Liverpool were two wins away from immortality in a season where they challenged on all four fronts and won the domestic cup double.
Some of the best love stories have a bittersweet ending and that would appear to be the case regarding Liverpool’s 2021/22 campaign. The Reds signed off the season with a disappointing loss in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris.
Losing the Premier League title and then falling short in Paris, all within seven days, to an extent, takes the sheen off what has been an otherwise excellent season for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The Merseysiders went into the campaign on the back of a 2020/21 term that saw them go trophyless and just about scrape into the Champions League spots. With Ibrahima Konate the lone major summer signing, Klopp retained the core of the side that has served under him the past few years.
While the Reds did harbour lofty ambitions, they nearly etched their name as the greatest side ever in English football history. Football is a game of fine margins, and Liverpool certainly found that the hard way. But then winning both the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup is no mean feat and should not be discounted.
Liverpool suffered just four defeats across all competitions in 63 games, a measure of the level they performed at throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, football is measured in terms of trophies, and they will be remembered for coming close but not quite going all the way in the Premier League and the Champions League.
Recruitment pays off
Liverpool have been the miracle workers in recruitment, and more of the same was on show. The arrival of Ibrahima Konate gave Jurgen Klopp another reliable centre-back to work with, and the Frenchman has steadily improved his stature in the game all campaign.
Konate particularly impressed in Liverpool’s run to Paris and even kept the Real Madrid attack on a tight leash in the final. At 23, he could be Virgil van Dijk’s successor and can develop into Liverpool’s next great defensive colossus.
The same can be said of Luis Diaz, who made a similar difference at the other end. The Colombian international added much-needed impetus to the Reds’ season after arriving in January and aided their push for all four titles in the second half of the campaign.
Crucial goals against Benfica, Villarreal and a man of the match performance in the FA Cup final particularly stood out. At 25, Diaz is ready to take his game to the next level and could make the left-wing position his own for years to come.
Liverpool have, at times, drawn criticism for their seemingly lacklustre 2020 summer transfer window. But the trio of Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcantara and Kostas Tsimikas all showed their worth a year later and played crucial roles.
Jota found the net 21 times and was only outscored by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. He particularly led the line with aplomb when the latter duo were away at the AFCON and provided match-winning performances against Leicester City and Arsenal in the run to the Carabao Cup final.
With injury troubles behind him, Thiago made himself a regular in the Liverpool midfield and dictated play with ease. The fact that the Reds did not miss Georginio Wijnaldum speaks volumes about his impact.
Tsimikas, meanwhile, provided competition to Andy Robertson and even stepped in for the Scottish left-back when needed. The moment where he scored the winning penalty against Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup final is one of the Reds’ standout moments of the campaign.
Strength in depth speaks for itself
Takumi Minamino for Liverpool this season:
FA Cup top scorer (3)
Carabao Cup top scorer (4)
10 goals in 9 starts in all comps
100.8 minutes per goal in all comps
— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 18, 2022
A major weakness Liverpool have faced in the Premier League era is the lack of dependable fringe players. The Reds have a world-class first XI, and this season, the depth also made a telling difference.
This was shown in the run-up to the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals. The Reds fielded weaker teams in the initial few rounds, and the likes of Takumi Minamino, Kostas Tsimikas and Divock Origi among others stepped up to the plate. Minamino was the club’s top scorer in the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup while Tsimikas scored the winning penalty in the FA Cup final shootout.
Caoimhin Kelleher played the entire Carabao Cup run and even starred in the penalty shootout in the final while Origi continued to score key goals. This gave Jurgen Klopp more freedom to rotate his players around, allowing him to put out competitive teams across all fronts.
Playing 63 games in a single season is no mean feat, especially given that two of your top scorers would spend a month away at the AFCON. The Reds have to ensure that their roster retains the same levels of depth and quality if they are to make another go at the quadruple.
