The Hard Tackle provides a throwback to five of the top highlights for Liverpool in a memorable 2019 and the year that was.
2019 was a groundbreaking year for Liverpool, at least as far as the modern era is concerned. The perennial underachievers were finally vying for the big titles after years and Anfield had once again become a fortress, yet to be breached to this day.
Records were broken, the yearning for trophies was over at long last, while any lows were few and far between as the year became one to fondly remember for fans, players and Jurgen Klopp alike. The Hard Tackle now takes a look at five of the best highlights of 2019 for the club and their fans.
Corner Taken Quickly…
Months after the heartbreak in the UEFA Champions League final, Liverpool were at danger of being booted out of the competition in the group stage. In the end, they did progress to the knockout stages, where they were a force to be reckoned with after easing past Bayern Munich and FC Porto in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals, respectively.
However, they suddenly saw their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread, as Barcelona handed them a 3-0 drubbing in the first leg of their semi-final clash at Camp Nou. What seemingly made their task even tougher was the fact that Jurgen Klopp did not have Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino at his disposal for the return leg at Anfield.
With the odds stacked against them, very few would have given Liverpool any chance to toppling a full-strength. The Reds still had a mountain to climb with just 45 minutes left in the tie, as even after Divock Origi’s seventh minute goal, they had to score three more goals without reply to qualify for the final.
The tide turned just ten minutes into the second half as Georginio Wijnaldum scored a brace off the bench; the scales had been evened. Now, it was anybody’s game. Now, the next goal would change it all; a goal that would likely send the team into the finale in Madrid.
Then, came the moment of unbelievable awareness from Trent Alexander-Arnold; a moment that would ultimately be the catalyst for the Champions League triumph that was to come soon. With Barcelona slow to react to get themselves organised for the set-piece and trotting slowly back to their box, the full-back whipped the ball in towards Origi, who stood unmarked in front of goal.
A grateful Origi made no mistake in bundling the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the net. The Barcelona players were left shell shocked, left reeling from what had happened moments ago. A collective schoolboy error was sending them packing from the Champions League, while Liverpool had a finals date to look forward to. Genius, as Klopp described the moment.
Reaching the Pinnacle of European Football: A Long Trophy Drought Finally Ends
1st June, 2019. It is the final day of the season and an English team is set to become the Champions League winners for the first time since 2012. Standing in Liverpool’s way are Tottenham, who have themselves scaled the comeback mountain in the penultimate stage against Ajax to reach the final of the competition for the very first time.
The start to the game could not have been any better, as Mohamed Salah scored a penalty in the second minute. Twelve months after being forced off at the very same stage against Real Madrid, this was a moment of sweet redemption for Salah.
With two minutes to go, the result was beyond any doubt and it was the man who sent Liverpool through to the final, Divock Origi, who struck the very last goal of the season to seal the Champions League triumph.
For manager Jurgen Klopp, who had garnered a reputation of falling at the last hurdle in cup competitions, it was vindication, as he oversaw a Champions League win for the first time in his long and illustrious career.
As for the players, it was a first major title at club level for most; they had reached their moment under the sun. The Liverbird was soaring again, as the Reds ended a frustrating title drought at last, no longer feeling exasperated over missing the elusive Premier League title by a solitary point just one month back.
This was a triumph that paved the way for the moniker ‘Mentality Monsters’ that Liverpool are now endeared for among fans; a title win that was characterised by grit and determination, a “never say die” attitude, which in turn nicely set Liverpool up for a dominant Premier League season that they are currently enjoying.
Two More Trophies Follow
Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit.”
Perhaps, the one team for whom this holds true the most in football right now is Liverpool. The Reds have been beaten just thrice all season – once when they practically had their under-23 team playing in the Carabao Cup. In the Premier League, they have set the record for the best tally after 21 games.
While they do look poised to win their first Premier League title, two trophies have already been added to join the UEFA Champions League in the cabinet. The first was the UEFA Super Cup, another all-English affair, as they beat Chelsea in a thrilling contest.
This was a game that ebbed and flowed beautifully, as Chelsea led in the first half before Liverpool equalised in the second period and pulled clear in extra time. Late on, Chelsea struck to make it 2-2 before going down on penalties. The Reds, meanwhile, had won a second title in 2019. This was a team that was making winning a habit now.
Klopp & co. then had the chance to make a beeline for a third trophy in the year; this was the opportunity to become champions of the world. Made to work hard again, Liverpool narrowly won each of their matches, riding on some brilliance by Roberto Firmino to lift the Club World Cup for the first time in their history.
From being a team that was often flattering to deceive or falling short at the final hurdle, this was a Liverpool side that was fearless in the face of any and every competition. A memorable year had been capped with three titles and numerous records. This was a team that had become one to be feared.
The Best Manager in the World
The players got their fair share of the adulation for a year worth remembering. However, if there is someone who must get a great deal of credit, it is their manager. For the longest time, Jurgen Klopp had been the proverbial bridesmaid, never getting the chance to be the bride, so to speak.
This was a man who was notorious for losing six successive finals, someone who just could not manage to climb the winners’ podium himself. Well, not anymore. Not after 2019.
The year saw Liverpool fall agonisingly short of winning their first Premier League title. Not managing to lift the elusive trophy even after amassing a club-record 97 points would surely have been tough to take in for Klopp and his men.
But, Klopp, with his matchless man-management abilities, was not one to let his players’ heads fall; for a special night awaited them. When Liverpool reached the pinnacle of European football for the sixth time, there was no denying that Klopp had the rightful claim of being named the Best Men’s Coach in the world.
If many already believed it, the claims were validated when he was crowned as The Best FIFA Men’s Coach in a glittering ceremony in Milan. That he beat fellow Premier League coaching stalwarts in Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino only made the victory sweeter.
Since that night in September, Klopp has ensured that Liverpool have only gone from strength to strength, with the crowning glory in English football now appearing to be but a formality. Judging by the way the Reds are going upon the turn of the year, is there a chance a second successive Best Men’s Coach award awaits Klopp? Perhaps, a highlight in our 2020 Liverpool highlights edition!
Salah, Mane and van Dijk: A Golden Year For The Trio
The Premier League title might have been just beyond their grasps, but there were three Liverpool players who left their mark on the 2018-19 Premier League season on an individual level. Goals were never a problem for Jurgen Klopp’s men, what with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah always in the hunt for the Golden Boot.
In the end, there was no separating the free scoring duo, who both scored 22 goals apiece. For only the third time in Premier League history, the Golden Boot was shared; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was also giving Salah and Mane company at the top of the ladder.
Mane would also be named in the PFA Team of the Year, where he was joined by three other fellow Liverpool players. One of these players, Virgil van Dijk, was also named the PFA Player’s Player of the Year as well as the Premier League Player of the Season, and for good reason.
Around 18 months ago, van Dijk had become a Liverpool player, but the £75 million price tag had brought with itself plenty of skepticism. After all, he was, back then, the most expensive defender in the world. 18 months on, van Dijk had proved the naysayers wrong, completely transformed Liverpool’s defence and vindicated Klopp’s decision to splash the big bucks on him.
The Dutchman, though, was not done yet, as he was also named the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year ahead of living legends Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The one true catalyst in Liverpool’s success was at the top of the food chain, eliminating any remaining lack of conviction surrounding him.
After all, this was a player who was just not delivering on his own individual duties, but also improving those who were playing around him. To this day, van Dijk remains one of the best players in the Premier League, if not the very best. Truly, a year to remember for the colossus who is van Dijk, as well as Salah and Mane.