Seasons are defined by moments, but it’s not moments which win league titles.
Liverpool had their fair share. Errors from opposition goalkeepers, three of them in fact, a Riyad Mahrez penalty miss, sensational goals (Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge versus Chelsea immediately spring to mind) late strikes (25 goals from 75 minutes onward), plus let it not be forgotten, some fortuitous officiating.
These snapshots of the season are now viewed differently because of the outcome.
But Manchester City enjoyed moments of their own, from the micro (Sergio Aguero against Burnley and Sadio Mane against them) to the macro (Vincent Kompany’s piledriver versus Leicester).
These are the events remembered, yet it is a disservice to both teams that their campaigns be viewed through the lens of these single shots. Each had their own moment when it seemed some predestined force was on side.
But this title battle was much more than that, and seconds or moments did not decide a season which is made up of close to 60 hours game time. It is for this reason why Liverpool will challenge City again next season, because Jurgen Klopp’s ‘giants’ stood tall for the entirety of 2018/19, from start to finish.
In previous tilts, they were the underdogs, the surprise challengers who rode their luck before it eventually ran out.
However the expectation now, and the reality is, that through money spent, structure built and psychological pathways created, this team should be right there with City.
Before the season began, the minimum target was to at least compete for honours. That it came so close is a bigger step forward than anticipated, but it was always the direction.
Liverpool ended this season with a new goalkeeper owning the Golden Glove, a defender in his first full season claiming Player of the Year awards, record-breaking full-backs and two forwards beginning to peak, sharing the Golden Boot.
Add in, the bridging of a gap from 25 points to one, the accumulation of 97 in total alongside the least goals conceded, just one defeat and a squad with an average age of 26.7 (the youngest in the top six) and there is every reason for optimism.
From a Liverpool supporter’s perspective, the development might not be enough to outweigh the vacuum of disappointment. Yet, this is new territory for fans born after 1990.
There genuinely used to be such joy in finishing inside the top four, as if joining the elite again created an excuse to bring out the scrapbook of memories from past European dominance.
Before Klopp’s first full season, Liverpool finished inside the top four just once in seven campaigns. Now, this iteration isn’t just joining them, but heading it up and establishing its own era.
There is sadness in claiming second, not in the same way of 2008/09 or 2013/14 when it seemed then that every last sinew of talent and energy was poured into those bids.
They felt like the end of the road. This time, it’s just another step.
That is the true indication of the shift which has been made because there is an emotional conflict of pride and pain.
In truth, this team must suffer to succeed. There was at least 12 occasions like Southampton away when Liverpool produced a result which induced the comment “they looked like champions”.
And the reason for that, is because in those contests, Liverpool suffered but triumphed. Klopp’s men must do so again.
On Sunday, the German did not want to blanket the disappointment with too much talk of the positives.
“Everybody knows we will go again but if you really want something, you feel the disappointment as well. That is what we feel,” he said.
“But I am not worried that this is as good as it can be.”
Klopp wants his players to feel the pain of this defeat in order to use it next season. It’s exactly the method used after last season’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid – they return to the showpiece on June 1 as favourites.
Suffering is what makes these players human and there are few coaches more adept than the German in fusing emotion with data, tactics and so on.
This team will ultimately be defined through the prism of trophy success, yet they’ve taken the biggest step toward it.
Jurgen Klopp’s men, whose 97 points in this memorable campaign fell one short of City, led from the 17th minute.
Trent Alexander-Arnold exchanged passes with Jordan Henderson and his deflected low cross fell perfectly for Mane to sweep home.
It was the frontman’s 21st goal of the season as he chased Mohamed Salah’s 22 in the race for the golden boot.
But it was the unlikely figure of Andy Robertson who almost claimed a spectacular second when his fierce 25-yard effort was pushed away by Rui Patricio.
The Reds were largely comfortable, but did have a scare a minute before half time when Diogo Jota found Matt Doherty in space and his drive beat Alisson but clipped the bar.
Jota was also denied by Alisson, but Mane settled the outcome nine minutes from time with a diving header from another Alexander-Arnold cross. He joined Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in winning the golden boot.
HOPE AND GLORY BECKONS IN DEFEAT
In the end it was a brave failure for Liverpool.
They will look back to January 3 as the day the Premier League was lost. The 2-1 defeat at Manchester City provided a momentous shift at the top as a potential 10-point advantage was cut to four.
It was Liverpool’s only defeat of the season and significant in why they still wait for a first top-flight title since 1990.
But, with a Champions League final to follow, they should be proud.
They may not have won the title, have nothing yet to show for their efforts, but this side can stand alongside the great Anfield sides of old.
They have shown that same will to win and ruthlessness that is required to be the very best.
A ninth successive win meant they equalled the club top-flight record of 30, set in the 1978-79 season.
That shows just how good they have been and this is not the end, only the start of something special.
Both Liverpool and City have the quality, the ambition to do it all again.
There is every chance of a title rivalry as there was when Manchester United once battled with Arsenal and Chelsea to remain rulers under Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.
Now City have replaced their neighbours as top dogs, it is Liverpool who look most likely to be snapping at their heels in the future.
UNSUNG HERO MATIP CAN SAVE MILLIONS
If there was one position where Liverpool fans would say they need to strengthen, it would probably be at centre back and someone to stand tall alongside Virgil van Dijk.