Standout wins against arch-rivals and away-day prowess
5 – Manchester United have suffered their heaviest ever defeat at home to Liverpool, whilst it's the first time they have lost to-nil by 5+ goals at home since February 1955 (5-0 v Man City). Erosion. pic.twitter.com/ZeGo6Lm69M
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 24, 2021
Liverpool gave their fans several standout moments in the campaign. Winning 5-0 away to Manchester United at Old Trafford before finishing off the job 4-0 at Anfield later in the season deserves special mention. The scoreline could have been much better had the Reds not eased off in both games.
Klopp’s men also responded to their loss against Everton last season by thrashing them 4-1 at Goodison Park and 2-0 at Anfield. The Reds also had Arsenal’s number all season, defeating them thrice in four games by an aggregate score of 8-0.
The Merseysiders also got back at Atletico Madrid, doing the double over the then Spanish champions in the Champions League group stages. The 3-2 win at the Wanda Metropolitano is especially impressive given how Diego Simeone’s side are a tough nut to crack at home.
The Reds also went on to defeat both Milan sides in Italy. A weakened Liverpool side threw water on AC Milan’s hopes of qualifying for the Last 16 with a 2-1 win at San Siro before getting the better of Inter Milan by a 2-0 scoreline. Beating the two best Italian teams this season, that too on their home turf deserves special mention.
At the same time, Liverpool also won all of their away games in the Champions League this season. The 3-1 win against Benfica at the Estadio da Luz and the comeback against Villarreal at the Estadio de La Cerámica also deserve special mention.
Rebuilding Fortress Anfield
Liverpool haven’t lost a match at Anfield for the fourth time in the last five seasons in the PL 💪🙌🔴
The last time Liverpool lost a match at Anfield in front of a crowd was in April 2017 in the PL 💪🙌🔴
— Tee 🔴 🇺🇦 (@Tee025s) May 23, 2022
Liverpool once again went through another Premier League season without a loss at Anfield. The Reds are now undefeated in the league in four of Jurgen Klopp’s five full seasons at the club.
Liverpool’s difficult 2020/21 campaign had seen them fall to five straight home defeats. But the Reds are a different beast with fans in the stadium and have now lost in front of their supporters at Anfield since 2017. Rebuilding their fortress is essential given the fine margins on which the Premier League title is decided.
Klopp’s only home loss this season came in the Champions League where they lost 1-0 to Inter Milan. Despite home comforts, Klopp’s men will have to do even better next season. This was displayed by their inability to defeat Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Chelsea at Anfield.
Living up to expectations and then some
The fact that Liverpool played 63 games this season, the maximum possible, is a testament to the effort that went into it by the players and staff. Doing the domestic cup double is no easy feat and deserves credit. This is especially so, given that they were coming off the disappointing 2020/21 campaign with an insignificant summer revamp.
Winning the domestic cups saw Klopp become the second manager after Sir Alex Ferguson to secure all possible major trophies as the manager of an English club. Even the legendary Bill Shankly never won the European Cup, while Bob Paisley consistently missed out on the FA Cup.
History will be kinder to Klopp’s ambitions and the hurdles he had to overcome to get there. The very fact that he took a side that ended trophyless last season to within a whisker of winning it all a year later speaks volumes of his impact.
2 – @LFC's Jürgen Klopp has become only the second manager to win the European Cup/Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and the English top-flight title all with the same English club, along with Sir Alex Ferguson (with Man Utd). Etched. pic.twitter.com/uXNaMloQM9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 14, 2022
Klopp rotated his squad well all season and deserves credit for ensuring his players stayed as fresh as possible. Knockout tournaments rely on an element of luck and the fact that Liverpool came out trumps in two competitions, shows that they did not rely on fortune alone. The Reds were just a win away from securing the Premier League.
Liverpool were also comfortably the better side in the Champions League final and on another day could have won by a handful. To pour cold water on the Reds’ season for going for it all and then falling short in the end would be an undignified stance to promote. Had it been easy, one would imagine that either Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola would have already won the quadruple.
Salah fails to come up clutch
Mohamed Salah is Liverpool’s standout player and he once again led the club’s scoring charts this season. He won both the Golden Boot and the best playmaker award in the Premier League. While he did start the season well, his form petered off in the second half and the forward even came up short when needed.
