Klopp at Liverpool, Season 4: We’ve won it 6 times, one defeat too many and Divock in the derby

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This is the fourth part in our series charting Jurgen Klopp’s nine seasons at Liverpool from his 2015 arrival to his upcoming departure from Anfield. In case you’ve missed them, you can check out parts onetwo and three.

The agonising manner in which Liverpool lost the 2018 Champions League final left them approaching two diverging paths. Would it be a case of the Reds missing out on their one big opportunity, or would it provide the springboard towards them finally getting over the line with Jurgen Klopp in charge?

By the start of the following season, the team was very much his after some eye-catching summer moves. Fabinho came in from Monaco within days of the defeat to Real Madrid in Kyiv. Naby Keita’s long-awaited arrival took place, while Xherdan Shaqiri was plucked from relegated Stoke. Emre Can departed on a free transfer and Ragnar Klavan also moved on.

However, the biggest transfer – in terms of the fee and the impact at Anfield – was the £66.9m acquisition of Alisson Becker. Loris Karius’ woes in the Champions League final laid bare the problems that Liverpool had in the goalkeeping department ever since Pepe Reina’s departure earlier in the decade. Could Brazil’s number one finally be the answer to that long-standing conundrum?

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A sequence of six wins to start the Premier League season, with only two goals conceded, indicated that the Reds were a far different beast from their previous erraticism under Klopp. The 100% record ended with draws against Chelsea and Manchester City, although Daniel Sturridge’s stunning last-gasp equaliser and a late Riyad Mahrez penalty miss made those feel like points gained rather than dropped.

While the top-flight campaign was progressing serenely, LFC were staring down the barrel of an early exit from the Champions League, having lost all three away matches in the group stage. It left them needing to beat Napoli in their final game to avoid exiting the competition.

Mo Salah netted the only goal of the night at Anfield, but much of the post-match plaudits went to Alisson for a stupendous stoppage time save from Arkadiusz Milik. The 1-0 win saw Liverpool squeeze into the knockout rounds amid a sense that the Brazilian’s sizeable transfer fee was money very well spent.

That was one of eight matches the Reds played in December 2018. The other seven were in the Premier League and all ended in victories, the first of which came in dramatic circumstances.

When Virgil van Dijk shanked a volley deep into added time against Everton at Anfield, that appeared to be the final act of a frustrating goalless draw. That was until Jordan Pickford had the bright idea of batting it out from above his crossbar, with Divock Origi on hand to nod it home and send Klopp racing onto the pitch to embrace Alisson. The Belgian coming up with clutch moments would become a theme throughout the season…

December also saw a comprehensive outclassing of Manchester United which precipitated the sacking of Jose Mourinho and a 5-1 hammering of Arsenal in which Bobby Firmino scored one of the coolest hat-tricks you could ever wish to see.

Liverpool led Man City by seven points when travelling to the Etihad Stadium at the start of 2019, and a win could’ve enabled them to place one hand on the Premier League trophy. Sadly, it was a night when fortune didn’t favour the Reds.

Leroy Sane’s winning goal went in off the post; an earlier Sadio Mane shot hit the upright and bounced back into play. Vincent Kompany somehow escaped a red card for a wild lunge on Salah. John Stones made a goalline clearance with the ball a mere 11 millimetres from fully crossing the line – not even a game of inches.

Despite losing 2-1 to their title rivals, Klopp’s team still had their destiny in their own hands. That would change during a costly six-match period soon afterwards in which they dropped eight points, as draws with Leicester, West Ham, Man United and Everton enabled City to take over at the top.

When the Champions League resumed in February, Liverpool earned a respectable 0-0 draw at home to Bayern Munich before a brilliant 3-1 win in Germany, a fixture illuminated by Mane’s deft turn making a mug out of Manuel Neuer before the Senegal attacker finished to the net.

A second tie against Porto in 14 months awaited in the quarter-finals, with a 2-0 victory at Anfield followed by a resounding 4-1 triumph at the Estadio Dragao, where the Reds had won 5-0 on their previous visit under Klopp.

By the time the semi-final against Barcelona came around, LFC had rattled off seven straight Premier League wins to remain firmly in contention for the title, but a simultaneous sequence of perfection from Man City left them one point clear after every matchday.

The European adventure appeared to be as good as over after a 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou, but a late Origi winner at Newcastle took the title race to the final day. The sight of Kompany scoring a phenomenal winner against Leicester two days later was a bitter pill to swallow for Reds fans, but they had their own destiny to fulfil the following night.

An early Origi goal at home to Barcelona had Anfield believing in a miracle. Once Gini Wijnaldum had come off the bench to score twice in quick succession during the second half, the stadium was genuinely rocking. Then came a corner kick in the 79th minute.

The quick-thinking Trent Alexander-Arnold spotted some disorganisation in the visitors’ defence and swivelled 180 degrees to deliver the set piece rapidly. One man who was alert to it was Origi, who crashed the ball into the roof of the net to complete the most extraordinary of turnarounds. From 3-0 down to 4-3 up, Liverpool had done it. They were going to a second successive Champions League final.

‘Never give up’ was the message on the T-shirt Salah wore that night. It was more than just defiant rhetoric. The players and coaching staff standing arm-in-arm to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone in front of the Kop was a special moment. This was what Klopp meant when, upon taking the job in 2015, he vowed to turn doubters into believers.

No such miracle was forthcoming on the final day of the Premier League. Although Liverpool briefly led in the live table after scoring first against Wolves and Brighton took the lead against Man City, Pep Guardiola’s side recovered to win 4-1 and take the title by a point.

The Reds finished on 97 points, the third-highest tally in English top-flight history, and lost only once in the league all season (that 2-1 defeat at the Etihad), but it was still only good enough for second place. There could hardly have been a more agonising way to miss out on the title, especially when the wait for glory had now entered a 30th year.

That disappointment had been well digested by the time Liverpool travelled to Madrid to take on Tottenham in the Champions League final. Having beaten Spurs twice in the domestic campaign and finished 26 points ahead of them, Klopp’s team were firm favourites.

Salah was tearfully forced off through injury in the previous year’s final but exacted early retribution from the penalty spot here, and the Reds held onto that 1-0 lead for most of a rather underwhelming match.

There were just three minutes of normal time remaining when Origi’s big-game aura came to the fore yet again as he slammed the ball past Hugo Lloris to ensure that Liverpool had won a sixth European Cup and banished the ghosts of Kyiv in 2018.

After three final losses and the most galling of second-place league finishes, at last Klopp had his first trophy as LFC manager, and it was only the biggest prize in club football that he won. Around 750,000 jubilant Scousers lined the streets of the city to welcome home their heroes the next day.

They were scenes which felt like a pipe dream just over four years previously after Brendan Rodgers’ Reds lost 6-1 at Stoke in Steven Gerrard’s final game for the club. The contrast from then to now was scarcely believable.

READ MORE: The evolution of Liverpool’s starting XI under Jurgen Klopp

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