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An 'agonising' wait

Reds’ 30-year drought finally ended — fears of a cancelled league hovered with just six points away from the title as the pandemic brought the season to a halt

For any other football fan, it may be hard to feel the absurdity running through a Liverpool fan as Jürgen Klopp's men lifted the Premier League trophy after their 5-3 win against Chelsea in the penultimate game week of the season at Anfield. The wait of over 30 years for Liverpool and their fans to finally have their hands on the Premier League trophy is 'finally' over — it took them 30 years (and of course, an extended three months due to the lockdown).

Going into the winter break, the Reds were miles ahead on the league points table from second-placed Manchester City. However, a heavy defeat to Aston Villa in the Carabao up post-break hinted a thrilling finish to the season. While (almost) everything had worked wonders for Klopp in the Premier League, a 0-2 defeat in the FA Cup against Chelsea before the lockdown meant Liverpool will no more be a treble winner.

In the league, however, Liverpool was unstoppable and looked to be on the route of repeating the epic Invincibles feat achieved previously only by Arsenal. Liverpool took a major blow when Watford beat them 3-0 at the Vicarage Road Stadium and hence, couldn't repeat Arsenal's unique feat in the English league. Things seem to have gone from bad to worse for the Liverpool with the hindrance of Coronavirus which even threatened to void the league, leaving their fans again in fear of the curse they had been for over 30 years now (so close, yet so far). A rope of hope flashed through the dark clouds when the official announcement of league returning after a break of 100 days was made.

The enthralling win against Chelsea also ensured Liverpool's impressive home record in a season filled with significant memories and anomalous records for the Reds —Liverpool is unbeaten in their last 59 league matches at Anfield since losing to Crystal Palace in April 2017. They have won 47 and drawn 11 in that sequence.

Liverpool claimed their 19th league title over a month ago with seven matches to spare, bettering the previous record of claiming the league title with five matches to spare, set by Manchester United in 2000-01 and Manchester City in 2017-18.

In a decade dominated by Manchester City with four Premier League titles, which includes 100 points and 100 goals in 2017-18 season and Pep Guardiola's flamboyant tactical evolution in English football, Liverpool's patient narrative under Jürgen Klopp to finally roar at the top, sends a fitting tribute to their greats like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher who could only come close to the finishing line.

Talking about players and gameplays, we should not underestimate the value of psychology — at least in Liverpool's rise — even though it is a term seldom talked upon across the sport. Jürgen Klopp's tendency to approach tense situations with a lightened "enjoy the ride" attitude has indeed worked for the team with players seemingly praising their boss at any given situation. The morale of the team has been evidently sky high since Klopp took over back in 2015. In recent times, an opposition manager stating with a gloomy look on his face that this Liverpool team plays to win every first ball, every second ball, run forward and sprint back, basically being miles ahead of any other team, shows the current mood in the Klopp's territory as well as the opposition camps.

Klopp's philosophy bought him applauses after he transformed the Merseyside team in English's top-flight league, but before his stint at Anfield, the 53-year-old has guided Mainz to the Bundesliga from second division before moving to Dortmund in 2008. At Dortmund, Klopp became a force to reckon after he won the German league and also a league double. Thereafter, a call from English football became inevitable for the German gaffer. Liverpool turned up and a wave of belief roared at the stands of Anfield. Klopp was welcomed whole-heartedly by their fans, not for the reason that Brendan Rodgers failed to live up to their expectations, but because Klopp connected real quick with them. He asked for patience and in return, he promised to give attacking and entertaining football.

As author and tactical analyst Michael Cox pointed out in a recent article 'The 10 tactical innovations that transformed Klopp's Liverpool into champions', there were already signs that the Reds squad were embracing the new methodology — and the physical demands it entailed — after mere days on the training ground, when they held Tottenham to a goalless draw on the new manager's debut back in October 2015. Since then, thanks not just to Klopp but to the meticulous, cerebral approach of his assistants Pepijn Lijnders and Peter Krawietz, Liverpool have been tactical chameleons, shapeshifting from one season to the next before opponents can get a handle on how to counteract them.

After narrowly losing to Manchester City in the 2018/19 season, Liverpool was determined to light the flare this time around and indeed manifested a memorable campaign that could easily be the first of many more to follow. This title makes Liverpool only the seventh club ever to have won the Premier League title — Manchester United (13), Chelsea (5), Manchester City (4), Arsenal (3), Blackburn Rovers (1) and Leicester City (1).

Not to forget, Newcastle will be hosting the Champions tonight at 8:30 pm (IST) for the last time this season and the Reds should see out a campaign for the ages with a victory. What would be more interesting tonight is the clash for the last two remaining Champions League slots with all three contending teams — Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester City — standing a chance to qualify on the last day of the league. English football at its very best!

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