The Form Of Champions

As a season that felt like it was never going to end finally comes to a close, it’s worth a brief reflection on just what an incredible achievement Jürgen Klopp has pulled off. Even as recently as a month ago, Liverpool finishing in the top four seemed like a pipe dream, such was the extent to which our form had taken a nosedive. Yet the German has significantly more trust in his squad than many of us supporters did, knowing that if they could just keep getting results on the board then you’d never know where we’d be at the end of the campaign. The Reds not only kept plugging away, but did so in a manner that meant that we finished the season as the form team in the Premier League, winning eight and drawing two of our last ten matches. Despite the fact that some pundits were describing us as the worst defending champions ever, we finished closer to Manchester City than they did to us the season before.

As Andrew Beasley pointed out on Twitter, the Reds have only finished higher in the league five times since the turn of the century. All in all, Liverpool have done brilliantly to end the league campaign where they did and that should be celebrated. To some, acting as if fourth is an achievement is something to be mocked, with Arsene Wenger often denigrated for doing just that at Arsenal. Yet how would the Gunners love to have finished fourth this time around? You can’t win the Champions League if you’re not playing in it and the Reds will be next season. When you consider what we’ve had to endure during this campaign in terms of Video Assistant Refereeing decisions, injuries to the entire defensive line and the lack of supporters in the ground, it’s really not to be sniffed at. We finished the season displaying title-winning form and whilst that might not win a trophy, it will certainly have been noted by Pep Guardiola and his team.

What The Manager Will Have Learnt

If Liverpool don’t win another trophy under Jürgen Klopp, there will be some pundits and plenty of rival supporters suggesting that his time in charge of the Reds has been a disappointment. Obviously anybody with half a braincell knows that that is a load of nonsense, but I actually think that the manager has achieved more during his spell at the club than just the silverware he’s racked up. In terms of purely what we’ve won, he’s added every major trophy that there is to win to the cabinet, ending our thirty-year wait for another league win. More than that, though, he’s learned so much about both himself and his team. During his long career, Klopp will never have endured a season like that one. The lack of fans from stadiums around the country was unprecedented, arguably having a bigger effect on Liverpool than any other team, given how much he’s taught them to feed off the energy of fans. He never thought he’d have to learn that, but he has.

He’ll also have learnt so much about the players he’s had at his disposal. I’ve been critical of the manager in the past for being too loyal to some of those in his squad, with a particular eye on the likes of Simon Mignolet and Divock Origi. There’ll be scores of Liverpool fans who will want us to move Nat Phillips on at the first opportunity, but I wonder whether the manager will look at what the lad from Bolton gave him during the campaign and feel that he could do with a bit more of that in his ranks next season. Compare and contrast the work of Phillips and Rhys Williams, throwing themselves into everything and never shying away when called upon, with the manner in which Naby Keita seems to struggle to ever shake off an injury and has rarely been available for the manager to use in the midfield. It’s when you’re really in the trenches that you learn about the squad you’ve got around you and I’ve got a feeling the manager will like what he sees from plenty.

The Squad Will Have Learnt Plenty Too

It’s not just the manager that will have learnt a lot about himself this season. The players in the Liverpool squad will know which of their teammates pulled in the right direction and which of them gave up the ghost. Imagine looking at Alisson Becker, knowing what he suffered during the campaign, and being aware of what he achieved on a personal level. Think how it must feel to look at Andy Robertson and see that he played virtually every minute there was to play, running up and down the lefthand side like a whirling dervish match-in, match-out. What must the team feel about Trent Alexander-Arnold, seeing the personal disappointment that he looks set to suffer by inexplicably not being called up by Gareth Southgate and yet still putting in the performances he has over the past few weeks. What of Sadio Mané, who has had a dreadful season by his standards and yet never shied away, always offered and always tried, getting his just desserts yesterday.

None of which is to forget Gini Wijnaldum, who so clearly wants to stay at Liverpool and yet has not been offered a satisfactory contract by the club. He didn’t down tools, instead re-doubling his efforts to prove his worth and demonstrate his love for the Reds. There are so many players to be proud of in this Liverpool squad. What they’ve achieved in the 2020-2021 season won’t earn a trophy or a medal, but should go down as as great an achievement as anything with silverware attached. The manager knows that what they’ve done is special, facing up to adversity and making it back down instead of them. The vast majority of these players had already written their names in the history books of a club that barely had any room left in them and they’ve now been joined by others. Let opposition fans mock us for ‘celebrating fourth’; sometimes you need to have been through hell to know how good it feels to come out the other side. We’ve done just that this season.

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