On March 8th 2021, Liverpool had just lost 1-0 at home to soon-to-be relegated Fulham. It was their sixth defeat in their last seven games.
Fortress Anfield had fallen and points were being given out more freely than ever before. Since the turn of the year, Burnley, Brighton, Manchester City, Everton, Chelsea and Fulham had all done in 59 days what no team had managed to do in the 68 games and four years before: beat Liverpool in their own backyard.
The season, the Premier League title defence, the summer transfer plans, the widely-heralded new dynasty were all hanging by a thread.
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Liverpool were eighth in the Premier League – basically ninth given Aston Villa’s two games in hand over them – sitting uncomfortably on 43 points with just 10 games remaining of the season. Third-placed Leicester were 10 points ahead and fourth-placed Chelsea were seven. The three teams in between themselves and the Champions League places, West Ham, Everton and Tottenham, all had a game in hand as well.
With a season record of a defeat every three games, it was bleak, hopeless.
Fast forward to May 24th 2021 and the final table showed a completely different story. Liverpool are sitting third on 69 points, two clear of fourth-placed Chelsea and three ahead of Leicester. Their form in the final 10 games of the season reads eight wins and two draws, including clutch wins over the likes of Wolves, Arsenal and Manchester United.
“It’s big, it’s big,” Jurgen Klopp said when reacting to Liverpool’s Champions League qualification.
“If someone would have told me weeks ago – five, six, eight, 10 weeks ago – that we can finish the season in third, that was absolutely out of reach and felt impossible.
“Even the good things when they happened this year didn’t feel too good very often because too many things around happened. The injuries was a subject that followed us through the whole year and that was really tough to take.
“From nowhere to the Champions League in five weeks is a massive achievement as I see it and I think that’s right.
“We were constantly sorting problems and that’s so nice to see that we could use the last five, six, seven weeks to give this season a proper turnaround. I’m really happy for the Champions League that they don’t have to play without us! So, we are in it, that will be great, can’t wait for that. Outstanding achievement from the boys.”
It wasn’t just a run to save Liverpool’s blushes, or remove a point of weakness for competing fans to gibe about now they have been welcomed back into pubs again for the first time in nearly a year of COVID.
It sets them up to continue to building their new dynasty, more than 30 years after the last. It lets them welcome back the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson with boisterous European nights. It gives them a seat back at the negotiating table for the generational talents expected to make big transfers in the coming months.
The agents of Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, worth a combined $720 million AUD, are suddenly ready to call Jurgen Klopp, rather than letting his calls go to voicemail.
Mbappe and Sancho especially have both publicly and privately expressed their admiration for Klopp’s Liverpool side and even though Real Madrid and Manchester United appear to be the front runners for each man, Liverpool can now realistically gazump them.
And will Mohamed Salah now follow through on his threat to leave? Or Sadio Mane continue to spit out his dummy? Or a back-up right back be needed in case Trent Alexander-Arnold never rediscovers his old self?
This is a complete game changer.
Liverpool have gone from a title-winning flash in the Premier League pan to arguably the major player in European football for years to come.
The Italian giants are shrunk, Real Madrid and Barcelona are broke and Tottenham and Arsenal are to be avoided like a crowd at the moment.
Liverpool have the players, the manager, the competition, the money, the fans and the history – both recent and not – to make them one of the most appealing clubs in the world to join right now for prospective players.
What a difference 71 days makes.