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Liverpool’s joyous ride to brink of immortality – what next?

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With Liverpool on the cusp of starting another season, it is worth remembering the remarkable 63-game journey that took the Reds to the precipice of greatness.

Two games from absolute immortality.

Liverpool played every single game available to them in 2021/22, and in the process took us on a journey we will never forget.

Now that the dust has settled, it is important to take stock and realise just how fortunate we were to witness a campaign that featured three finals and a title race that went all the way to the very last second.

 

Cautious optimism in the autumn

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 21, 2021: Liverpool supporters applaud the team after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It feels like another lifetime, but it is worth remembering that the beginning of the season also marked the return of full-capacity football stadia. Norwich away was one big party, where friendly faces reunited and matchday routines passed down generations were resumed.

Burnley at home followed and with it came the first full Anfield in 528 days, in what was the least subdued 12.30pm atmosphere the place has ever seen.

Football was back, routines were back, and with six points from six; the Reds were back.

An almost flawless September (barring dropped points on the road at Brentford) was preceded by a titanic battle at home to Man City. Only seven games into the season, it felt like there were already palpable title ramifications.

Despite going ahead twice, a point felt satisfactory enough given the onslaught of second-half pressure from the champions.

If you’re still in need of consoling having seen the Reds go so agonisingly close to an unprecedented quadruple, cast your mind back to October 24.

Old Trafford hasn’t been a happy hunting ground in the 21st century, but for 90 minutes the Reds turned it into their training ground in a 5-0 thumping that flattered Man United more than it did Liverpool.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 24, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the fifth goal, completing his hat-trick, during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. Liverpool won 5-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Amongst all this, Liverpool cruised into the knockout stages of the Champions League from what had been dubbed the ‘group of death’, amassing a maximum of 18 points and becoming the first English side in history to do so.

There were some great wins throughout, but Nat Phillips performed a Cruyff turn inside his own box at the San Siro and, quite frankly, that’s the only part you need to concern yourself with.

There were a few dropped points towards the end of the calendar year, including the only defeats of the league season at Leicester and West Ham, but December did also include golden moments such as Divock Origi’s last gasp winner at Molineux and a 4-1 thrashing of our neighbours across Stanley Park.

 

League & FA Cup adventures

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 14, 2022: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson and his team-mates celebrate with the trophy after the FA Cup Final between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Liverpool won 6-5 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The domestic cups were ultimately the foundation upon which the overall success was built, and provided some of the most entertaining nights of the campaign, even in the early stages.

Leicester, at home, in the League Cup remains a highlight, when a dramatic late equaliser from Takumi Minamino was rounded off with a 5-4 win in the shootout.

Arsenal away also very much warrants a mention, after a Diogo Jota double prompted the birth of his new song and a carnival atmosphere in the 5,000-strong away end.

It’s been a long time coming, but Liverpool were very much the Wembley wizards once more.

Three successful visits yielded the first domestic cup double in over two decades, the first of which was one of the most scintillating 0-0 draws you could wish to see.

Two shootouts, two cups in the cabinet, Caoimhin Kelleher and Alisson the heroes.

 

An excruciating finale

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 22, 2022: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson looks dejected after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After the festive period, the Reds hit the pedal and never looked back.

A total 16 league wins from the last 18 evoked memories of the relentless form that saw Liverpool capture their 19th league title two years earlier, closing what once seemed an insurmountable gap on City.

Of course, the inescapable truth is that it didn’t quite have the fairy-tale conclusion it deserved. The big two pots eluded us in agonising fashion.

Having closed the gap from 14 points, we went into Wolves at home on the last day of the league season with hope rather than expectation.

What unfolded in the second half was a whirlwind 45 minutes of emotions probably unsafe for the human body to experience in such a short window.

It’s not an exaggeration to say I was struggling for breath at stages.

When Philippe Coutinho netted to put Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa 2-0 up with 20 minutes of the season to play, Liverpool were on the brink of the unthinkable whilst still needing a goal themselves.

As someone who’s chosen not to watch the goals back from the Etihad, I’m unable to pass comment on what happened between the 76th and 81st minute, but it left Liverpool heartbreakingly short on the final day once again.

An inspired fightback from January nonetheless.

PARIS, FRANCE - Saturday, May 28, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' looks dejected at the final whistle during the UEFA Champions League Final game between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid CF at the Stade de France. Real Madrid won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Paris was an equally painful experience but for a whole host of different reasons. On the pitch, the Reds fell victim to a career performance from Thibaut Courtois and a lack of spark redolent of an exhausting 63-game season.

Off the pitch, a cloud was thrown over the entire event by shambolic events caused by those employed to keep the public safe.

The result stung, and still leaves a nasty taste after the incredible road we’d been on to get there, but it paled into significance compared with events off the pitch.

We remain optimistic that those responsible will be held to account, and that no set of supporters (Liverpool or otherwise) will have to experience that at a final again.

 

What next?

Onto next season then. What would represent a good 2022/23 for the Reds?

There’s a variety of long-winded avenues you could go down with this, and certainly a conversation to be had around the two big pots.

The short answer for me though: to have as much fun as we did last season.

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