“We can strike back for that.”
It was little more than a throwaway line from Jurgen Klopp’s last press conference ahead of the Zoom match on Tuesday afternoon.
But it’s a comment that touches on the long road to Liverpool’s first title in 30 years.
Jurgen Klopp referred to Liverpool’s defeat on Tuesday in the Liverpool title race on Tuesday
Klopp and his players can ‘hit back’ for that 2-0 defeat when they host the Blues at Anfield
Penalties were pronounced ’30 years hurt’ when the league title came to an end last month.
In various circles it felt ridiculous that Liverpool, one of the most legendary clubs in English football, having won a three-time cup and two European Cups at the time, may have suffered to the same extent as other lesser games in the past three dozen years.
But that ignores the journey that caused the emotional outpouring on Merseyside and among his players and coaching staff when the last whistle blew on Stamford Bridge last month.
Klopp and Jordan Henderson appeared on TV within minutes of Manchester City’s defeat in London and were visibly emotional. The manager had to cut his interview on Sky Sports while fighting tears, not before abandoning an entry for Steven Gerrard, the captain, who had come closest to the wait in the lean years.
Sir Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Phil Thompson, lynchpins throughout the 1980s success, were all present and toast the current vintage. The symbolic transfer of the baton was complete.
The most famous and repeated quote from Klopp’s first press conference at Anfield in October 2015 was when he spoke of turning “doubters into believers” on Merseyside. But when asked about what was expected to be a 25-year drought at the time, he replied, “You don’t take history with you in your backpack and carry it with you.”
Sadio Mane (left) and Mohamed Salah have helped end Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a title
Salah celebrates scoring against Southampton in a 4-0 win over Anfield in early February
Klopp’s job was to obliterate the pressures of history, acknowledge it, but not let it overwhelm him and his players. The new generation has had to compete not only with the glorious past, but also with the near misses of those who have come before.
Gerard Houllier’s team that was ’10 games of greatness’ in 2002, Rafa Benitez’s side who narrowly lost to Manchester United in 2009 and finally the 2014 accounting side of Brendan Rodgers, whose adventure came to its cruelest and bitterest ends.
There is some poetry in the fact that after facing Chelsea on Wednesday night, Klopp and his players finally get the league title that has eluded them for so long that it has become an obsession of a fanbase, of an entire city.
He said on Tuesday: “We have to make the first step for the second and the first is the match. Then we get the trophy for an excellent season. I don’t want to make that smaller.
“They all know it’s more fun when you win, but it’s quite a challenge. Chelsea has history with this [in 2014].
“I’m not sure how many were on that team [in 2014] but if you want, we can hit it back. I don’t think we’ll lose the game, we’re in a good mood for the game. But we have to show that on the field. ‘
Due to Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea in 2014, the Reds missed the league title
The scars from Gerrard’s precious slip six years ago are now beginning to heal on Merseyside
On that day in April 2014, Liverpool had a chance to clear nine points with two more games remaining, with City holding a game, and was behind a winning streak of 11 games.
Jose Mourinho showed up in his tracksuit, drilled his players on the field, and “parked two buses,” Rodgers said. He slapped the Chelsea badge on his chest as he drove to the away goal after Willian rolled the ball into the empty net in the last minute to achieve a 2-0 win.
But the game is best remembered for the Gerrard briefs. An iconic picture in Premier League history, glorified by rival supporters, it has burned the memories of all Liverpool fans over the next six years.
For Liverpool fans, that pain and the image of a ghostly Gerrard is likely to never go away. But now that the drought has ended and the trophy is within reach, the scars are finally healing.
Gerrard wore that ‘backpack’ from Liverpool history that Klopp referred to during his 17-year playing career. That weight has been shared in recent years by one of the most exciting and resilient assembled on Merseyside.
And in Henderson they have a captain who is not the leading light, but who is encouraged by the responsibility to lead this group to success after success in the past 12 months, so much so that he is a leading contender for the PFA player of the Year.
Jordan Henderson (right) will finally receive the competition trophy on Wednesday
From Kiev’s heartbreak two years ago to missing out on the 2019 single-point league title, despite having collected 97 of their own, this Liverpool party has become an expert in responding to adversity. It is no coincidence that Klopp calls them ‘mentality monsters’.
But how they handle being at the top, being targeted will bring new pressures and challenges. That was clear in the games since the title was secured. They are not convinced and have found ways to lose games, instead of finding ways to win them.
Perhaps it is to be expected from a team that had nothing to play for the first time in Klopp’s five years at Anfield at the end of the season.
Manchester City would like to maintain that the next season has already started. Their weak surrender in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal suggests that a turnaround in their fortunes is not a given. They’ve lost nine league games for a reason, and despite their ability to routinely push teams at the bottom of the table to the side, it will be hard to go back to what is now an 18-point gap.
Chelsea, however, started seriously. Hakim Ziyech is already through the door and Timo Werner follows him, while Kai Havertz can still join Bayer Leverkusen.
They are aggressively issuing and assembling squads, while Liverpool could be standing still. They have enough advantage to justify their prudence and Klopp still has confidence in his players.
Before the game, he said, “I am 100% satisfied with my team. For our reasons, we didn’t do it (spent last year). We try to make the right decisions. Covid came, different situation.
Chelsea have already recruited Hakim Ziyech (left) and Timo Werner for next season
“It’s not that we don’t think we can’t improve, we just do what’s possible for us and what we can do. Other teams may be able to invest. The main difference between us and other teams this year is consistency.
“We beat Chelsea 2-1. It is not a 30 point gap between us, the hole is what you see on the field. It’s not about spending, it’s about having the right team on the field next season.
“We can’t buy because other teams are buying and everyone wants to. Next year we will be testing a lot, we have to make sure we are ready. ‘
Liverpool should be. But for now, it’s all about enjoying their own success, which is made all the more worthwhile by the way they got there.