“We’re gonna win the league!”
It’s approaching 6.30pm on Sunday January 19, 2020, and Anfield is alive and bouncing to the happiest of declarations – of realisations. Mohamed Salah has just sealed a 2-0 victory over Manchester United. One that has taken Jürgen Klopp’s side onto 64 points from a possible 66 so far in the 2019/20 Premier League.
It has also given them a 16-point lead over second-placed reigning champions Manchester City – and the Reds still have a game in hand. The record-breaking levels being set by a team who were crowned champions of the world just four weeks prior are dizzyingly high. The league isn’t won yet, but these full-throttle footballers are racing towards it at breakneck speed.
That 19th top flight title. The first for 30 years. The first ever in the Premier League era. It’s beginning to come into view. “Win the league!” Just that, only that, would have been more than enough for many a Kopite’s across the globe had they been given a New Year wish for 2020 and, thankfully, it came true.
They did it and did it in style, with a stunning 99 points. That alone is enough to make this past year a landmark one for the club – and we should be forever grateful to have witnessed it, especially given the current circumstances.
It wasn’t ‘just’ that, of course. Liverpool Football Club gave us so much more aside. 2020, need we be reminded, gave us all an awful lot more aside.
Liverpool where the quickest ever Premier League title winners, by securing it with seven games remaining. Yet also the latest, with Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on June 25 sealing the deal. That just about sums it up. The brilliantly unique nature of this team and the often-grim uniqueness of this year.Embed from Getty Images
“Hindsight is 20/20” is a phrase – and an unfortunately apt play on words – that most of us will have likely seen used a few times by now. Recent events have certainly been a stark lender of perspective. Being able to focus on winning the league – whether for a few minutes, a few hours, or more – is an exceedingly nice position to be in because, regularly in 2020, the priorities have had to be elsewhere.
That sense of perspective, and the bravery and humanity displayed by health workers and so many others, have been notable silver linings. Whether it be Marcus Rashford’s tireless efforts to ensure the nation’s children have access to meals, or Jordan Henderson’s role – alongside fellow Premier League captains – in organising the Players Together fundraising group, so many within football have risen to the unparalleled challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has produced.
LFC’s original decision to place non-playing staff on the government’s furlough scheme in the spring was not so reassuring – even if it was well-intentioned. To their credit, they took note of the unimpressed response and a swift U-turn followed. Thankfully, it has become increasingly rare that Fenway Sports Group and the club misjudge the mood and their strategy. The on-field success is a reflection of that.
Henderson – who was named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for 2019/20 – lifting the Premier League trophy on The Kop on July 22, after a thrilling 5-3 win over Chelsea, was the ultimate show of just how upbeat and exciting Liverpool’s present is. Being unable to have fans in the ground to witness it first-hand was, of course, not how we would have envisaged that moment, but it was about as wonderful as it could have been. Hopes remain that an additionally collective celebration will be possible at some stage in the future.Embed from Getty Images
Ending that long wait to lift that trophy, quite naturally, felt like it should have represented a conclusion and completing of a journey, of sorts. In some ways it did, inevitably. Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, for example. For both of them, that trophy lift was the perfect way for them to conclude their six-year stays at Anfield – prior to moves to Zenit Saint Petersburg and Brighton and Hove Albion respectively.
In reality, these things are generally multi-faceted. It’s another stepping stone as much as a destination. A bookmark as much as a happy ending. That first Premier League title is what Liverpool Football Club has been building towards for a long time. Just how long is a matter of perception but it’s not the only thing of course.
Regular, sustained success is what FSG, Sporting Director Michael Edwards, Jürgen Klopp – the club as a whole, quite simply – will continue to aim for and work towards. By nature, that process doesn’t stop.
It’s what makes Liverpool leading the Premier League again at this turn of the year additionally encouraging, even if it is by a considerably finer margin and at a less relentless pace. It hasn’t stopped.
