Klopp at Liverpool, Season 5: Deliverance of a dream and a party with an unwelcome difference

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This is the fifth part in our series charting Jurgen Klopp’s nine seasons at Liverpool from his 2015 arrival to his upcoming departure from Anfield.

By winning the Champions League in 2019, Jurgen Klopp dispelled any lingering barbs about him being a ‘nearly man’ at Liverpool, although the anguish of missing out on the Premier League title by a solitary point (even after gaining 97) left an itch which needed to be scratched.

It was a sign of how content the German was with his squad that, after three summers of significant change, transfer activity in the off-season was minimal. Less than £2m was spent in bringing in teenage defender Sepp van den Berg and backup goalkeepers Andy Lonergan and Adrian. Daniel Sturridge, Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno and Danny Ings were the standout exits from Anfield.

As part of Liverpool’s pre-season in France, professional surfer Sebastian Steudtner was enlisted to push the players’ psychological boundaries by instructing them to hold their breath underwater for as long as possible, with the objective of instilling a belief that their endurance levels were unshakeable.

Manchester City struck an early blow by winning the Community Shield on penalties, but spot kicks went in the Reds’ favour 10 days later in the UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea.

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When it came to the Premier League, Klopp’s team began like a steam train, winning their first eight matches. The last game in that sequence saw James Milner convert a stoppage time penalty to secure a 2-1 win over Leicester, an indicator of the new-found belief within this Liverpool side.

Even without the world-class Alisson Becker, who was injured in the opening day victory over Norwich, there was no knocking the Reds off course. They were already eight points clear at the summit when they went to visit Old Trafford in mid-October, and although the 100% run came to an end, they remained unbeaten thanks to an 85th-minute equaliser from Adam Lallana.

November brought three especially satisfying victories – two goals in the final five minutes to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win at Aston Villa, an emphatic dismantling of Man City at Anfield and another late winner away to Crystal Palace. This was exactly what Klopp meant when he described his team as ‘mentality monsters’.

While the wins flowed freely in the top flight, Liverpool again went into their final Champions League group game still uncertain of their place in the last 16 despite having 10 points from five matches, but a 2-0 victory away to RB Salzburg secured top spot in the group.

The week before Christmas threw up the bizarre scenario of LFC having two first-team fixtures within 24 hours on two different continents. While the senior squad were at the Club World Cup, Neil Critchley’s under-21s fulfilled the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa’s established pros, who understandably won 5-0.

The trip to Qatar was worthwhile, though, as Bobby Firmino’s goal in extra time to defeat Flamengo in the final meant that Liverpool had finally won the Club World Cup, having been thwarted in their three previous attempts. It also ensured that they went into a pivotal Premier League fixture on a high.

Leicester were the Reds’ closest contenders when the two sides met at the King Power Stadium on Boxing Day. It looked a real banana skin for Klopp’s team after their endeavours in the Middle East, but they delivered one of the greatest performances of his reign by demolishing the Foxes 4-0 to move 13 points clear. Some pundits believed that the title was already wrapped up, and it was only midway through the season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring the fourth goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium on December 26, 2019. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Liverpool fans knew better than to count their chickens too early, having seen a commanding festive lead the previous year whittled away by Man City. However, when Mo Salah sped away from Dan James to score the clinching goal in a 2-0 win over Man United on 19 January, stretching the lead to 16 points, Anfield spotaneously burst into a rousing chorus of ‘We’re gonna win the league‘.

When the Reds came from behind to beat West Ham 3-2 at home on 24 February, it was their 18th successive Premier League victory and extended their lead to 22 points, although it actually came amid a rare slump in that season.

During a three-week period in late February and early March, LFC were eliminated from the Champions League and FA Cup by Atletico Madrid and Chelsea respectively, and also lost their unbeaten top-flight status with a shock 3-0 hammering by 19th-placed Watford.

However, those results paled into insignificance at a time when the world was rocked by the outbreak of coronavirus, which led to everyday life being put on hold as health services tried to cope with an unprecedented crisis.

As the death toll rose across the UK and worldwide, and football took a back seat, debate emerged as to whether the 2019/20 season would be concluded, or even declared void altogether. For a Liverpool team who’d been near-perfect and needed only six points from nine games to end the 30-year wait for a league title, the latter would’ve been an unbearably cruel scenario.

READ MORE: (Video) ‘Super special’ – Klopp makes surprise pick for the match he most ‘enjoyed’ at Liverpool

Thankfully, it was confirmed in late May that the campaign would be played out to a conclusion, albeit with fans unable to attend matches. It wasn’t a perfect situation by any means, but at least it gave the Reds a chance to win the title on the pitch rather than being handed it by a boardroom committee.

The day after a 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace at an empty Anfield, Liverpool had the chance to be crowned champions if Man City failed to win at Stamford Bridge. Klopp and his players gathered on a rooftop in Formby Hall to watch the potential moment of truth together.

When the final whistle blew on a Chelsea victory at 10:10pm on 25 June 2020, all social distancing protocols were broken as a long-awaited dream was finally realised. Liverpool were champions of England for the first time since 1990. The manager’s tears during a Sky Sports interview were no doubt replicated by Reds fans worldwide.

LFC would go on to lose two more matches, as well as their 100% home record when Burnley claimed a draw at Anfield, but it mattered little in the context of what had been achieved, and achieved in breathtaking style too.

On 22 July, Jordan Henderson had the honour of hoisting the Premier League trophy at Anfield, with the presentation taking place in the Kop due to the absence of supporters inside the stadium, although plenty of fans gathered outside to celebrate.

It didn’t feel right for that most special of moments to happen without 54,000 delirious supporters inside the ground to witness it firsthand, but it was the best viable scenario at that time, and it was a darn sight better than having the top-flight campaign voided as some idiotic, agenda-driven pundits suggested.

Klopp didn’t just end the three-decade wait for Liverpool’s 19th league title; he did it with an extraordinary tally of 99 points, 18 clear of second place, and with a record of 26 wins and a draw after 27 games. His place in Anfield legend had unquestionably been secured.

In case you’ve missed them, you can check out previous episodes of the series:


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

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