Dave Tindall uses his final Red Letter of the season to look back on a fine season for Liverpool, and look ahead to better times he hopes are coming.
I was just coming out of the Tube station at Covent Garden when I found out the result.
Due to poor planning, I’d booked a trip to London on the last day of the Premier League season and therefore would miss our win-or-bust finale against Middlesbrough.
I’d decided earlier that morning that rather than wander around the capital manically refreshing the Sky Sports app in a constant state of agitation, I’d turn my phone off between the hours of 3pm and 5pm and just let things be.
When the time came, I was stood outside a small coffee shop. Deep breath. Another deep breath. On the press of a button I would discover whether Liverpool had secured what was surely a deserved Champions League spot or if they’d spectacularly blown it at the final hurdle.
My finger clicked on the app and then, for a very split second, my eyes widened and a chill went down my spine. Games had just finished and the top story was still ‘Premier League Live’. But what was this? On first glance, and with the bright sunshine throwing a distorting glare onto the screen, the picture accompanying it seemed to be a Middlesbrough player, indicating that a shock had happened.
The brain is a remarkable thing and can process things incredibly quickly. But in my panicked state I’d forgotten that we were wearing our new kit which, somehow, I thought was Middlesbrough’s. And, of course, how on earth could they be wearing red when the game was being played at Anfield?
With a jab of the finger, I hit the screen and, thankfully, was put out of my misery. Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough. We’d done it. We’d bloody done it. My afternoon, my day, my weekend and my season were all now officially brilliant. 50% phew! 50% pure joy!
Liverpool should be proud of top four finish
Since Sunday, I’ve been told that celebrating fourth is a pretty poor state of affairs given Liverpool’s long and illustrious past.
As a stand-alone statement, that has validity. Add in some context and you can stick it up your jumper.
Some facts: This Liverpool team is not the side of the 70s and 80s when winning Leagues and European Cups seemed a bit of a doddle. This was a squad predicted by the bookies at the start of the season to finish sixth and not unfairly so.
We’d finished eighth in the previous campaign with just 60 points. Below West Ham and Southampton.
In one of my early-season Red Letters, I’d noted that after trawling through the last 20 years of Premier League tables, every team that had scored 74 goals or more had finished in the top four.
We were playing free-flowing football at the time, banging them in left, right and centre, and were on course to do that.
And we did. Liverpool scored 78 goals this season so the theory worked. Except that Arsenal scored 77 and missed out so history was rewritten.
For all their moaning and groaning about Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s haul of 75 points was pretty impressive. Man Utd won the league in 1996/7 with that same tally of 75 while the Gunners themselves were runners-up with 71 last season.
To finish above Arsenal this season, we had to take it to a new level. No side has ever needed 76 points – that’s two points per game – to reach the top four but we overcame a wobble and got it done.
The improvement from last season was marked and a table comparing the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 points tallies shows that we made the joint second-biggest jump, acquiring 16 more than we did 12 months earlier.
The ‘Klopp effect’
The ‘Klopp effect’ most definitely kicked in and, in a league where we’re only fifth on the rich list and have the fifth biggest wage bill, to finish above Man Utd and Arsenal is a fine achievement.
Given that Spurs are sixth on both those measurements and finished second, it’s worth not going too overboard. But this was Klopp’s first full season and, if you want to make comparisons, Mauricio Pochettino achieved 64 in his debut campaign with Tottenham and 71 in his second.
Also, let’s not forget, at one point this season we did look like title contenders. A 6-1 win over Watford put us top of the table in early November and we appeared to have the beating of anyone.
At the time, no-one saw Chelsea going on their freakish run (they touched 25/1 to win the title after losing 3-0 at Arsenal) and Tottenham banking 86 points was a superb achievement too.
I guess, in hindsight, this wasn’t the best year to launch a full-on title bid anyway given that there were two teams with exceptional points tallies (imagine if we’d got 92 and lost out by a point to Chelsea’s 93!) but we were still left with the feeling that there’s more to come.
Increase in ruthlessness required
Next season we might not quite pull off the superb sequence of five wins and five draws we achieved against the other members of the top six, meaning we topped that mini-league.
But surely we can do better against the strugglers. Those losses to Hull, Burnley, Swansea, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Bournemouth can surely be eradicated.
Looking at the overall picture, it seems much more of a quick fix to start picking up points against bottom-half teams than it would be to raise our game against the elite. We can do the hard part already and that should fill us with plenty of confidence going forward.
And that leads me onto the Champions League.
In another Red Letter this season (yes, I’ve been having a reflective trawl), I said that one of the huge frustrations of potentially missing out on a top four spot would be that I really fancied us to flourish in the Champions League – if we got there.
As well as our wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City this season, we’d also thrived in last year’s Europa League. Old Jurgen knows what he’s doing in European competition and, as I write this, it’s exactly four years to the day that he led out Borussia Dortmund in the final of the Champions League against Bayern Munich at Wembley.
I was also in London that day, Timehop reminding me this morning with an image of my then four-year-old daughter having her picture taken with Dortmund fans who had taken a shine to her as, by coincidence, she was decked out in Dortmund yellow and wearing a Mr Happy rucksack.
Liverpool had just finished seventh that season in Brendan Rodgers’ first full campaign in charge so I was envious of Klopp and Dortmund given that we were now six years on from the heady European adventures under Rafa and the finals of 2005 and 2007.
I was lucky enough to go to both those semi-final wins over Chelsea and the atmosphere was off the planet in both.
Presuming we get past modest opposition in our Champions League qualifier, those magical Anfield Champions League nights are all set to return.
And what’s more, we’ll play them in a bigger stadium with even more atmosphere and with a beefed-up squad (come on, let’s break the bank for Kylian Mbappe – he can chat in French with Sadio Mane!) that can launch trophy bids both home and abroad.
And so this rollercoaster but hugely enjoyable season is over. Klopp may say he’s ready to go again but I’m ready for a rest.
Thanks for reading and putting up with my fluctuating emotions, enjoy the summer and here’s to 2017/18!
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