Just one short month ago, it looked like Liverpool football club were about to sweep everything in front of them and have a season that would go down in football history. They were undefeated in the Premier League, and they were among the favorites to pick up both the FA Cup and the more prestigious Champions League trophy.
Nobody seemed to know how to beat them. Their defense, marshaled by Virgil van Dijk, seemed impossible to penetrate. Their forward line, where Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firminho operated together in perfect harmony, was unstoppable.
A month is a long time in football. Liverpool’s chances of the treble have evaporated in dramatic fashion. They were eliminated from the FA Cup away at Chelsea – a disappointing result, but not exactly a shock given that Chelsea is a strong side.
They lost their undefeated record in the Premier League to lowly Watford, which was harder to explain, but won’t change the final destination of the Premier League trophy this season. Liverpool is almost certainly too far ahead to be caught even if Manchester City were to win all of their remaining games.
Their latest issue, though, is that they’ve been eliminated from the Champions’ League at the Round of 16 stages. That certainly does put a dampener on proceedings.
It’s hard to call any defeat in the later stages of the Champions’ League an upset. Every team left in the competition at this stage is strong, and anything can happen over a two-legged tie. Knockout competitions are like sporting versions of online slots games, where nobody knows what’s going to happen until everything stops spinning.
The teams are thrown together like the symbols on the reels in online slots, and as a consequence, the results are as unpredictable as online slots. You could even say that because of the risks of sudden elimination, managers even gamble with their strategies as if they were playing Wolf Gold online slot. There’s always a loser in any gambling game, though, and this time around it was Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool team.
Losing to Atletico Madrid is not a disgrace by any stretch of the imagination. They’re two points off third place in La Liga, and they’re known as a fiercely competitive cup side. There was never any guarantee that Liverpool was going to get through the tie, regardless of their status as reigning European champions.
What will have worried Klopp and the team’s fans, though, is the fact that they lost at home. Anfield has always been something of a fortress, but never more so than in the last two years where defeat has been so rare.
The atmosphere inside the stadium is often so intense that many opponents are psychologically beaten before a ball has even been kicked. On the night, none of that mattered. Liverpool was timid and hesitant, and they were picked apart. So, where does that leave their season?
As absurd as it may sound, it’s now hard to call this a ‘great’ Liverpool team. Winning singular competitions isn’t enough to be hailed as ‘great’ in modern football. Great teams can win several trophies in a single season.
Manchester United’s 1999 treble-winning team was great because they walked away with the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the Champions League. By that barometer, Liverpool has fallen short. Leicester City managed to win a Premier League trophy in isolation, and that wasn’t considered to be an example of greatness.
Chelsea and Manchester United never considered themselves ‘great’ when all they had at the end of the year was the league title. They always expected more of themselves, and they were disappointed when they didn’t get it.
On the other hand, all of this is new to Liverpool. If you’d asked any of their fans which competition they wanted to prioritize at the start of the season, the overwhelming majority would have told you that the league would mean more to them than anything else.
The thirty years they’ve gone without a league championship after dominating the 1980s has been painful to the club and its supporters, and ending that drought trumps all other prizes in their eyes – so much so that many of them want a statue of Jurgen Klopp to be built outside the stadium when it happens. During those three decades, they’ve won everything else – League Cups, FA Cups, Champions League trophies, and even a Club World Cup.
Domestic supremacy is what they truly crave, and that craving has only grown in the years since Manchester United surpassed its total of league championships. Sir Alex Ferguson once boldly claimed that he and his team had knocked Liverpool off their perch. Now they want to climb back onto it.
There will be no telling Liverpool fans that this isn’t a great team once their title victory is assured. The players and the manager will go down in Liverpool folklore, and they’ll be hailed as worthy of mention alongside all the great teams of Anfield past. We shouldn’t deny them that, and they have every right to enjoy their win.
From an outsider’s perspective, though, they’ve fallen short of the promise that they appeared to carry with them a few short weeks ago. They could have won it all, but a few stuttering steps in March have taken some of the shine off the side.
They’ve faltered at a crucial moment, and their achievement isn’t as significant as that United side of 1999, or Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincible’ squad of 2004.
All of this could, of course, still be conjecture. There are still several games to play – presuming that the global spread of the coronavirus doesn’t prevent the remaining fixtures from being fulfilled.
It’s still mathematically possible for Manchester City to overhaul them and pip them at the most. It would take a Liverpool collapse of almost unthinkable proportions for it to happen, but who knows how much their Champions League exit might affect them psychologically? This is football, and stranger things have happened.
Liverpool’s long wait for glory is almost over, but they’re not there yet. When they do get there, we should salute them as good – but not great.