Friday 18 October 2019

Liverpool's finest campaign just had the misfortune to arrive in the wrong year

Sadio Mane celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s opening goal at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Sadio Mane celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s opening goal at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

All hail the greatest runners-up in English football history. Stand to acknowledge the most unwanted, hollow prize on the Anfield honours board.

The Kop will remember this team. They will celebrate their achievement and ask what more could they have done. But they will be unable to avoid adding their contribution to the expanding series of near misses. For all the acclaim, all the pride and all the anticipation that this is just the start - all justified - we cannot escape the reality that Liverpool's finest league season had the misfortune to be executed in the wrong year.

One defeat and 97 points to come second. What perverted destiny is this? And to think some called them lucky earlier in this campaign. This vintage of almost, but not quite, is different to 2009 and 2014. Of course it is. But try telling that to the players, their dejection tempered only by the prospect of the ultimate consolation in Madrid next month.

Sapped

Jurgen Klopp's head was bowed, his energy sapped as he made his way on to the pitch to console his players before they returned for a lap of appreciation. Those lung-busting sprints to the halfway line after late winners, those aggressive fist pumps, those rallying cries when collecting 97 points are now snapshots of someone else's victorious campaign.

Klopp, like everyone else at Anfield, knew it could end this way even if Tuesday night showcased football's restorative powers.

Alisson provides a safe pair of hands for his daughter during the post-game lap of honour. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Alisson provides a safe pair of hands for his daughter during the post-game lap of honour. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

His programme notes were not dissimilar in tone to those prior to Barcelona - pre-empting disappointment with enough splattering of belief to cover all eventualities. Perhaps too many prayers were answered against Lionel Messi for the higher powers to grant a second miracle. Don't Stop Believin' was even played ahead of kick-off.

In truth, there was only ever a murmur of hope for Liverpool coming into this final day.

It was a murmur that grew in volume in the far left-hand corner of Anfield's Main Stand midway through the first-half of what proved an anticlimactic finale, a professional 2-0 win over Wolves.

For a while, claim and counterclaim spread. Brighton had scored; only they had not, the misinformation contaminating the stadium before the truth could get its boots on. Liverpool were one up, yet, to the dismay of Klopp, what was happening in front of 53,000 spectators seemed superfluous.

A minute later another hum turned into an explosion, this time bringing more accurate word of a Brighton goal. No sooner had more manic celebrations subsided when Wolves fans retaliated to receive City's equaliser.

This was virtual football, goals 270 miles away quickening or deadening the pulse depending on whether the goalscorer wore a Brighton or Manchester City shirt.

The Kop waited for another murmur, another sound of a positive rumour. Any hint. Any last twist. It never came. Not from the home crowd, anyway.

Cruelly, the Wolves fans took on the role of co-commentators from Brighton, like an execution squad detailing every stab to the heart.

Four in total killing a dream, 29 years of waiting now becoming 30. Hope had lasted 83 seconds - a further 10 minutes if you include how long City needed to take the lead before sprinting to their title defence.

The manager's final instruction to the Kop was to forget events at the Amex Stadium. This was a concession too much.

He was never going to force obedience, given the ache for information as to whether this would complete Anfield's miraculous week. The drama never really materialised to match the quality of this title race. This could not be manufactured, even if there was something nostalgic about how it concluded.

One of the more unfortunate consequences of saturated TV coverage of a championship run-in is the rivals never get to play at the same time until the end. It removes some of the tension only a final-day shoot-out can bring.

When Liverpool last won it in 1990, news filtered through of Norwich's Robert Rosario equalising against rival Aston Villa. Liverpool needed another Rosario as much as Sadio Mane.

Euphoric

So the mood swings were extreme, from euphoric to funereal from one half to the next. Finally came the defiance. The acceptance. The Kop made peace with its deflation after City's fourth goal, working through its repertoire in preparation for the Champions League final.

Klopp, who once ordered supporters never to sing his name before the final whistle, was defied and deified in the process. He was swift to depart down the tunnel with his players before their return for a last acknowledgement.

Three times during Klopp's reign, Liverpool City Council has published details for a winners' parade. Three times the open-top bus has had to remain parked.

There is still one more chance this season. Whatever happens in Spain, nobody here believes Klopp's party is cancelled. It is merely delayed. (© Daily Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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