Whilst a loss in Kiev would hurt, it wouldn’t dampen my enthusiasm about this campaign. We are once more dining at the top table of European football and we are behaving like the royalty we are. It’s been a tough decade for us so far, with just the 2012 league cup to celebrate, but worse still, we had until this year had just the one campaign in the Champions League.
It bites in the end. We are not a poor club by any means (and nor should we be with the owners’ thrift and making profits most transfer windows) but the amount of money to be made in the Champions League is eye watering. For a lot of teams, that’s the biggest motivation to qualify. Money – and making as much of it as possible. TV money and prize funds are a good way to make some serious coin. Arsenal fans will soon find this out – once you’re out, it’s very hard to get back in as you are competing from a position of weakness.
However when we enter, we enter with a view to being competitive at all times. It gets dismissed by opposition fans (and Manchester City in particular fell into that trap) but there’s something very, very special about Liverpool in Europe. There’s a beautiful chemistry. This is now our eighth final and whilst Real Madrid will rightly be favourites, you cannot rule us out of winning the trophy for a sixth time on 26th May.
Despite the confidence in Europe, there have been long spells of this season where I wasn’t so confident there would be a happy ending. After a 4-1 thumping at Wembley, I had serious reservations about our ability to get into the top four. As the transfer window SLAMMED shut at the instructions of JIM WHITE on the 31st January, I was convinced we wouldn’t get into the top four as we failed to make any signings or make any attempt to replace Philippe Coutinho after his protracted transfer to Barcelona.
I was fuming with the manager and the club for that, although all the evidence points to the fact that this was down to the manager. I thought it was foolhardy, arrogant and borderline negligent to not make at least some attempt to replace the Brazilian. How wrong could I have been?
Jurgen Klopp has turned me from a doubter to a believer. We’re not quite the finished article and we absolutely need a much, much bigger squad complete with requisite quality, but we are a team on the up. There is a structure, there’s a long term plan and we’re heading places. You could argue that the trip to Kiev is ahead of schedule but we have played with such confidence and swagger for large portions of the season, it’s not really a surprise that we have got to the final. There’s no short termism at Liverpool – everything is done with the longer term purpose in mind.
We’ve stamped our authority on the Champions League and are comprehensively the tournament’s top scorers. Whether or not that will be enough to win, we’ll have to wait and see. For as much as Klopp has got it right this season, he needs to win a trophy to cement that fact. We’ve had far too many hard luck stories lately. We need to win the Champions League a lot more than Madrid do.
Perhaps the most important thing about the league season however is back to back top four finishes. Now, despite the fact we’re a much better team than we were in 2016/2017, we finished 4th again and in fact with a point less than last season’s haul. This is a little bit bizarre but it can be explained away. We had to sacrifice league points for optimum Champions League knockout performances. Our season rather limped to a close when we had league games at the weekend and high intensity knockout matches in the midweek. The drop off is understandable.
When we had that week-long rest and opportunity to prepare solely for Brighton on the last day of the season, it was no surprise to me that we turned around and hammered them. It finished 4-0 of course but could and should have been a lot more. It was an excellent way to end what has been a good season for us.
Of course, I wish we had finished higher in the league. But with the exception of Manchester City, I am not swapping seasons with anyone above us. We can’t compete with the champions and neither can anyone else. Manchester United are in an FA Cup Final but I am sure they would swap with us. And Spurs have done well to stay in the top four given they have had a season on the road but have no other tangible reward to show for it. With qualifiers gone, fourth – this season – is just fine.
We’ve tidied our transfers up too. Mo Salah for £35m last summer is one of our all time bargains given the 44 goals this season. Much more expensively, Virgil van Dijk has made a huge difference to the defence. It’s still a work in progress but he has also brought the best out of the goalkeeper and has elevated Dejan Lovren’s game. Andy Robertson is the best left back in the league (in my opinion) and cost just £8m. I admire the way the club has sorted that out as we have often been wasteful in the market. What we need to do this summer is build a bigger squad and not allow a big drop off in quality. Then, and only then, will we be able to compete with Manchester City.
It’s been another disappointing season in domestic cups with early exits in both competitions. If we had ten games against West Brom I would expect us to win nine of them (yes, I know, we haven’t beaten them in 3 attempts this season!) and the cup game was a freakish horror show which we seem to have ironed out of our system. We really need to start progressing in the FA Cup, it has now been 12 years since we last won it and 6 years since we got to the final.
But when it comes to bread and butter, the league, we have excelled for much of the season. We didn’t have the most consistent start and the 3-3 draw at Watford on the first day of the season was frustrating. It exacerbated the fact that we had missed out on van Dijk in the summer window as we let in three poor goals.
Within three weeks we’d thumped Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield and lost 5-0 at Manchester City. Our season didn’t truly settle down until after that 4-1 hammering at Wembley. We then didn’t lose a league game in 14 until a frustrating 1-0 loss at Swansea. However, we would only lose two more league games for the rest of the season. You do have to worry about our record in the top six mini league however – we only beat Arsenal and Manchester City and both of those games were at Anfield. That’s somewhere we’re usually strong but not this season.
We’ve also contrived to draw 12 games. I’m willing to discount three of those because they were pre or post Champions League knockout games but that is clearly an issue we need to rectify. I am confident that with van Dijk in the team, which means we concede a lot less opportunities, we will cut out a lot of these frustrating results next season. We create enough chances and usually score enough goals to win any match.
And of course, how can you look back at the season without a main mention to Mo Salah? The Egyptian King has been on the rampage and breaking records all season long and we have truly found ourselves a gem. He has been aided and abetted by Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, the trio being the most deadly in European football. Of course, you have to look at the likes of skipper Jordan Henderson, who is so important to the way we play as well as his midfield compatriot James Milner. The resurgent Andy Robertson and the rise of Trent Alexander-Arnold are also in the conversation.
So yeah, we’ll come back to this in two weeks to truly give the verdict of the season but I have 100% faith in the manager. He has completely earned it – he just needs to start adding trophies to his absolutely stunning football.
Up the Reds!