was at odds with itself; they were a club that was still nursing the festering wound of losing out on the 2013/14 Premier League title and were struggling to get over the subsequent departure of Luis Suarez, and then 12 months later that of Raheem Sterling.
Liverpool had become a steppingstone to other things, Fernando Torres having done likewise, while Philippe Coutinho would go on to follow suit, a man that even with a persona the size of Klopp could not persuade to stay, yet one who could still help win us a trophy.
Klopp was handed a dysfunctional, if receptive squad, and even the perceived misfits have helped us along the way to potential footballing immortality.
For a time, even with Klopp now leading the way, Liverpool remained a troubled entity. He won only three of his first nine Premier League games in charge, and when he led his players down towards the Kop to give thanks to the supporters who backed them in clawing a draw from the jaws of defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion, we were roundly mocked for it. Liverpool went on to lose two cup finals before the 2015/16 season had drawn to an end. There was light, but there was also shade.
Doubters to believers and all that though. By the next time West Brom loomed significantly upon Klopp’s radar it was towards the end of the 2020/21 season, at an empty Hawthorns, where a win was clawed from the jaws of defeat, a valuable three points that were clinched by Alisson Becker, our extraordinary goalkeeper.
Traversing the distance between these two iconic fixtures against West Brom, a stretch of around five and a half years, Klopp had led us on the merriest of dances. More body-blows were absorbed as a Champions League final was lost in cruel circumstances, and a Premier League title was harshly denied us despite falling one victory short of the 100-point mark, but our mental strength brushed off these setbacks, classifying them as merely delaying the inevitable.
A sixth European Cup was won in Madrid, a first league title in 30 years clinched within the cloud of a global pandemic. Always with the pursuing the unfinished business, you just know that Klopp will not rest until he has returned the Premier League title to Anfield, where this time it can be presented to him and his players in front of their adoring supporters.
Unlikely as we must admit it to be, that day could come as soon as this Sunday, and even then, when or if the prize eludes us this time around, you can rest assured that ‘number 20’ will be Klopp’s number one priority in 2022/23, and you just know he will not rest until he achieves it.
At St Mary’s on Tuesday night, it was fitting that it was one of the players Klopp inherited upon his October 2015 arrival that was the guiding element in Liverpool obtaining the three points that have now taken the title race into the final day of the season.
James Milner was relentless on a very wet night in Southampton. One of nine changes to the starting line-up from Wembley, nine alterations to the team that lifted the FA Cup. First in midfield, then at right-back, he was into everything, dictating the soul of Liverpool’s play, a man possessed almost.
When Klopp descended upon Liverpool, Milner was fast approaching his 30th birthday; he’ll be 37 in January and an extra 12 months has been offered to him, a player who can seemingly lay dormant for a few months a season before becoming pivotal at important moments, defying the logic of those who write him off.
Two months shy of his 17th birthday, in November 2002, Milner was handed his senior debut for Leeds United. Harvey Elliott was still six months away from being born. The depth of wisdom that Milner must be passing on to Elliott is worth its weight in gold.
Klopp was fully expected to make changes for this one, given that at kick-off time, Liverpool were only 72 hours beyond running around Wembley with the cup. Still, many an eyebrow was raised by just how many changes he made.
It was a bold move, but one I approved of. Part of me wants Klopp to name a similar line-up on Sunday, for the visit of Wolves, throwing out his team sheet an hour before he needs to.
Send out a message to Pep Guardiola and his players that Paris is everything, and that the Ferraris in the garage can cover this one; send out the message that if Manchester City’s finest aren’t up to the task of seeing themselves over the finish line, then Milner, Elliott, the excellent Curtis Jones, Takumi Minamino, Bobby Firmino, Divock Origi and every other member of the Liverpool squad that are unlikely to get a start in the Champions League final are up to the task.
Mind games, innit?
In all honesty, everything is against us, and in the Premier League era, no team going into a title-deciding final day have prevailed from behind, but if any team is going to do so, it could only be Klopp’s Liverpool; no team has blown the prize when starting the day top of the table, ten years ago Manchester City almost did though.
Embrace it for what it is, don’t fear it. If we fall short on Sunday, we’ll just come back and run away with it next time around.
Up these most remarkable of Reds.