Matthijs De Ligt is the name on everyone’s lips to form a backline of brilliance and few better in club football.
But Joel Matip’s dependable displays will have left them heartened should anyone of De Ligt’s calibre not arrive in the summer.
Jurgen Klopp had seen his qualities in Germany while at Schalke, yet it was difficult to understand such faith when Matip did not entirely convince after his arrival in 2016.
The Cameroon international was probably fourth choice at the start of this campaign, behind van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and also Joe Gomez, who emerged as a fine talent.
Had Gomez not suffered a leg fracture in December, Matip might well have been warming the bench more.
Instead he has not only proved his worth, especially in the Champions League second leg win over Barcelona, but that he can be a reliable starter rather than just a squad player.
With patience and good positioning, he has grown assured, with van Dijk never shy of cajoling something extra from Matip with strong words to strengthen their partnership.
As one of the unsung heroes of this campaign, and with Gomez showing great potential, Matip could save Liverpool millions to use on other parts of the squad.
GOLDEN FUTURE FOR WOLVES
It is 2001 since a newly-promoted did so well, when Ipswich came fifth with 66 points.
Coming up from the Championship, most sides just try to avoid relegation.
Not Wolves, who have shown spirit and skill to survive with ease.
Nuno Espirito Santos has produced a classy collective and they have been a breath of fresh air in the top flight.
With a little bit of luck and more composure, they might even have left Anfield with a point.
They have taken 16 points from 12 games against the top six and it shows their relish for such a challenge.
With Raul Jimenez signed permanently and forming an exciting frontline pairing with Diogo Jota, and unheralded players like Conor Coady, Matt Doherty and Jonny gaining more experience at this level, it augurs well.
A place in the Europa League is on the cards should Manchester City win the FA Cup, and it could propel them to even greater heights. They have a golden future.
But they are not.
It is why the local hero wants a trophy outcome after a memorable campaign that included the stunning win over Barcelona that sealed an all-English Champions League final meeting with Tottenham – and has left them still in with a chance of the Premier League title on today’s final day.
Liverpool need to overcome Wolves at Anfield and hope Manchester City, leaders by one point, fail to get victory at Brighton.
After the midweek miracle on Merseyside, the Reds – beaten just once in the league by City – and right back Alexander-Arnold will not give up hope.
As a Kop fan growing up in West Derby, the 20-year-old admits not even reaching a second successive Champions League final will soften the blow of being unable to bring a top-flight championship to the club for the first time since 1990.
“No I think it will still hurt massively,” he said. “We put so much into the Premier League.
“Thinking back to the round of 16 against Bayern, I think people were maybe saying it would be best for us to maybe just dismiss the Champions League and focus on the Premier League.
“But we showed we can focus on both. Both competitions are massive for us.
“I think it’s just that extraordinary season where I think if this is any other year we would have probably won it (the league), barring last season obviously when City got so many points again.
“We’ll learn from it, but we won’t look back and have regrets because we’ve been beat once this season and the draws that we picked up are mostly away games.
“In previous years you can afford to pick up them. You’re kinda glad if you’re going to Everton and Man Utd and picking up a point because those are tough places to go.
“But it just shows the nature of the Premier League now and just how good us and Man City have been to push each other and make results like that not really good enough.
“It is what it is. We’re not going to look back and regret it. We’ve got to take it and use it next year.
“If you look at the points and all the progress we made since the gaffer came in a few years back they point to the fact that each year we’re getting better as a team we’re doing better in the league and we’re reaching finals.
“So this season, we’ll be able to use it as motivation, look back at it and learn from it and get better next season.”
Like many Liverpool fans, Alexander-Arnold is yearning for a return to the glory years when the club dominated English football and won the European Cup five times.
The magnificent 4-0 win in the second leg over Barcelona, which saw them wipe out the three-goal advantage of the Spanish champions will help.
Alexander-Arnold set up Divock Origi for the decisive strike using instinct and intelligence at a corner as the Barca defence switched off. He said he had watched others do it and would have been “shouted at” if it had gone wrong.
“It was worth the risk,” added the England international, whose side were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino against Barca and lost left back Andrew Robertson at half time to injury.
“We showed that we’ve beaten one of, if not, the best team in the world 4-0 when the odds were against us.
“I think it’s a massive statement for us as a club to show that we’re doing these sort of things.
“I’m sure people have respect for us already but I’m sure that’s taken us to the next level.
“We’ve shown the world-class nature of our team. And with two of our main players injured as well and with Robbo going off at half time, which was a blow for us.
“It just shows the character we have in the team. And if it was down to character we’d probably be the best team in the world.
“I think we showed that in the Champions League last season, where we’d been underdogs in many games.
“We’re showing that we are brave and a really good side and a team to be feared and that’s the main thing.
“It’s important for the club to be back amongst the best in Europe and in the world and that’s what we’re trying to achieve, to create a team that is feared throughout world football. We’re not too far away from doing that.
“I think silverware defines where you stand in terms of rankings. So the main thing for us is to go to the final and go that one step further than last year.
“I think it shows the signs of progression for us in terms of reaching the last day of the season and still being in the title race and reaching the Champions League final.
“It shows that we’re able to compete on both fronts and take it to the very end. We’ll be looking to hope for the best on Sunday and see what happens come the final.”