What an opportunity Manchester United have missed after allowing Liverpool to reignite their Champions League hopes with a four-goal showing at Old Trafford. Because although the result was never going to have an impact on this year’s title race, which is already long gone, it may yet impact on 2021-2.
Liverpool arrived in Manchester on the ropes, in danger of failing to reach the top four and worrying about how that might impact their summer recruitment.
Which world class player at this level, least of all the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Jaydon Sancho or Erling Haaland, wants to play in the Europa League?
It was a chance to knock the Merseyside giants off their perch after only one season and push them even further back following a miserable title defence; but instead United, badly missing injured Harry Maguire, left the door open and ushered the former champions in.
Liverpool, who deserved their 4-2 victory despite a United fight-back which made them wobble, are now up to fifth, four points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, and could still finish as high as third if results go their way in the final three matches of the campaign.
Had they lost, and United led 1-0 on home turf before Jurgen Klopp’s men responded, the picture would have been very different; and all the talk would have been about whether Liverpool’s new dynasty was already over. Now salvation in their hands.
It was still nervy for Liverpool at times, and there was still no sign of the imperious self-belief which characterised their title win; but at least some of the spark was back as Roberto Firmino scored twice and Diogo Jota once before Mo Salah sealed a victory which gives them bragging rights over an old rival and real hope for the future.
What a strange journey this team has been on.
If last season was one that Liverpool fans will never forget, this campaign will stick in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
So, going to Old Trafford in May with their Champions League hopes hanging in the balance and the title race over was uncomfortable to say the least — even without the ugly welcome from United fans outside the ground, protesting against their club’s owners.
The way the former champions have disintegrated and deteriorated has been unfathomable and, for those on the Kop who were celebrating in August after a 30-year wait it must seem almost as surreal nine months on — but for very different reasons.
Make no mistake, Liverpool really needed this result — and it has the potential to turn an awful season into one which at least has a happy ending.
The team which won the Champions League two years ago and which topped the Premier League by a huge margin a year later was in danger of not even qualifying for Europe, and Klopp desperately needed his players to finally deliver at Old Trafford, having failed to win there in his tenure so far.
Thankfully for the German his men did deliver — and the result gives them vital momentum going into the final three fixtures, away at West Brom on Sunday, away at Burnley on May 19 and at home at Anfield, in front of a crowd at last, against Crystal Palace on the final day of the season.
Fans lucky enough to attend that match will no doubt find it impossible not to cast their minds back to the same fixture last year when goals from Alexander-Arnold, Firmino, Salah, and Sadio Mane all but sealed the title in June with a breathless 4-0 victory in front of an ecstatic Kop.
Oh, what a memory that was — and what a team it was.
Finally, those same supporters will have a chance to cheer their heroes again, and although it cannot feel the same as ending 30 years of hurt, an opportunity to spur them to a Champions League place is now potentially on offer.
It may be small consolation in a miserable season, but if Liverpool want to rediscover their old selves next year — and get back on that perch — it is absolutely vital.