When Liverpool players took to the haloed Anfield turf to face old foes Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday, the mood on the ground was one of nervous excitement. The excitement because Liverpool is very close to finishing top of the pile, but nervousness because the not-so-distant past stared the Anfield faithful right in the face.
Just five years ago, Liverpool led the Premier League table with three games to go and faced Chelsea for what would eventually turn out to be the title-decider. Captain and club legend Steven Gerrard, who, despite his greatness, could never lead Liverpool to a Premier League title, slipped at the most inopportune of moments, giving Chelsea striker Demba Ba a clear run at the goal. Ba obliged, and the rest is history.
On Sunday, there were palpitations. In spite of Liverpool steadily improving under Jurgen Klopp, there is always a sense that they choke at the most important moments. Klopp’s own history of losing finals does not help, and last year, regardless of forward Mohamed Salah having a majestic season, they once again failed at the final hurdle in the Champions League against an under-par Real Madrid team.
But this year is different. There is something about Anfield that just feels different. The 2018 purchases of defender Virgil Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson has added much-needed steel to Liverpool’s flair, and there is a certain kind of grit to this Liverpool side which the earlier teams simply didn’t possess.
And then, there is Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian King, as he is affectionately called by the Liverpool faithful, has not been as prolific in front of goal as last year, with some pundits even arguing if the forward’s accomplishments last season were an outlier. Racist chants had been directed at him by Chelsea fans before the game, but when it came to what mattered, the Liverpool forward delivered in the most stunning of ways.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mohamed Salah.pic.twitter.com/2KgVmeupEc— Faizul Azwan (@faizul_23) April 14, 2019
Liverpool still has some way to go in the Premier League, although arguably they have crossed the most difficult hurdle. Their title challengers, Manchester City, still have to face Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, and the Liverpool fans will hope one of those teams will do them a favor. Pep Guardiola’s team is one of the best teams to have graced the Premier League, and only a year ago when they won the title with a record 100 points on the table, nobody would have even thought any team had the capacity to go head-to-head with them. But Liverpool had other ideas.
No matter what happens at the end of this season, Liverpool and Manchester City can both finish their campaigns with their heads held high. They have provided fans of the Premier League with one of the most nail-biting seasons of the decade, and as Liverpool fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold summed it up for The Times in a recent interview, it is simply astonishing.
“Everybody watching the season will have respect for both [Liverpool and Manchester City]. Not being big-headed or anything but our team has shown it’s world class and one of the best in recent years in the Premier League. Going toe-to-toe with one of the best, if not the best, Premier League teams ever in City is astonishing. Whether it’s us or any other team that deserves respect.”