“LET it not be said that achievement is no less rewarding without the material gratification of a tangible reward.”
It’s alright that, isn’t it? I’ve just made it up. Nevertheless, I hope it stirred up some form of resonance with you, until you realised it was as far from the philosophical ramblings of an Orwell or Blake as a Lower Kenny nobhead such as myself could possibly be.
Still, the point remains thus; Liverpool Football Club, all being well, will be back in the UEFA Champions League next season. A competition that has become the bedrock embodiment of the absolute minimum requirement set by Jürgen Klopp this season. A season that, for long periods of its infancy, promised a lot more from a team that, in my opinion, played some of the most breathtaking football I’ve seen from any Liverpool side.
A trophy would have been nice, as Manchester United can now point to in a season where their own fractious league campaign has eventually led to meeting their European objectives for next season, albeit via a different avenue after last night’s Europa League win. Players should exist to win trophies, this is a truism I postulate to a certain point, however sometimes, times like these, the more progressive and humble victories will provide a similarly appeasing feeling. As a wise man in West Baltimore once said: “a little slow, a little late”.
The sense of relief around Anfield was palpable after 60 minutes last Sunday. Up until Georginio Wijnaldum venomously fired past Brad Guzan, Anfield was becoming a place of perpetual angst once again. A cathartic narrative has engulfed this club at times this season. You sense maybe this current Liverpool are still not entirely trusted, while simultaneously remaining adored by a fan base who have seen it go wrong, what feels like, one too many times now. This isn’t a fan criticism, it’s a burden we carry, a part of us, of who we have become, but people change with time and circumstance. And the more this team improves, the more this sense of impending cataclysm will subside.
Everyone at the club felt that relief on Sunday, not just the fans, but the manager and players too. It must not be underplayed just how much the team needed this. To finish the season without any kind of feeling of achievement could have been devastating to players who, most of them, had to endure losing two cup finals the season before. That coupled with the fact they know they have been easily in the top four best teams in the league this season and have flexed their superiority with such glorious swagger when pitted against those around them, shows how pivotal this sense of achievement is to emphasise the progression. The visible, tangible, emotive feeling of progression, what a wonderful feeling it is.
And it’s that reassurance of a natural progression which has an added sense of satisfaction to it. There’s a victory in that itself, a victory that we currently know who we are. We know where we’re at. A chartered, graphical look at Liverpool’s past league finishes would somewhat resemble a flailing heartbeat on an electrocardiograph. That analogy may resonate in more ways than one, given that there have been times in recent years when we’ve genuinely questioned whether we could revive the flailing feeling around the club at certain moments. The achieved target relieves pressure going into next season as well as channelling the expected alleviation of such a sense towards the next practical goal. We know we have to improve again, yet we know we are on the right trajectory to achieving our long-term aim with a manager who can deliver it. This is night and day from those overbearing past leaps from eighth to a very close second and the vacuum of uncertainty and pressure that it created.
This season though, presents a big opportunity for Liverpool going forward. A re-establishment of our status among the European elite, but also a chance to assert some form of inferiority over others closer to home. Arsenal really needs to be used as a benchmark for this. They are a club in turmoil, divided through its core and a club that will inevitably endure a culture shock of Europa League proportions next season. Throw in the uncertainty over the futures of their best players and Liverpool suddenly looks a lot more prosperous and inspired proposition. So treat them how they should be treated; inferior to Liverpool as a club and city, treat them like Everton on derby day, treat them with the apathy of a club who can no longer class themselves as a European force, because they’re not, because we are. See how many wives only want to live in London then.
So, where do Liverpool go from here?
I’m not going to go on about transfers, they will always look after themselves and this subject will be debated long into the summer. This is a manager in complete control, the final word, with a season of Sadio Mane and Gini type examples to call on when targeting those he believes will take us on another level. A statement of intent would be nice, but only if it’s the right player, a player who Klopp knows will help to stop a January slump reoccurring, for example. The wealth of knowledge, the trigger plans and debriefs already taken place to eradicate past mistakes he has stood and witnessed is collectively what will improve this team in the long term.
One lesson crucial for the Reds to learn above others is something I’ve said all season, something as gloriously simple as the fact there are 13, maybe 14, teams in this league who will contently accept being beaten by a one or two-goal margin by Liverpool. There have been so many occasions when the olive branch has been offered to teams all too willing to lie down at its roots. Liverpool are in this privileged position by virtue of the fact they are very good at football, but also because of the fact they are just Liverpool. And that, in its entirety, is on 99 per cent of occasions enough to send Bournemouth, Southampton, West Ham and the like away with a sense of disengaged neutrality because it was just one of them, it was just Liverpool. No fan revolt, no management or boardroom bollockings, just Liverpool, write it off, focus on what is more of our business.
This is backed up with the points tally comparisons for this season compared to others past. Liverpool’s 76-point haul, effectively two points a game ratio, was just enough to eventually secure fourth place. This is a substantial increase on the 66 points gained by Manchester City last season and greater also than the 70 points attained by Manchester Utd in 2014-15, who both finished fourth. What is more interesting though, is the massive drop in points this season from seventh down. Southampton finished the season in eighth with 46 points, only six points better off than Watford in 17th. If you consider Liverpool finished eighth on 60 points the season before, then there is a credible argument that the bottom 13 have all but written off their chances of amassing points from the top six and have focused more predominantly on those around them, who concern them.
This has proved an issue with Liverpool because they have allowed teams hope in fixtures that has at times bordered on the charitable. You can point to a lack of concentration, being poor at set-pieces or mental frailty, as has been pointed out all too many times, rightly or wrongly. But if this trend in the league continues, Jürgen’s mad Reds will need to master the mundane, the ability to suck all interest out of a game from 60 onwards and win comfortably. Conversely, as with so much of this team, they have in fact shown such seeing out qualities at times with aplomb at times, even away to the champions.
So a season finished and a summer to be enjoyed awaits. A summer in the knowledge that we have achieved a sense of purpose, that we can all see a pathway that leads home for the first time in many years.
There’s a victory in that, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.