LIVERPOOL – As the clock ticked down on Liverpool’s unsuccessful bid to win their first English title in 29 years, a defiant refrain echoed around Anfield as all four sides of the famous old stadium chanted “We shall not be moved, we’re the team that’s gonna win the European Cup”.
Liverpool may have fallen just a point short in the title race after Manchester City retained the Premier League crown with their 4-1 victory at Brighton.
But the Anfield faithful were determined to remind the world that Sunday’s 2-0 win against Wolves in their last domestic game of the season wasn’t the end of an incredible campaign for Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s side hope to turn the agony of their title near-miss into the ecstasy of a sixth European Cup when they face Tottenham in the Champions League final on June 1.
Tuesday’s incredible 4-0 win against Barcelona that erased a 3-0 first leg deficit and sent Liverpool to their second successive Champions League final, ensuring their last shot at winning the title for this season didn’t feel quite so painful.
City’s incredible consistency meant Liverpool have to settle for second place – the fifth time they have been runners-up since they were last crowned kings of English football in 1990.
But Sadio Mane’s double gave them 97 points – the third highest total in Premier League history behind only City’s tallies this season and last.
Liverpool, beaten only once all season in the league, also equalled the club’s top-flight record of 30 wins, set over 42 matches in 1978-79, after recording a ninth consecutive league victory.
No wonder Liverpool were given a standing ovation when the final whistle sounded.
Ninety minutes earlier, under picture-perfect blue skies, fans arrived at Anfield more in hope than expectation.
Many Liverpool supporters were decked in the hastily made replicas of the ‘Never give up’ t-shirt Mohamed Salah wore during the post-match celebrations against Barcelona on Tuesday, while the PA system blared out Journey’s ‘Don’t stop believing’ before kick-off.
But, with even the most diehard Kopite expecting City to win at Brighton, the mood around Anfield was one of pride in Liverpool’s season rather than genuine belief the afternoon would end in a title party.
With Liverpool and Tottenham’s Champions League heroics showing anything is possible, Klopp had insisted one more football miracle couldn’t be ruled out.
As ever, Liverpool made a fast start and Senegal winger Mane gave them hope of an astonishing finale in the 17th minute.
Mane started the move with a sweeping pass wide to Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right and the defender slipped the ball back to Jordan Henderson.
Delivering a precise return pass, Henderson sent Alexander-Arnold racing away and his low cross deflected into the path of Mane, who fired home from close-range.
The ear-splitting noise around Anfield spoke of renewed faith as Liverpool moved to the top of the as-it-stands table while City were being held by Brighton.
This team has done us proud. Our @premierleague campaign might be over but we're not finished yet.
We've shared plenty of special moments together this season.
Ten minutes later there was an even louder roar when the news filtered through that Glenn Murray had put Brighton ahead.
Even Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager when they last the won the title, was scrambling to check the score on his phone.
But, just as fans erupted in scarf-waving delight, seconds later they learned of Sergio Aguero’s equaliser for City, triggering an agonised wail of frustration from supporters holding their heads in their hands.
After a false alarm when Liverpool fans celebrated what they wrongly thought was a second Brighton goal, it was the taunting cheers of Wolves supporters in one corner of the stadium that broke the news that City had scored again.
Needing a Brighton goal hundreds of miles away on the south-coast more than they needed to do anything else themselves, both Liverpool and the crowd were flat at the start of the second half.
When Riyad Mahrez effectively wrapped up the title with City’s third goal, Wolves fans delighted in chanting “Raheem Sterling he’s top of the league” in reference to the former Liverpool winger now playing for the champions.
By the time Mane turned in Alexander-Arnold’s cross in the 81st minute, all thoughts had turned to the bid for European glory.