A Premier League title five years in the making: How Liverpool became champions again
"If we sit here in four years I think we'll have won one title.” Jurgen Klopp was a year out, but he’ll be forgiven – his appointment was one of the many carefully considered decisions which led to Liverpool being crowned Premier League champions, writes Michael Hincks.
Liverpool are Premier League champions, and it was a title five years in the making, 30 years in waiting
Published 25/06/2020 at 21:13 GMT | Updated 25/06/2020 at 21:14 GMT
For Liverpool, patience is a virtue. The Premier League’s postponement tantalisingly added three months to their 30-year wait to be declared champions of England.
Liverpool fans may not have pictured winning the league in such circumstances, but the title win is a celebration not only of their performances this season on the pitch, but the astute choices made off it.
"This could be a really special day,” Klopp said on October 9, 2015.
"We could start in a very difficult league but we can be successful in a special Liverpool way. Twenty-five years ago [Liverpool's last title] is a long time. In this time all people have tried to get better, to improve, to take the next title, but history is only the base for us.
It is all the people are interested in but you don't take history in your backpack and carry it with you for 25 years. We can wait for it but I don't want to say we can wait 20 years. If we sit here in four years I think we'll have won one title - I'm pretty sure. If not, the next one may be in Switzerland.
He added: "When I left Dortmund, my last sentence was that it was not so important what people think when you come in, it is more important what they think what you leave. Please give us time to work on it."
The right recruitment – even off the pitch
Liverpool did not turn into contenders overnight, but in reaching the League Cup and Europa League finals in 2015-16 it was clear Klopp was sending them in the right direction.
Given they lost both of those finals, there were the inevitable questions surrounding Klopp’s record in such showdowns, and so Liverpool set about transforming this team of doubters into believers, from runners-up into champions.
urgen Klopp Signs A Contract Extension and chats with Sporting Director Michael Edwards and Mike Gordon FSG President and Liverpool F.C owner at Melwood Training Ground on December 13, 2019
Image credit: Getty Images
Having spent £35m on Andy Carroll and £20m on Stewart Downing in the first years of Fenway Sports Group’s ownership of Liverpool, Edwards enabled FSG to become far more shrewd in the transfer market.
Edwards had been at the club since 2011, but his role-change in 2016 meant he was integral in signing Mohamed Salah for £37.8m and Andrew Robertson for just £8m in the summer 2017, and then selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142m a few months later.
Coutinho’s departure in January 2018 coincided with Virgil van Dijk’s arrival at Anfield for a then world-record fee for a defender of £75m.
The price-tag was met with some derision, but it was a statement of intent from Liverpool, as well as an indication they were prepared to wait for their top targets – rather than plump for back-up options – having initially seen their advances turned down by Southampton.
The Alisson stop that left reverberations around Anfield
Van Dijk’s impact was immediate at Liverpool, with Robertson and the emerging Trent Alexander-Arnold bringing about a change in defensive fortunes, but it was not enough to steer them to European glory in 2018 when an error-strewn performance from Loris Karius helped Real Madrid win a third-straight Champions League title.
Karius’ high-profile mistakes pushed Liverpool to sign Alisson Becker, which had echoes of the Van Dijk signing as the club paid £67m for the goalkeeper in the summer of 2018 - a record trumped a month later when Chelsea bought Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Fans had urged Liverpool to sign a world-class goalkeeper, and the results were startling once they finally forked out on Alisson, who proved to be the final piece of the puzzle.
After nine clean sheets in the first 16 Premier League matches of the 2018-19 season, it was in the Champions League where Alisson made a save which Liverpool are still feeling the positive impact of today.
Liverpool's Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker (2R) saves a shot from Napoli's Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik (L) during the UEFA Champions League group C football match between Liverpool and Napoli at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north west England on
Image credit: Getty Images
Leading Napoli 1-0 in their final group game, Alisson kept out Arkadiusz Milik’s effort from point-blank range in the dying minutes at Anfield.
Had Napoli equalised, Liverpool would have finished third and been relegated to the Europa League knockouts. However, that stop paid the £67m fee on its own, as it paved the path for Liverpool to be crowned European champions.
There is of course that night and that corner against Barcelona at Anfield to remember, while Liverpool fans will always be indebted to Ousmane Dembele for failing to make it 4-0 in the semi-final first leg back in 2019, but that memorable comeback would never have been had Alisson not shut out Napoli.
Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool FC lifts the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League final. during the UEFA Champions League final match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at Estadio Metropolitano on June 01, 2019
Image credit: Getty Images
Winning the Champions League was a confirmation that this Liverpool side can compete with the very best, and ripped off their tags as nearly men after painfully finishing a point behind Manchester City in the 2018-19 Premier League race.
The standout 2019-20 moment… Is there even one?
It was often said that the 2018-19 Premier League title was decided by just 11mm – when in January 2019 Manchester City defender John Stones made a goal-line clearance at 0-0 before his side ran out 2-1 winners over Liverpool.
City only lost one league match after beating Liverpool, and finished with 98 points to Liverpool’s 97.
This season it has been a different story, with Liverpool blowing away the competition while City have stumbled time and again to the point where they were in a closer battle for second.
Raheem Sterling (li.) und Joe Gomez (re.) geraten beim Spiel zwischen Liverpool und Manchester City aneinander
Image credit: Eurosport
You could therefore point at several results, such is Liverpool’s domination, and state that was the moment where the title was won and lost.
City lost to Norwich and Wolves before the Liverpool defeat, while Manchester United completed the league double over their city rivals just before the three-month hiatus. It was not the title defence anyone expected from Pep Guardiola’s side.
And having waxed lyrical about Liverpool’s own appointments which set them on this path to league glory, there must also be some finger-pointing at City’s failure to make a contest of it.
Pep Guardiola after Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-1 in the Premier League at Old Trafford
Image credit: Getty Images
Champions the previous two seasons, picking up 198 points in the process, City undoubtedly took their foot off the gas, not realising the speed at which Liverpool were travelling.
It is often easier to be the one chasing instead of leading, and many will expect City to mount a stronger challenge next season.
Guardiola already has one eye on a fast-track Champions League showdown in August. Navigate past Real Madrid and all the way to their first European Cup, and perhaps we will be writing here in 12 months’ time how Liverpool’s rise was the best thing that ever happened to City – although they will need a successful CAS appeal to make that the case.
Either way, this is a time for Liverpool to celebrate and City to go back to the drawing board, and before you know it, the next season will be under way with a title to defend or reclaim.