Unlike when Suarez & Alonso left, Klopp’s Liverpool perfectly placed to challenge again next season
The Reds can head into the summer months confident of another title tilt regardless of what happens on the final day of the Premier League season
One more miracle?
In this most dramatic of weeks, Liverpool will hope the best is yet to come.
“It’s been a week of big football moments,” said Jurgen Klopp on Friday. “And from our point of view, if there could be another one on Sunday, that would be really cool!”
The odds are against the Reds. The bookmakers have them at 13/2 to end the weekend as Premier League champions, with Manchester City as short as 1/10. City, a point clear at the top of the table heading into the final round of fixtures, travel to Brighton while Liverpool host Wolves. Both will be expected to win.
Still, it could be a tension-packed afternoon, as Liverpool look to do themselves a favour while simultaneously hoping for one from the league’s 17th-placed side. Fans will be glued to phones, seeking updates from each game. There could well be a couple of twists and turns before 6pm.
The chances are it will be heartbreak for Klopp and his team, who could finish the season on 97 points, having lost just one league game, yet find themselves second best. A cruel world, indeed.
But whatever happens at Anfield on Sunday, or indeed at the AmEx Stadium, Liverpool supporters can head into the summer happy – and not just because they have a Champions League final to look forward to on June 1.
Naturally, the fear that this was their moment, that their one chance has passed, will be there. The Reds have finished runners-up in the Premier League before and then failed to push on.
Good teams have disintegrated, excellent managers have lost their magic touch, and the club’s attempts to fix problems in the transfer market have proven misguided, over-ambitious, or both.
This feels different. This doesn’t feel like a team performing way above its limits, riding a wave of momentum or papering over cracks with a good season or a decent cup run. Liverpool don’t feel like tourists; they feel like natives. They belong at the top end of the table, and in the latter stages of the Champions League.
On and off the pitch, they are set up to challenge for years to come.
This isn’t 2014, when Luis Suarez left and Brendan Rodgers’ house of cards collapsed. Liverpool aren’t reliant on one man’s genius to win them games; they aren’t loaning players from Chelsea or Valencia or taking cheap punts on Spanish youngsters.
There isn’t a divide between the manager and his recruitment team. There will be no Mario Balotellis or Rickie Lamberts this summer.
This isn’t 2009 either, when Rafa Benitez’s side came up short against a great Manchester United team. Within weeks Xabi Alonso had been sold, and it would soon become clear that Liverpool, under the ownership of the parasitic Tom Hicks and George Gillett, simply didn’t have the money to turn a good team into a title-winning one.
Benitez was gone within a year, leaving a club drowning under the weight of its owners’ debt. Things were so bad, Roy Hodgson was seen as the safe option to replace him.
Nor is this 2002, when Gerard Houllier attempted to follow a second-placed finish with a summer of lavish spending, designed to compete with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and Alex Ferguson’s United. His signings were El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou. Liverpool, you’ll not be surprised to hear, finished fifth.
There have been other false dawns. Under Roy Evans, for example, the Reds always seemed to be one world-class centre-half away from competing. Benitez always needed a little more pace and a little more depth. Usually, a little more money, too.
Graeme Souness, meanwhile, could not arrest the slide of Liverpool’s last title-winning side. He took over from Kenny Dalglish in 1991, but met with an ageing team and had too little patience with it. They went from first to second to sixth in the space of two years, as Manchester United began an era of dominance in the newly formed Premier League.
Lessons from history, for sure. Liverpool would do well to avoid complacency, on and off the field. Their progress under Klopp has been remarkable, but it needs to continue.
The signs are that it can. They have assembled a high-class squad, the majority of which is aged between 20 and 30 and, in most cases, tied to long-term contracts too.
There should be no fear of Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane jumping ship this summer. Liverpool, as Klopp has put it, is now a destination for top players rather than a stepping stone.
Recruitment is still necessary, but this summer is for fine-tuning rather than an overhaul. A forward player, a full-back and a reserve goalkeeper are the priorities. The record of Michael Edwards and his team in the transfer market over the past three years suggests Liverpool will get those purchases right, too.
Then, there are the youngsters.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, at 20, is already one of Europe’s best, while Melwood sources expect Rhian Brewster, the 19-year-old striker, to make a big impact in the next 12 months. Curtis Jones and Ki-Jana Hoever, 18 and 17 respectively, could also have first-team roles next season.
Central to everything, of course, is Klopp, whose man-management, charisma and tactical nous have been key in Liverpool’s rise.
The German, whose smile disguises a hardened, driven streak, is the ideal fit for this club right now, and his presence and personality has enabled Reds fans to connect with their team in a way not seen at Anfield for many years. Never was this more evident, of course, than on Tuesday night just gone.
The next step is silverware, turning promise and progress into real, tangible success.
That could happen immediately. Liverpool could be English champions on Sunday and European champions within three weeks.
But even if they aren’t, even if this most remarkable of seasons ends in pain, Kopites can keep their heads up.
Their club is heading in only one direction.