Until a couple of weeks ago, Liverpool had properly lost just once all season: inconsequentially at Napoli in the Champions League. They have now been beaten in three of their last four and, most damningly of all, only just managed to beat West Ham in the other.
In the space of four days they have surrendered the opportunity to match Arsenal’s (deeply fraudulent, but that’s for another day) Invincibles and Manchester United’s Treble winners.
A more sensible and intelligent piece than this might look at the reasons why it has all suddenly gone so horribly ‘wrong’. For instance, while Liverpool defied expectation to plough relentlessly through a ridiculously congested festive fixture list without a misstep or dropped point, it turns out a lack of games has hurt them rather more.
With the youngsters and reserves deployed in the FA Cup win against Shrewsbury, Liverpool’s first team had over two weeks off at the start of February. Since their return, Liverpool have won unconvincingly against Norwich and West Ham and lost to Atletico Madrid, Watford and Chelsea. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe it’s not. Maybe all those one-goal wins were just unsustainable even for a side as good as Klopp’s. Certainly the angry and confused Liverpool response to what was in itself a far from catastrophic 1-0 defeat at the Metropolitano hinted that while winning had become a habit, the end of that run would inevitably always feel seismic. The exact same thing famously happened, of course, to the Springfield Isotopes.
But whatever the reasons, Liverpool’s rediscovered mortality means everyone else is now, like Mark Corrigan in Peep Show, winning… in the most minor way possible. The universe has conspired to create the least unpleasant way for Liverpool to produce a sensational Premier League title-winning season.
Neutrals have long dreaded the time when it would, finally, be Liverpool’s Year. The smugness. The gloating. The This Means More-ing. But we’ve all had our fun with Liverpool over a great many years, and we deserve everything we get back. And yet… now it’s happening and happening specifically like this, it’s not too bad is it?
For one thing, even before their current stumble, this is an almost wholly unobjectionable Liverpool team playing fine football under an excellent and charismatic manager. There really is so very much to like about them, the bastards.
Far more importantly, though, they basically won the title in about October. Man City cannily packed it in nice and early to focus on yet more nutritious and delicious Carabao, while the rest of the ‘Big Six’ didn’t even bother at all. Wacky old Leicester once again didn’t get the memo, but come on, lightning doesn’t strike twice. They’ve long since fallen into line. Every fan – Liverpool and rival alike – has had literally months to come to terms with the very real fact that Liverpool have won the Premier League.
Until the coronavirus came along there wasn’t so much as a far-fetched yet tantalising “But if this happened and then that happened…” scenario for even the most despairing ABL to torture themselves with. It is done. Everyone moved on to acceptance quite some time ago, and refocused their energies on their own teams’ many and vast inadequacies.
For Liverpool fans, such certainty probably took slightly longer to arrive. Understandably so. It’s been so long and there have been so many, ahem, slips in the past. It’s just the inherently pessimistic nature of football fandom where even for fans of the biggest and successful clubs the game always feels more likely to kick you up the arse than shake you warmly by the hand.
Yet for even the most cautious Liverpool fan this long-awaited title win has been a done deal for absolutely ages now. They could even afford to spend January pondering whether it might be possible to re-sign Steven Gerrard just to complete his medal collection. This was a silly plan, but there was no hubris there. The title is won.
And yet that certainty is what now leaves us all, ludicrously, shrugging our shoulders at the achievement. Liverpool spent so long normalising brilliance and their ‘rivals’ so many months finding so very many ways to fall short that all the air has gone out of it. Liverpool now face the very real prospect of only winning the league this season, and only doing so by about 20 points or so if City buck their ideas up. Whisper it, but Liverpool might not even break the Premier League record points tally! They might not even get 100 points! There isn’t really any way that Liverpool ending their 30-year title drought could truly be anticlimactic but this is pretty bloody close.
Imagine the moment of unbridled ecstasy (and its opposite) had Liverpool edged out City in last season’s extraordinary title run-in, in which neither dropped a point for about 800 years. Instead the emotions of that instant have been diffused and diluted across weeks and months. Liverpool have had a great time, yet now find themselves in the hangover and regrets stage before the night is even over.
Liverpool have fallen just short of completing a season for the ages, one that could have put all others in the shade and set a benchmark that would be all but impossible for anyone else to ever match.
Yet in that ‘failure’ they have achieved something more remarkable still. They have been so relentlessly good for so long that they have shifted football’s Overton Window and now, miraculously, found a way for a Liverpool Premier League title win to be sort of tolerable for everyone else. We are all Mark Corrigan.
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