Premier League Reload - Matchday 8Oct 10
Liverpool fans stood and applauded at the end of the final match of the 2018/19 Premier League season. A goal in each half from Sadio Mane had earned a comfortable win over Wolves at Anfield but ultimately, it wasn’t enough. They’d come up short. ‘Thanks For Letting Us Dream’ read one banner held aloft in The Kop.
This despite recording 97 points, the third-highest total ever recorded in the Premier League and losing just once all season – to eventual champions Manchester City.
But four draws in six matches between late January and early March saw Liverpool leave the door slightly ajar and Man City, with 14 wins from their last 14 matches, emphatically kicked it through.
As City extended their lead at Brighton to 3 and then 4-1, Jurgen Klopp reflected on how his side simultaneously went in search of a second against Wolves despite the reaction of the Anfield crowd informing them there was little hope left.
“In that moment we decided how much we enjoyed our season,” the German smiled, the Champions League final on Liverpool’s horizon. “And I enjoyed it a lot.”
Privately, the German must have been daunted by the prospect ahead of him. Pep Guardiola’s men were nothing short of a juggernaut but even more pressingly, he had to channel the disappointment of his squad who’d come within a whisker of glory only to be denied once again.
Klopp had remoulded Liverpool from also-rans to challengers, to Champions League final regulars (and winners just a week later), from a side who thrived on the counter to a team who could dominate from minute one to ninety.
His team appeared ready. Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino the most menacing front three in Europe, Alisson the best goalkeeper in world football and Virgil van Dijk – the imperious centre back and future Ballon d’Or nominee.
Yet they’d still come up short devastatingly and the wait to win a first league title since 1990 would go on.
All of which makes this season’s relentless surge to the title – paused only by a pandemic – so, so impressive. Even in a run as dominant as Liverpool’s 2019/20 campaign so far there have been key defining matches which have seen Klopp’s men tighten their grip on the title – a title they can finally confirm should City slip up against Chelsea on Thursday.
Liverpool have been on the wrong end of their fair share of decisive moments in title races – see Steven Gerrard’s slip in 2014 or John Stones’ goal-line clearance by 11mm last season. But here BTSport.com break down the pivotal moments that have defined their Premier League title.
Liverpool 2-1 Leicester – October 5, 2019 – Matchday 8
Seven wins from seven to begin the campaign – including over Arsenal and Chelsea – had Liverpool fans dreaming early on this season.
A 70th-minute Georginio Wijnaldum winner in the previous match against Sheffield United was the closest Klopp’s men had come to dropping points before they hosted Leicester – who looked primed for a title challenge under former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.
So when James Maddison’s low finish on 80 minutes cancelled out Mane’s first-half opener, Liverpool’s title charge finally looked to be hitting a (slight) bump in the road.
Except in stoppage time a mix-up between Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and substitute Marc Albrighton allowed Mane to steal in.
He was brought down and after consultation with the VAR, a penalty was awarded. James Milner, cool as you like, slotted home in the 95th minute and Liverpool went eight points clear of City.
Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool – October 20, 2019 – Matchday 9
One game but 15 days later due to an international break and Liverpool visited the home of the arch-enemy – Manchester United where they’d failed to win on their previous five visits.
In what was a scrappy game, Liverpool put in probably their worst display of the season so far without the injured Salah while United raised their game considerably.
The home side took the lead through a controversial first-half Marcus Rashford goal on the counter-attack – awarded despite a VAR check on whether there was a foul by Victor Lindelof on Divock Origi in the build-up. “Clear foul… this shows all the problems with VAR,” Klopp said post-match.
Yet Liverpool finally began growing into the game as the second half war on and piled on the pressure. It told – when forgotten man Adam Lallana fired in Andy Robertson’s cross five minutes from time.
The first time Liverpool had failed to win but given the circumstances, an invaluable point.
Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City – October 27, 2019 – Matchday 12
The first meeting with City came at Anfield and with Guardiola’s men having endured a less-than-ideal start to the campaign, it was already been talked about as a potential title-decider.
It was never much of a contest. Liverpool were in front inside six minutes through a Fabinho 25-yarder and doubled their lead on 13 minutes when Salah nodded home Robertson’s cross at the back post.
To the delight of the Anfield crowd, Raheem Sterling fluffed his lines with a header while Sergio Aguero struck the post with a deflected effort.
But Liverpool survived and six minutes after half-time another Mane goal saw Liverpool 3-0 up and cruising. Bernardo Silva’s late goal was mere consolation for City who were well, well beaten.
The three points sent Liverpool eight clear of second-placed Leicester and nine clear of City.
It represented a huge psychological hurdle surpassed by Klopp’s men and left Guardiola – who fumed at the final whistle and sarcastically thanked referee Michael Oliver – looking like a man fighting a losing battle.
Leicester 0-4 Liverpool – December 26, 2019 – Matchday 18
City had all-but surrendered their title by this point with four defeats already. To the surprise of many, Liverpool’s nearest challengers – although still comfortably in the rear-view mirror – were Leicester.
The trip to the King Power was on paper one of Liverpool’s toughest assignments yet but Klopp’s men made short work of the side managed by the man he replaced in a Boxing Day bonanza.
Liverpool turned in a truly devastating display of attacking football spearheaded by the brilliance of Trent Alexander-Arnold – who set up two Firmino goals and added another of his own.
It opened up a 13-point gap between Liverpool and Leicester – the largest margin of victory between the teams starting the day in the top two of a Premier League season since 2011.
“An important day,” hailed Klopp, the Liverpool boss refusing to get carried away despite the overwhelming evidence the title was well on it’s way to Anfield.
Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United – January 19, 2020 – Matchday 22
Back-to-back games against Tottenham and Manchester United in January looked to be the last remaining major obstacles between Liverpool and the title.
A Firmino strike at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had seen Liverpool record the finest ever start to a season by a club in Europe’s top-five leagues the week before.
"We know about it and it is special but I can't feel it," Klopp had said after the Spurs win. "When someone gives you a trophy it is done but until then you need to fight. It is only the start. We need to continue because our contenders are so strong.”
Continue they did. Fittingly, Van Dijk –the biggest factor in Liverpool’s new-found solidity - was on the scoresheet as he headed Liverpool into a 14th-minute advantage.
They’d have to wait until the 93rd-minute for the second, scored by Salah following a long clearance by Alisson up the field. The Egyptian whipped off his shirt and celebrated manically.
Twenty-one wins from 22 matches and 16 points clear of second place, the rest of the season would represent little more than a procession.