Sunday 18 August 2019

Stephen Hunt: 'Hopeless romantics like me are craving happy ending for Liverpool'

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Nigel French/PA

Stephen Hunt

Boy do Liverpool need this title. I think football romantics want Liverpool to win the league too, and why not? It would be a massive win for Liverpool obviously, but it would be a massive win for the Premier League around the world.

Remember 2012 and Martin Tyler almost hysterical as he screamed 'Agueeeeerrrrro'? City won the league in the final moments against QPR . . . after 38 games it came down to that.

I would love to hear Tyler scream 'Salaaaahhhhhh' in the last few minutes of this season's epic title race as the brilliant Egyptian scores in the closing seconds of their game with Wolves, with the Kop faithful knowing this is the goal that's going to win the title. That would be one for the romatics. That would be one for the beautiful game.

But the ball is in Manchester City's court. If they keep winning then that's it, game over. On paper, today's trip to Burnley looks like their toughest assignment in the run-in. Maybe Leicester will trouble them with Jamie Vardy's pace on the break and wouldn't it be ironic if Brendan Rodgers did Liverpool a big favour?

Maybe, just maybe, he can help Liverpool win the league this time after coming so close himself - Gerrard's slip and all that. Maybe, like Tiger and the Masters, the time is right for Liverpool. It certainly feels right . . . there's 'romance' again.

Their time is now, and I genuinely feel like it could happen for them. Not many can see it, even the bookies are offering quite generous odds on it happening, but football has a wonderful way of surprising us all. It will be a captivating last few weeks and I'll be glued to it.

All it takes is one slip - sorry Liverpool fans - to swing the title one way or the other. I remember when I was with Wolves, for three or four months before the end of the season I pictured that I would score the goal or play a key role in the moment that would keep us up and that's how it happened when I scored against Blackburn with three minutes to go. We lost 3-2 but we stayed up on goal difference. The fans were chanting, 'We only need one goal'.

The point is, footballers prepare for these eventualities. And this Liverpool team have looked ready for the challenge for some time.

If it comes to a key moment like that in the last game, would you bet against James Milner stepping up to score a penalty to win the league? Or Sadio Mane through one-on-one to score the winner? Or Salah to score a wondergoal at the Kop end?

Klopp has done such a brilliant job with these players, with this team, that there's no way they won't be ready if the chance comes. A few months ago, they looked a little on edge, but not anymore. Now, they look calm and prepared and that has to be down to the management. Jurgen Klopp will keep them relaxed and ready to go on stage, and this is the biggest stage of all for them now.

And yet, Liverpool may find themselves in the extraordinary position of having won their last nine games, finished the season with 97 points, with only one defeat and seven draws, and still not won the league.

That shows just how good this Manchester City team are.

Liverpool's approach in the last few months has been excellent but somebody has to lose. It's such a fickle world that Klopp's side will be viewed as a great team if they win the remaining games and the title, but failures if they finish second.

I hope this is their year. I hope there is one more twist, one more fairytale moment...

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