Manchester City are champions of England. So why does it still feel like a season of disappointment?
The nervy 4-3 win over newly promoted Leeds in the season opener hinted that the players had yet to shake off the pre-season rust. But subsequent wins over London sides Chelsea and Arsenal boosted the confidence that fans had in their title defence.
Well, that was until THAT match against Aston Villa.
Yes, the one we lost 7-2.
The following match – the Merseyside Derby – was a scintillating affair, but it could also be seen as one of the most significant of the season because of Jordan Pickford’s obscene tackle on Virgil van Dijk which ruled the Dutchman out for the remaining 33 games.
WATCH: Van Dijk says he's in a 'good space' as he recovers from injury
The absence of van Dijk was not immediately felt. If you look back at the fixtures, the cracks were only beginning to form as the team did go on an 11-match unbeaten streak for the rest of 2020. However, they only won six of them.
Things started to get worse at the turn of the new year. The Reds welcomed 2021 with a defeat to Southampton. They then drew with Man United at Anfield before getting beaten by the likes of Burnley.
The title defence was pretty much over by February. They lost four of their five matches that month. Fortress Anfield soon became a place where the smaller teams would visit to get charity points.
Calls to sack Klopp started emerging. Fans were frustrated with how the team was coping. It didn’t help that even new signings like Diogo Jota ended up on the treatment table.
It might not have been the classy thing to say, but Klopp had a point when he said that no team could defend a title when it was battered with so many injuries to key players.
But Liverpool’s fortunes finally changed after weeks of poor performances. The loss to Fulham on March 7 would be their last of the season as a resurgence in form and the improving situation in defence hoisted them back into Champions League territory.
WATCH: Klopp labels Champions League qualification a 'massive achievement'
The Road Ahead
Injuries are not down to crappy luck. While Liverpool had no control over fixture congestion caused by the pandemic, they do have control over how much they rotate their players or how they adapt their tactics. More quality in depth could have helped mitigate the situation a little.
The current Liverpool bench needs an infusion of quality - not just reliable backup players, but world-class super-subs who can make a difference after halftime.
Divock Origi just isn’t going to cut it. Xherdan Shaqiri has had his time this season to prove his worth but ultimately disappointed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can be a beast when he’s at his best, but that is not very often at all because of his wretched luck with injuries.
Liverpool will need to break the bank this upcoming transfer window and splurge on talent. The current team is unlikely to pose a credible title challenge next season.
Overall grade: B-
Best performance of the season
Some might point to the 7-0 mauling of Crystal Palace on Dec 19, but I would say that our 4-2 win against our arch-rivals Man United (at Old Trafford, mind you) on May 14 stands out for me.
This win was particularly important because it kept us in the Champions League race. It was also notable because United – and I say this with no hesitation – have been excellent this season.
Best player of the season
Despite a forgettable season, some players have stood out. Mo Salah gets my nod for player of the season because he somehow managed to snag 22 goals – three more than last season – despite the lacklustre service he got from a midfield that was constantly getting shuffled because of injuries.
Andrew Robertson also deserves to be singled out for his outstanding work rate and leadership qualities.
Last but not least, Thiago Alcantara. He was simply outstanding in the last few matches, always pulling the strings to Liverpool’s attack. He will certainly be a key figure at Anfield in the seasons to come.
Breakthrough player of the season
This one’s a no-brainer – Nathaniel Phillips. Despite being thrown into the deep end, the 24-year-old adapted quickly enough to become a more than able replacement for the likes of VVD, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. While his positioning and passing could be improved, Phillips has probably done enough to convince Klopp that he’s worthy of a starting position next season.
WATCH: Liverpool's latest homegrown defensive stars
Play of the season
Liverpool’s second goal against West Ham in February. On the counter, Alexander-Arnold belts a cross-field ball to Shaqiri, who finds Salah with a pin-point cross. The Egyptian uses just one touch to control the ball before poking it past the goalie. Four touches. One heck of a beautiful goal.
Goal of the season
Alisson scores with his head to seal a last gasp win. WHAT DID I JUST SEE?
2020/2021 Season review