Chris Hatherall: How Anfield learned to stay with Klopp's Liverpool until the very end

Cast your mind back to November 2015, right at the start of Jurgen Klopp’s five-year plan for domination of the Premier League, and there was a moment which echoes loudly today as Liverpool celebrate their first title in three decades.
Chris Hatherall: How Anfield learned to stay with Klopp's Liverpool until the very end
Jurgen Klopp: ‘I don’t always believe we can win every game but I never give up’ is the German’s mantra which has proved so successful in Liverpool’s 30-year journey to win the title. Picture: Christof Stache/AFP
Jurgen Klopp: ‘I don’t always believe we can win every game but I never give up’ is the German’s mantra which has proved so successful in Liverpool’s 30-year journey to win the title. Picture: Christof Stache/AFP

Cast your mind back to November 2015, right at the start of Jurgen Klopp’s five-year plan for domination of the Premier League, and there was a moment which echoes loudly today as Liverpool celebrate their first title in three decades.

The game in question was Crystal Palace at home, a poignant memory considering it was against Palace this week that Liverpool effectively completed their 30-year project to win the trophy with a sumptuous 4-0 victory.

But back then, things weren’t looking so good. Liverpool had just lost 2-1 at home to the south London side thanks to a Scott Dann winner eight minutes from time — and Klopp was visibly shocked to see Liverpool’s legendary fans skulking out of Anfield before the final whistle.

To him, that was an anathema. There were people in the stadium, and in the team, who didn’t believe the game could be turned around in those final moments — even with all the home advantages that playing at England’s most famous venue brings.

“The goal came after 82 minutes. Twelve minutes to go (eight plus stoppage time), and I saw many people leaving the stadium. I turn around and saw them go,” he said. “I felt pretty alone at this moment.

"We decide when it's over. Between 82 and 94 minutes, you can make eight goals if you want! But you have to work for it. The big decisions are made in moments when you are tired and under stress, and we have to learn that. We have to feel this, keep this, and know why we don't want to feel this again.”

If those quotes stunned his players, it was fans on the Kop who felt the barb most sharply. Here was a manager willing to question the most famous supporters in the world and to demand as much effort from the stands as he expects from his squad.

“Look, I say what I think, please don't make it bigger than it is,” the German said when asked if he was criticising the supporters, which he clearly was.

“I'm not disappointed. Maybe it is easier to leave the stadium with 10 minutes to play. There are reasons.

“But we are responsible, we have to make sure that nobody can leave the stadium a minute before the last whistle, because anything can happen. That's what we have to show. Today, we didn't."

That was a big call from Klopp, a big, big call. But oh, how it has paid off.

Fast forward to June 2020 and Liverpool’s character has been typified over a stunning season not only by the energy and desire put into every match but by a mentality to win a game right at the death when three points seem impossible to grasp.

Over the course of the campaign, Klopp’s side accumulated an extra 12 points from goals scored after the 80th minute, points which gradually took them to an unassailable lead over Manchester City and ended 30 years of hurt. And you’d be surprised if a single fan ever left the stadium early, such is the level of buy-in the Liverpool manager now has from those who cheer him and his players from the stands.

The adventure began with a penalty from veteran James Milner, coolly despatched at a raucous Anfield, five minutes into injury time against Leicester City in October — and only then after VAR had stuttered over awarding the kick following a foul by Marc Albrighton on Sadio Mane.

Leicester, led by former Anfield manager Brendan Rodgers, had been convinced they were leaving Merseyside with a point, having seen James Maddison equalise Mane’s opener only 10 minutes from time. But these are the moments on which a title victory is made, and Klopp’s celebrations revealed just how aware he was of that fact.

“We knew it would probably happen, we knew we were going to fight for the win — and we did,” he said.

Liverpool’s lead was already eight points at that early stage and it was only a taster of what was to come as the Red machine began to find momentum.

Adam Lallana, with his first goal since 2017, rescued a point at Old Traford with a goal in the 85th minute, equalising Marcus Rashford’s first-half effort — and the comeback at Aston Villa in November was even more spectacular.

Villa led 1-0 through Trezeguet with only three minutes to go when Andrew Robertson finally equalised and striker Mane found a dramatic winner in the dying seconds. It was the fifth 90th-minute goal from a Liverpool player since the start of the previous season, when Klopp’s side finished as runners-up to Manchester City, so you could hardly call it a fluke. It was a sign of a change in culture, instigated right from the top.

"I don't always believe we can win every game but I never give up,” Klopp said on the night, a mantra which his players now regularly repeat.

There was another example of that belief at Selhurst Park later in November, when Roberto Firmino scored an 85th-minute winner just three minutes after Wilfried Zaha had equalised Mane’s opening goal.

Then, at Wolves, one of the toughest away trips in the Premier League, Firmino struck again — this time after 84 minutes — to seal victory after Raul Jimenez had replied to Jordan Henderson’s opener.

