In the end, Liverpool’s grand ambitions of a Quadruple ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper. As Liverpool players, frustrated by Real Madrid’s matchwinning nous, and the exhaustion of an epic 63-game campaign, sunk to the pitch of the Parc des Princes at the end of the Champions League final in Paris, there was the unmistakable feeling that this marked the end of an era.
After all, Liverpool, under manager Jürgen Klopp, had been steadily building to a crescendo over the past four seasons. Klopp arrived in 2015, but it wasn’t till the 2017-18 season that the players he wanted were in place for Liverpool to become one of the finest football teams in recent history. That season saw the explosive debut of Mohamed Salah, as well the creation of the defensive spine of goalkeeper Alisson, centre-half Virgil van Dijk and midfielder Fabinho. The dazzling wing play of right back Trent Alexander Arnold and left back Andy Robertson took shape then. That season ended in heartbreak, with Real Madrid crowned European champions at Liverpool’s expense.
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The 2018-19 season was when Liverpool truly kicked into gear, running Manchester City close till the last day of the season, with City triumphing in the league by just one point. In Europe, Liverpool laid waste to Bayern Munich, humiliated Barcelona and swatted aside Tottenham Hotspur to become champions of Europe. The Reds had momentum, and next season, driven by a relentless espirit de corps and with the first eleven humming with talent and menace, cantered to a first Premier League championship in 30 years.
Then came the lost season. 2020-21 ended with Liverpool on a roll as they rose from eighth to finish third in the league. But before that had come one of the worst title defences ever seen. Ravaged by injuries and covid infections, Klopp was forced into playing midfielders in defence, and the whole team structure broke down. Salah still scored bucketloads of goals, but both Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino had sub-par seasons.
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At the start of the 2021-22 season, not many gave Liverpool a chance of either fighting for the league or the Champions League. But Liverpool had been building to a rousing peak, and Klopp chose this season to go for all four major trophies. In the end, the fact that Liverpool won the FA and League Cups, while falling short of City, again, by a point, and losing by one goal to Real Madrid in the Champions League final, is one of the most glorious failures you’ll see in sport.
This is surely the end of an era for Klopp. He will build a new one, since he’s just extended his stay at Liverpool. But many of the household names that helped him do it in the past five years will no longer be there. Mané many be gone to Bayern Munich as soon as next month. Salah and Firmino could follow him out the door a year later. Next season, we may well see a new Liverpool, with Ibrahima Konate, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz effectively edging out Joel Matip, Firmino and Mané. In the end, a dazzling era of ‘heavy metal football’, that began with Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, may have ended with another final defeat to the same team.
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