The odds were stacked against Palace. Liverpool, overriding favourites, were gunning for their first top-four finish since 2013/14. And Philippe Coutinho’s sumptuous goal on 24′ – a twenty-five-yard free-kick arrowed into the bottom left corner at the Anfield Road end – suggested a painful afternoon lied ahead for Sam Allardyce’s men.
But football is, well, football: blissfully – and sometimes painfully – unpredictable. That’s the central paradox of being a football fan. One minute you’re absorbed and overjoyed, another you’re on your knees bewildered and perplexed. From a Liverpool fan’s perspective, that statement works as a pretty adequate match report here.
A crucial fixture:
As many of you will probably agree, the last weeks and months of 2016/17 were as important as any in Jurgen Klopp’s tenure (thus far). Everything was riding on it. Champions League football was, of course, a must. The recruitment drive – as well as Klopp’s spending powers in the Summer – also hinged on qualification. Would Liverpool have been able to attract the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Mohammed Salah and Naby Keita without it?
Back then the answer was unclear, especially when Andre Marriner blew the full-time. That whistle signalled a surprise defeat for Liverpool. Old boy Christain Benteke dealt two cruel blows to turn the game on its head. The first was a well-taken finish from a teasing Yohan Cabaye cross on 42′ and the second a header from close-range to punish some lackadaisical defending on 74′.
Mid-table Palace held on to claim it 2-1 – with some ease too. Coutinho, Firmino and co huffed and puffed but lacked guile and, perhaps most importantly, clinical edge. Just the one shot on target over the entire ninety minutes – the first-half goal – speaks volumes.
So, three absolutely crucial points dropped. And the warm spring sunshine could do nothing to deter fans (like myself) from that sinking feeling (we’ve all experienced it).
My beloved Reds, as I pondered later that evening, may just have blown it.
Liverpool sat precariously in the third Champions League spot, just three points clear of fifth. The likes of City, United and Arsenal were breathing down their necks and, worse, their closest rivals had two or more games in hand.
A turining point?
But things got better. Klopp’s boys turned things around and took a mightily impressive ten points from their remaining four fixtures. It was enough to claim a coveted seat amongst Europe’s elite (albeit subject to a play-off, which Liverpool handled with aplomb against Hoffenheim).
You see, the tangible glories which followed – consecutive Champions League final appearances (one of which culminated in a sixth European Cup), a 97-point haul and an inevitable Premier League crown, amongst other things – had its foundations in this, by comparison, minor success.
In this sense, then, defeat that day was a seminal moment in the Jurgen Klopp epoch. The Reds have not looked back since. In fact, the loss was their last at Anfield in the league. As I write, it’s the 23rd April 2020; three years / 1,096 days on – the longest unbeaten home record in Europe’s top five leagues – by some distance.
Today Klopp is also one of the most sought-after managers in world football. His team, the mighty Reds, are world and European champions, Super Cup winners and England’s cream of the crop – by some distance.
Perspective is everything. This small success helped build the pedestal on which Klopp’s trophy-winning Reds are now forever mounted.