Up until the new year, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds were full steam ahead, looking like Chelsea’s closest challengers in 2nd. Fast forward five months, and the Reds have dropped off the pace. A combination of injuries and lack of depth ultimately cost Klopp’s first title charge.
What was more frustrating for the manager and Liverpool fans was how the Reds did not get the points they either thought they had or should’ve gotten in some of the more “winnable” games. Here are five what-if games of the past season, five games which could, if swung towards the way of the Reds, could’ve resulted in a very different season.
Southampton 0-0 Liverpool
By this time in mid-November, the Reds were flying high in the league, and could not have expected what they would have to endure at the hands of Claude Puel’s men for this game and the rest of the season.
Difficult as a St. Mary’s fixture was, Klopp’s men had just come off a three-match winning run, most recent was a 6-1 drubbing of Watford. Confidence was high, but 15 shots, 2 on target and 90 minutes later, the Reds were left wondering how they had only left with a point.
After all, bar ex-Saint Adam Lallana, this was Liverpool’s full-strength side, with Daniel Sturridge coming on late in the game. Roberto Firmino dragged a shot wide when one-v-one with Fraser Forster, while another ex-Saint Nathaniel Clyne could’ve won the game with a storming header that flashed just wide.
This was probably the game that highlighted the quality of Saints centre-back Virgil van Dijk to Reds fans and manager. On hindsight, this was Liverpool’s best chance to score against Southampton in all of the 360 minutes played against the Saints this season.
Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool
Just two games after the St. Mary’s stalemate, the Reds returned to the south coast to face Eddie Howe’s side. An absolutely dominant first-half saw the Reds race to a 2-0 lead thanks to Sadio Mane and Divock Origi. What followed was an absolute shocker, probably the Reds’ worse half of the season.
Howe sent on Ryan Fraser, who won a penalty off James Milner only a few seconds later. Emre Can did restore the Reds’ two-goal lead shortly after, and at 3-1, that should’ve been that.
However, with Mane withdrawn and the Reds dropping back, Fraser and co. came to life. Two quick fire goals saw Bournemouth level, with Reds fans feeling like two points was lost. Worse was to come when Nathan Ake poked home after a spill by Loris Karius.
One point became none and Karius was one game away from being consigned to the Reds’ Premier League bench for the rest of the season.
Sunderland 2-2 Liverpool
Another game which the Reds arrived on an impressive winning run – this time at 4 – Klopp’s men looked odds on favourites to do the double over David Moyes’ bottom feeder Sunderland side. All seemed to go to plan when Daniel Sturridge headed the Reds into the lead.
A combination of Giorgino Wijnaldum and Ragnar Klavan resulted in a Sunderland penalty, which Jermaine Defoe duly dispatched. The Reds laboured for a winner, and thought they had one when player of the season Mane tapped in from close range.
Yet a foul from substitute Lucas at the edge of the box led to the free-kick which was thumped into Mane’s arm. Defoe stepped up and Liverpool dropped another two vital points.
Fatigue and lack of rotation were some reasons put forth by fans, and Klopp will no doubt have looked at this game as the turning point in the Reds’ season. What followed was a run of one win in six league games before the turnaround in form against Arsenal in MARCH – with three defeats to relegation-threatened sides Swansea, Hull and Leicester.
Liverpool 2-3 Swansea City
The Reds hoped to turn the corner at home to Sunderland’s fellow relegation-threatened side Swansea City. Under a new manager Paul Clement, the Reds should’ve been confident enough. However, after a subdued first half and two quick fire Fernando Llorente goals early in the second half, Liverpool found themselves in a sticky spot once again.
Yet they rallied, with Firmino providing the magical touch to drag his side level. At this point, the Reds were on the up, and with the backing of the home crowd, should’ve sealed the comeback, turning no points into three.
As the Reds poured forward in search of the winner, a sucker punch was to follow with Gylfi Sigurdsson prodding home after a kind deflection off Klavan. With the Reds’ title challenge all but up in smoke, this confidence-damaging defeat was just the start of a seven day period which saw Klopp’s men relinquish all hopes of silverware this season.
Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace
After the dreadful form of the first two months in 2017, the Reds regained some resemblance of form and managed to power themselves into a good position for Champions League qualification – the minimum target this year despite expectations soaring after a brilliant first half of the season.
Two away wins on the bounce, at bogey sides Stoke and West Brom no less, the Reds were looking to make it three in three against Sam Allardyce’s men, this time at Anfield. But as with returning old boys, Christian Benteke’s two goals cancelled out Philippe Coutinho’s brilliant free-kick.
The flow of the match highlighted a recurring problem for Klopp’s men the entire season – slow on the ball, too many touches, no ideas to penetrate two banks of five. The Reds could’ve strengthen their bid for a top four spot, maybe even 3rd, with three points here. But as with the entire season, the Reds once again faltered against a relegation-threatened side.