To Paris. That was Jurgen Klopp’s message as Jordan Henderson wrapped his shirt over his face, and a crushed Andy Robertson made his way over to applaud Liverpool’s fans on the final day. In all but one season in Premier League history, 92 points would have crowned them champions, yet they are still on the verge of completing an extraordinary season with three trophies.
The next morning, the club confirmed the signing of Fabio Carvalho from Fulham. Just 19 years old and costing just £ 5m, Carvalho’s is a transfer the significance of which might be lost in the immediate disappointment of missing out yet again on celebrating the title in front of their own supporters, which Liverpool were denied in 2020.
The rebuild begins here, and if there is something to be learned from Manchester City, it is that they are a club of visionaries, with forward-planning like no other. It is easy to dismiss their advantages as stemming solely from the wealth of a nation, but their long-termism in the market is what has allowed them to fix problems before they are there over and over again.
Why did they not push harder to sign Harry Kane – was it the sense that Erling Haaland would be available a year later, at half the price and seven years Kane’s junior? Why did they sign Rodri three years ago when they already had Fernandinho – was it to give the midfielder a few seasons of necessary adjustment that would coincide neatly with the Brazilian’s departure? Jack Grealish was not exactly an essential addition either – but the reasoning behind it might just become clear further down the line.
Likewise, Liverpool buying another forward does not seem like a priority, albeit Carvalho played an important role for Fulham in their promotion from the Championship, scoring 10 goals and assisting another eight.
It is a break from their recent nonetheless strategy and reflects the quiet work going on behind the scenes to bridge the gap to City. For all the immediate fixes like Ibrahima Konate, Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara, there has been a Kaide Gordon or a Sepp van den Berg.
The Luis Diaz deal was significant in January precisely because it proved Liverpool were ahead of the curve, hastening an agreement through because of interest from Tottenham that was set to be acted on in the summer.
There may well be moments within this summer transfer window when Liverpool appear to be buying for the sake of it, when they feel so close to perfection already. Klopp knows better than anyone that there is no such thing as perfection, particularly if you have somehow, agonisingly, fallen short.
Mohamed Salah’s contract dispute threatens to loom over the close season, only hastening the impending sense of change. Divock Origi is on his way out and there is a symbolic nostalgia in Liverpool bidding farewell to the occasional hero of the Klopp era. When Roberto Firmino came on with just 20 minutes to go on Sunday, it was another reminder that those who once seemed indispensable can fade, the Brazilian having started just 10 league games all season.
The 3-1 victory over Wolves exposed defensive frailties too in the absence of Virgil van Dijk, though he is likely to return against Real Madrid. Konate has been a solid acquisition but this was not his finest hour, his mistake leading to Pedro Neto’s goal and he was fortunate not to concede a penalty later on.
All this might have been immaterial by the morning of 23 May, when in dreamland Liverpool would be awaking with sore heads and ready for a parade. They will get their moment in the sun on 29 May, when they will celebrate at the very least a League Cup and FA Cup double.
So the old suggestion that first is first and second is nowhere does not seem to quite fit here. How does a team fail to win the league when they have lost just twice all season (fewer than City’s three), remained unbeaten at home (for the fourth time in five seasons) and dropped 22 points across 38 games? They last tasted defeat on 28 December and that was in a game of fine margins, when Salah’s penalty miss denied them a point at Leicester.
And just for a moment, as a false rumor of another Aston Villa goal bubbled around the Anfield stands, all of that was forgotten anyway. There is nothing crueller than a ghost goal to crush arguably the most spirited but unsuccessful title challenge in Premier League history, but their fans can take solace in the knowledge that they will be back for more next season.