We saw that on the very first day of the year, when Takumi Minamino officially became a Liverpool player after a deal was agreed with FC Salzburg during December 2019. We saw it again on January 5, when he made his debut within an exceedingly youthful side that saw off Everton 1-0 in the FA Cup Third-Round thanks to a stunning second-half strike from a certain Curtis Jones.
More future-proofing was on show on February 4 when, with Klopp and the majority of the first team squad on their winter break, Neil Critchley led his under-23 side to a 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town at a raucous Anfield in the Fourth-Round replay.
An unavoidably pushed back summer transfer window then provided further building blocks. Kostas Tsimikas joined from Olympiacos in August to offer depth, and competition for Andy Robertson, at left-back. Then – in the space of two days in mid-September – both Thiago Alcântara, fresh from winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich, and Wolves’ striker Diogo Jota were signed.
The former may have only featured for approximately 135 minutes so far, but his appearances at Chelsea and Everton were both highly impressive. The latter, meanwhile, had scored nine times and proven a genuine sensation prior to the knee injury sustained against Midtjylland on December 9. Long-term, both look set to broaden the skill set of the already superbly rounded group that Klopp has at his disposal.Embed from Getty Images
Such acquisitions should help to smoothen the transitions that are inevitably required within a team and squad over a prolonged period. As should decisions such as sending Harvey Elliott – who is still only 17 – out on loan to Championship side Blackburn Rovers, where he looks to be thriving.
Julian Ward will have played a notable role in organising that temporary switch – and he himself has been on the move. Just prior to Christmas, it was revealed by James Pearce, of The Athletic, that Ward was being promoted from his role as loan pathways and football partnerships manager to that of Assistant Sporting Director.
It reportedly represented a natural progression for someone who appears to have consistently impressed the likes of FSG President Mike Gordon, Edwards and Klopp with his work in recent years – and is doubtless an adjustment that will intend to further enhance the efficiency of the Reds’ football operations.
The even more recently announced arrival of Dr Andreas Schlumberger from Schalke, who previously worked with Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, could be categorised similarly. He will take up a newly-created role as head of recovery and performance. It is noticeable how Liverpool’s approach under FSG continues to become increasingly specialised, allowing Klopp to delegate with additional efficiency.
Things are also now considerably modernised. The pandemic may have pushed it back from the summer, but November saw the men’s first-team’s training base move from Melwood to Kirkby’s state of the art AXA Training Centre. Having the Academy and senior set-ups on one site should prove highly beneficial in the months and years to come. Questions do remain, though, over whether Liverpool FC Women will also have a place at the facility in future.
Vicky Jepson’s side, who are hoping to bounce back immediately this term from last season’s relegation to Women’s Super League 2, still train at Tranmere Rovers’ The Campus and play at the club’s Prenton Park ground. Progress towards more of a level footing for LFC Women feels like a key target for the club and one of the key people in achieving this will likely be Billy Hogan.Embed from Getty Images
Formerly Liverpool’s Managing Director and Chief Commercial Officer, Hogan succeeded Peter Moore as Chief Executive Officer at the start of September – another significant internal switch. One which could enhance the club’s commercial output in years to come.
These various tweaks – whether in the foreground or background – should only add to the solid foundations that have been built in recent years, both on and off the field. There will always be bumps in the road and areas for improvement.
Injuries have been persistent and prevalent this term, for instance. They have, at least, led to additional opportunities for the likes of Jones, Neco Williams, Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips to step up.Embed from Getty Images
Nonetheless, the new facilities at Kirkby, along with the arrival of Dr Schlumberger, should improve the recovery processes for the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Jota and Tsimikas – who are all currently working their way back from knee injuries.
The Reds will doubtless also be hoping to better last season’s Champions League Round of 16 exit in 2021. That dramatic extra time defeat to Atlético Madrid on March 11 remains the last time Anfield was packed out for a game. Such a long wait has made the presence of 2,000 supporters at the last three home matches all the more significant.
In a time where marginal gains appear increasingly valuable, Anfield being that bit more alive again may just be the best of the lot. There will, hopefully, be plenty more on the way soon.
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