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.
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