The 29-year-old struck blanks when his team needed him the most and it had an impact on the larger scheme of things. Failures in the Carabao Cup final and the FA Cup final were followed by frustrations in the Champions League showdown against Real. While Thibaut Courtois does deserve credit for some world-class saves, the self-proclaimed best player in the world should be doing justice to his big words.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 22, 2022
Salah’s penalty miss against Leicester City at the King Power also proved pivotal in the Premier League title race. The Reds eventually fell short by a single point and it could be argued that Salah’s drop off in form since the AFCON hurt his team’s chances. More so, his judgement to mostly take a shot when a pass was the better option is questionable.
The Egyptian is keen to sign a lucrative new deal but has much work to do if he is to convince Liverpool to pay him the big bucks. After all, the club will be paying him for who he will be rather than what he did the last few seasons in red.
Rebuilding the spine
If Liverpool’s loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Kyiv represented the dawn of a new era, the one in Paris looked to be the end of one. Liverpool’s core players are not getting any younger and the time might be rife for Klopp to engineer a rebuild. Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Thiago, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk are all in their thirties and some might need to be replaced sooner or later.
Sadio Mane is set to leave the club in the summer while Mohamed Salah’s contract situation remains precarious. Naby Keita has once again been frustrating and soon will enter the final year of his contract. Divock Origi is set to leave Anfield for AC Milan while Takumi Minamino’s future also remains unclear. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has played a diminished role and it will come as a surprise if he is not moved on.
“I will miss these boys a lot. It’s been 8 years. I feel like my purpose here is done. We are in good hands & there’s so much to come from this team.” pic.twitter.com/m2aHsQzxJg
— The Anfield Talk (@TheAnfieldTalk) May 29, 2022
It is not all doom and gloom as the Reds have steadily added to their squad over the last few windows. Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz have added to the attack and could be ready to take on the mantle from Firmino and Mane, respectively. Konate, meanwhile, continues to go from strength to strength and is more or less among Liverpool’s preferred two in central defence.
Alisson Becker is still in his prime while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson still have several years left in them. Fabinho is 29 while Salah is also young enough to continue doing a job for the team. The Reds will also bring in Fabio Carvalho this summer and Klopp appears to be silently putting together a fresh spine for a new-look side.
The summer that came after Kyiv built the cornerstones for Liverpool’s success in the next few years. It will not come as a surprise should they repeat the trick once again this off-season. If anything, we might be witnessing the birth of Klopp’s second great Liverpool side. With the German also recently extending his contract, there are plenty of reasons for Reds fans to be optimistic.
Verdict: Jurgen Klopp and his men will ‘go again’
Liverpool future-proofed themselves by extending Jurgen Klopp’s contract earlier this year. With the German and his core staff remaining at the club, the Reds have the biggest pieces already in place to rebuild their squad.
Changes have also taken place behind the scenes with Michael Edwards making way for Julian Ward as the sporting director. The latter showed a glimpse of his ability by bringing in Luis Diaz last January and seeing through a summer deal for Fabio Carvalho. It is fair to say that the Reds already have the right men occupying the right spots off the pitch.
Every cycle comes to an end and the Merseysiders are closing in on just that. Liverpool today are among the best teams in world football and are a much more attractive destination for the world’s top players. The squad could do with some fresh blood and whoever is eventually brought in could determine their fortunes for the next few years.
"Book the hotel!" 👀💪
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 29, 2022
Going all the way on all four fronts, eventually winning two trophies does not represent a bad season by any stretch of the imagination. While doomsayers will certainly focus on what could have been, Liverpool have had a season to savour. Given the mentality monsters tag, they have accrued in the past, missing out on the Premier League and the Champions League should only make them hungry for more.
Speaking after the loss in Paris, Klopp hinted that the Reds will return for the showpiece event next season at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul. The last time he made such a promise, the Reds won their sixth European crown in Madrid. History could very well be about to repeat itself.