After a dismal 1-0 defeat to Fulham at Anfield in March, it looked as though Liverpool’s chances of Champions League qualification were all but dashed. Jürgen Klopp’s men were on a downward spiral. They couldn’t win at home, they couldn’t score from open play, and the winning mentality which defined their title surge the year before had evaporated into the empty stands of Anfield. All was seemingly lost.
Some 10 weeks later, all has been restored again. A remarkable run of form in final weeks of the season, which saw Liverpool win eight and draw two of their 10 remaining matches, saw the team recover their status on sites like Betdaq and pip Chelsea and Leicester City to third place in the final Premier League table, ensuring the vital bonus of Champions League football for next season.
While the limp title defence was certainly a disappointment, it would have been a major step backwards for the club if they had missed out on qualification for Europe’s premier club competition. Star players like Mohamed Salah would have been forced to consider their future, Liverpool would have suffered financially, and they would have struggled to attract the level of players they desire in the summer transfer window. As it is, a drop from first to third does not feel like much of a disaster.
Of course, Liverpool fans will know that this season was so much worse than a drop of two league positions reflects. The club’s defensive injury crisis, which saw players like Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams come into a team they would otherwise never have been near, threatened to derail the entire campaign. Combine that with the loss of form of Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, and Liverpool were a team that was both shaky at the back and toothless up front.
Given those challenges, Klopp must take an enormous amount of credit for Liverpool’s revival. The German has cut a frustrated figure for most of the season, the usual fun-loving charisma replaced by a terse and irritable persona, which seemed to snowball into full-on sulking at different points of the campaign. But by the time the curtain had drawn on Liverpool’s season, Klopp was laughing and smiling widely once again.
And so he should. It’s hard to know what Klopp and his team discovered which made them so formidable for those final 10 games of the season, but it was something like the form which brought them the title last year. They found a way to win matches even when not playing at their best, and when playing at their worst they found a way not to lose.
The win at Old Trafford against Manchester United was crucial in building the momentum for that final run-in, while Alisson’s remarkable late winner against West Bromwich Albion was the moment where everyone suddenly believed, as if a flick had been switched and Liverpool remembered how good they were. Five goals scored and none conceded in their remaining two matches proved that.
Klopp came up with the goods in the most challenging moment of his Liverpool tenure, and he will be a better manager for it. With some shrewd recruitment in the summer, and perhaps a touch more luck in regards to injuries, there’s no reason why Liverpool shouldn’t be regarded as one of the title favourites for the Premier League next season. Klopp’s mentality monsters are back.