The last five months of this unprecedented season threaten to erode some of the legacy of this wonderful Liverpool team. They were eliminated from the Champions League and FA Cup, and since football’s recommencement have endured a patchy period that stopped them breaking some of the records Manchester City set in 2018.
But do not fall into the trap of recency bias. In reaching 99 points and winning the league by 18, Jurgen Klopp’s side have catapulted themselves into the discussion over the best Premier League teams in the competition’s history. They blew away the serious concerns about their ability to cope with the psychological blow of coming so close in 2018/19 and will take some stopping next season.
The biggest compliment you can pay to Liverpool is to stress that any one of four or five players could be considered their most important. Is it Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane, two accomplished, goalscoring wide forwards? Is it Roberto Firmino, the striker who Klopp believes knits the attack together perfectly. Is it Jordan Henderson - captain, leader and maybe even legend? Is it one of the full-backs, the personification of Klopp’s style? Is it Virgil van Dijk, the best central defender in the world? Is it Alisson, the goalkeeper who made such an extraordinary difference in bringing calm to an occasionally chaotic team?
Or maybe that paragraph misses the point (and Klopp might agree). The brilliance of this Liverpool lies in the whole being greater than any of the parts, and Klopp’s ability to assemble so many dominant individuals behind the sheer demand to atone for past failure and missed chances. Whatever comes next, he has stamped his personality and his style irrevocably on English football.
The fine margins of the Premier League’s final day dictated that two seasons for two novice managers would come down to two results. Miss out on the top four and Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would struggle to sell the campaign as anything other than failure. Make the Champions League and everyone would look forward with optimism.
Chelsea made it through nervously. A fantastic free-kick from Mason Mount and another goal from Olivier Giroud gave Lampard far more comfortable afternoon that most predicted, thwarting Wolves’ counter-attack ably with Timo Werner watching on in the stands. Given the loss of Eden Hazard and transfer ban, Lampard has had an excellent season.
For United, an afternoon wracked with concerns and another dispiriting performance from most attacking players, but job done thanks to the latest Leicester City implosion. Bruno Fernandes looks more fatigued than any other Premier League player at the end of this mini-season, but Solskjaer kept him on long enough for a hop, skip, jump and converted penalty.
After an extraordinary season in which clubs outside the elite have bruised the noses of an often underperforming financial elite, it is a slight shame that the top four ended as the four richest teams in the league. For all the excellence of Leicester, Wolves and Sheffield United, money always talks loudest.
Vincent Kompany was the leader who set the tone. Pablo Zabaleta was Mr Dependable in several great teams. Yaya Toure dragged forward a midfield and scored some stupendous goals. Sergio Aguero probably made the biggest tangible difference, including scoring the iconic, title-winning goal.
But there is a strong argument to make David Silva Manchester City’s greatest ever player and certainly their best of the modern era. No player provided such extraordinary consistency over such a long period; Silva’s brilliance runs like a vein through City’s last decade. He provided magical moments and images that will last long beyond his time in Manchester. He proved that touch players that lack physicality can not just thrive in the Premier League, but help to alter the very style of the league. More important still is how he led by example and knitted together individual elements into a team greater even than the sum of its prodigious parts.
It is also fitting that Phil Foden will be trusted with taking on Silva’s mantle, having learnt so much from him on the training ground and the Etihad pitch. If Foden can become the local boy made great, the focus of City’s next generation, then he will see further by standing on the shoulder of a giant.
Everyone at Norwich will be deeply disappointed by the club’s relegation and limp acceptance of their fate in late season, but few can be surprised. Norwich attracted plaudits and admirers for their commitment to high-intensity, attacking football in early season, but they spent just £1.5m on transfers last summer and failed to improve the squad in January. That made survival a near-impossibility, at least with the benefit of glorious hindsight.
We have to assume that was the plan all along. When Burnley were relegated in 2014/15, they vowed to see demotion as part of a longer-term process. They used the parachute payments to invest in the squad, persuade Sean Dyche to stay and came back stronger as a result. That plan enabled Burnley to establish themselves in the Premier League at the second time of asking. Norwich are aiming to repeat the trick.
But it is fraught with danger. There are no guarantees in the Championship. Norwich will be optimistic about their chances of promotion next season, but Daniel Farke must change the mood (and perhaps personnel) in a squad that has become too used to losing matches, defending badly and failing to score goals. Over a normal summer that might be possible, but can it be done in six weeks?
If not, Norwich supporters might feel a little short-changed. Presented with a chance to attack the Premier League after surprise success, their club opted for the opposite route. Now a leap of faith is required to believe that Norwich have judged this right.