The wait goes on: Elusive league title evades Liverpool
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — For about 20 minutes on an afternoon of extraordinary highs, lows, twists and turns at Anfield, Liverpool thought the wait could finally be ending.
Liverpool was leading Wolverhampton Wanderers; Manchester City was drawing, briefly losing, and then only drawing again at Brighton.
The Reds were top of the “as it stands” Premier League table, now used widely in this age of instant information, and there was joy unconfined through this iconic stadium. Fans were punching the air and swirling their scarves. The “Allez, Allez, Allez” chant was being sung with gusto.
The English league title was — for that brief period— heading back to Liverpool after 29 years.
An hour later, after the final whistle blew on the game and on their team’s title hopes, Liverpool fans were still singing but in defiance rather than celebration.
Liverpool had won 2-0 and finished a league campaign with 97 points. But it wasn’t enough.
City — a 4-1 winner at the Amex Stadium — was champion again, by a point.
“We shall not be moved,” roared Liverpool fans in The Kop. And they’ll be there again next season, still waiting for the biggest prize title in English soccer.
This one has to hurt, though, with some cruel stats accompanying Liverpool’s latest near miss.
Ninety-seven points is the highest total by any team to not win the title, indeed more than any other team had previously collected apart from last year’s record-breaking Man City team.
Liverpool lost only once this season — a 2-1 defeat at City on Jan. 3, which denied Juergen Klopp’s team not only an unbeaten campaign to match Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of 2003-04 but also a century of points.
Liverpool had the most clean sheets in the league and had two of the three joint-top scorers in the league, in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, the team’s two full backs, had 23 assists between them.
And the Reds had the biggest jump in points from last season, leading Klopp to bemoan that there was no “award for the biggest development jump.”
No wonder Klopp said he had “mixed” feelings at the end of the season.
“It’s not a wonderful moment, but we have enough time to feel how brilliant a season this is,” Klopp said. “Only because City is there, it’s not enough.”
“As long as City are around,” Klopp added, “with the quality they have, the power, the financial power and that stuff, then it’s not any other team will pass them easily, that is clear. So we need to be very, very close to perfection to win the Premier League as long as this is the case.”
The desperation of Liverpool’s fans to finally win the league was palpable in a first half when Sadio Mane scored a 17th-minute opening goal before misinformation spread through Anfield.
Before Brighton had even scored to go ahead against City, there were murmurs and then roars among home supporters suggesting City had conceded. The initial noises came from the Anfield Road End, which also houses away fans, leading to some claims that it was Wolves’ traveling contingent spreading fake news.
Either way, Liverpool fans were soon jumping about in celebration for real because Brighton was leading. City, however, equalized barely a minute later, was soon ahead, and wound up cruising to the title.
Klopp said the sudden change of circumstances didn’t help his team.
“It’s difficult to prepare a team for a situation like that,” he said, “to say, ‘If we score and Brighton score, stay calm.’ How can you know how a crowd will react?
“Wolves used it in that situation, actually. Until then, we were really there, we controlled the game, we scored the goal, everything was fine ... Then it calmed down and you could see the atmosphere wasn’t ecstatic anymore that something happened in Brighton.”
Liverpool still did enough to win the game, Mane adding a second goal in the 81st minute, but Anfield was fairly muted until Kopites went through its repertoire of songs as fulltime approached to honor the players’ efforts.
The players’ families came onto the field and the team did a lap of appreciation. Fans roared their approval when Salah’s daughter, wearing a jersey with No. 11 on the back like her daddy, dribbled the ball from the halfway line and into the goal in front of The Kop.
“I have to say about Liverpool fans, a lot of people say they are so desperate to win the league, and how they followed this path and that way,” Klopp said, “but it is just incredible. This club is in the best moment for a long, long time and it will not end because a team has just one point more. We will keep going.”
After the remarkable 4-0 win over Barcelona on Tuesday that earned Liverpool a place in the Champions League final, Klopp spoke about how his players were determined to bottle the feeling of last year’s loss to Real Madrid in the title match in Kiev and use it as motivation this season.
He said the same will happen within the prism of the Premier League.
“This team is one of the best that ever played for Liverpool, 100 percent,” Klopp said, with a determined look on his face. “We will go again.”
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80