It was always asking a lot, wasn’t it?
Too much, as it turns out.
At the end of this most dramatic of weeks, there was to be no final-day miracle for Liverpool.
They did their bit, ending their Premier League campaign with a scruffy 2-0 victory over Wolves at Anfield. The favour they needed from Brighton, though, didn’t arrive. Manchester City’s 4-1 win at the AmEx Stadium ensures Pep Guardiola’s side will retain their title.
Huge congratulations must go to the men from the Etihad, who got over the line having won 14 games in a row, and 18 of their last 19. Some achievement, some team. They have needed to be, to see off this Liverpool side.
The league, as it turns out, was decided as far back as March 3. Liverpool’s goalless draw with Everton at Goodison Park that day was the last time either team dropped a point in this most relentless of races. It was the day Klopp’s side surrendered the initiative for the final time. They won their last nine league matches after that.
Brutal. How can a team collect 97 points, win 30 games and lose just one, and end up as losers? Liverpool’s pain is softened by their forthcoming Champions League final, but they know that in pretty much any other season, against pretty much any other rival, they’d have been crowned champions weeks ago. They dropped just 17 points all season.
It won’t do them any good, of course, but they will naturally look back on their seven draws and wonder ‘what if?’.
What if they’d beaten Leicester in the snow on January 31 to go seven points clear? What if they’d taken their chances at Goodison or shown a tad more belief at Old Trafford? What if they’d run into Bad West Ham instead of Good West Ham in February?
And what if, on January 3, they’d come away from the Etihad with something? What if, what if, what if.
That is the game which will define this season, this race. Ultimately, it’s the game which denied Liverpool the chance to win the title, to go the whole league season unbeaten and to amass 100 points. It’s the game which denied this wonderful side its shot at immortality. John Stones’ clearance and Leroy Sane’s winner fired a stuttering City back into the race.
Liverpool should still be proud. The ovation they got at the end here tells you what Reds fans think of their team. They adore them, and rightly so. What memories they have been given, what a ride they have been taken on. What fun they’ve had along the way.
Guardiola suggested this week that Liverpool have had it easy, that they have been free to play without pressure in recent weeks. Who is he kidding? 'This Means More’ is the Reds' marketing slogan. The pressure is never turned off at Anfield, where the desire to win a title is greater than at just about any other club.
Klopp’s team have known since August that it would take a gigantic effort to end that 29-year wait for a league crown. They knew that City, centurions last term, would go hard again this time around, that the pace would be unrelenting.
Against that backdrop, and with everybody questioning and everybody doubting and everybody wondering, they have played 38 ‘must-wins’ this season, going stride for stride with the most expensively-assembled squad in English football history. Liverpool have spent big too; they had to if they wanted to compete.
There were moments here where it seemed like it just might be their day. When they led and City trailed, the noise here was incredible. The fun lasted just 83 seconds before City equalised. After that, it was inevitable.
At the end, the atmosphere was one of defiance. 'We shall not be moved', sang the Kop. They were hurting, but they still had their pride.
No wonder. Klopp and his staff have built a hell of a team, with a hell of a spirit.
And despite the bitter ending, they’ve had a hell of a season. One they hope will end in glory in Madrid on June 1.
For what they’ve given over the past 10 months, they deserve it.
One game from immortality. One game.