That took the number of extra points gained across the season to 10, and there was more to come at Anfield against West Ham in February in what was probably one of the team’s most disjointed and disappointing performances of the campaign.

Perhaps in days gone by, one or two fans would have left early as the home side went 1-0 and 2-1 down as nerves jangled and players struggled to move out of even second gear; but on a night of tension there was still a full Kop in place when Mane scored his winner in the 81st minute. The noise, as you can imagine, was as loud as Anfield has ever heard as fans finally realised the dream was really coming true.

That result made it 18 wins in a row for Liverpool, equalling the English top-flight record set by City in 2017, and it summed up just what Klopp has done to turn his team into champions.

By the time Liverpool faced Crystal Palace at Anfield, five-and-a-half years on from Klopp’s brave stand, the rewards were there for all to see. He has built a team of winners, all full of belief, willing to fight until the last minute – just like the fans who follow them.

The rewards today, of course, make it all worthwhile, and the Liverpool footballing landscape looks very different now to 2015 as the team takes its place in history.

This remarkable squad of title-winning heroes now know for certain that they will never, for the rest of their lives, have to walk alone – and Jurgen Klopp will never, ever, feel lonely again.

Liverpool’s season of wonder:

P31 W28 D 2 L 1 Pts: 86

2019.

Aug 9: Liverpool 4 (Salah 19), van Dijk (28), Origi (42), Hanley (og, 77l) Norwich 1 (Pukki 64); Aug 17: Southampton 1 (Ings 83) Liverpool 2 (Mane 45+1, Firmino 71); Aug 24: Liverpool 3 (Matip 41, Salah pen 49, 58) Arsenal 1 (Torreira 84); Aug 31: Burnley 0 Liverpool 3 (Wood og 33, Mané (37), Firmino (80); Sept 14: Liverpool 3 (Mane 28, 40, Salah 72) Newcastle Utd 1 (Willems 7); Sept 22: Chelsea 1 (Kante 71) Liverpool 2 (Alexander-Arnold 14, Firmino 30); Sept 28: Sheff Utd 0 Liverpool 1 (Wijnaldum 70); Oct 5: Liverpool 2 (Mane 40, Milner 90+5) Leicester City 1 (Maddison 80); Oct 20: Manchester Utd 1 (Rashford 36) Liverpool 1 (Lallana 85); Oct 27: Liverpool 2 (Henderson 52, Salah 75) Tottenham H 1 (Kane 1); Nov 2: Aston Villa 1 (Trezeguet 21) Liverpool 2 (Robertson 87, Mane 90+4); Nov 10: Liverpool 3 (Fabinho 6, Salah 13, Mane 51) Manchester City 1 (B Silva 78); Nov 23: Crystal Palace 1 (Zaha 82) Liverpool 2 (Mane 49, Firmino 85); Nov 30: Liverpool 2 (van Dilk 18, 24) Brighton & HA (Dunk 79); Dec 4: Liverpool 5 (Origi 6, 31, Shaqiri 17, Mane 45, Wijnaldum 90) Everton 2 (M Keane 21, Richarlison 45+3); Dec 7: Bournemouth 0 Liverpool 3 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 35, Keita 44, Salah 54); Dec 14: Liverpool 2 (Salah 38, 90) Watford 0; Dec 26: Leicester City 0 Liverpool 4 (Firmino 31, 74 Milner 71 pen, Alexander-Arnold 78); Dec 29: Liverpool 1 (Mane 42) Wolves 0.

2020.

Jan 2: Liverpool 2 (Salah 4, Mane 64) Sheff Utd 0; Jan 11: Tottenham H 0 Liverpool 1 (Firmino 37); Jan 19: Liverpool 2 (van Dijk 14, Salah 90+3) Man Utd 0; Jan 23: Wolves 1 (Jimenez 51) Liverpool 2 (Henderson 8, Firmino 84); Feb 1: Liverpool 4 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 47, Henderson 60, Salah 71,90) Southampton 0; Feb 15: Norwich City 0 Liverpool 1 (Mane 78); Feb 24: Liverpool 3 (Wijnaldum 9, Salah 68, Mane 81) West Ham 2 (Diop 12, Fornals 54); Feb 29: Watford 3 (Sarr 54, 60, Deeney 72) Liverpool 0; Mar 7: Liverpool 2 (Salah 25, Mane 33) Bournemouth 1 (Wilson 9); June 21: Everton 0 Liverpool 0; June 24: Liverpool 4 (Alexander-Arnold 23, Salah 44, Fabinho 55, Mane 69) Crystal Palace 0.

Remaining fixtures: Man City (A) July 2, 8.15pm; Aston Villa (H); Brighton (A); Burnley (H); Arsenal (A); Chelsea (H); Newcastle (A).

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