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Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result

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After a forgetful 2020-21 season, there were a few questions over Liverpool’s qualities and their squad depth ahead of the new campaign. It was a quiet summer transfer window as well for the Reds last year, with only Ibrahima Konate coming in from RB Leipzig for a fee of £36 million.

But there was a lot to be excited about – the return of previously injured players (Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk) and the youth being more involved (Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, Tyler Morton, Kaide Gordon).

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In the opening few matches, it was clear for all fans to see – Jurgen Klopp had returned to set high standards with his group of ‘mentality monsters’ to dominate matches. Playing his favoured 4-3-3 with a false nine, Diogo Jota between Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane; the midfield trio being swapped around and experimented with in each game.

A fine start to the season for Liverpool

In their opening 10 Premier League matchdays, Liverpool had 22 points and were sitting second in the table. These matches included four draws and six wins. The points dropped were against Chelsea (1-1 at home), Brentford (3-3 away), Manchester City (2-2 at home) and Brighton & Hove Albion (2-2 at home).

The highlights of this period were the two 5-0 wins away from home against Watford and Manchester United. An interesting takeaway from the matches in which Liverpool dropped points was that the midfield trio in all four of these games saw two senior players along with a young midfielder (Harvey Elliott vs Chelsea, and Curtis Jones vs Brentford, Man City and Brighton).

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Not taking anything away from the youngsters, but the midfield choices were questioned in bigger games as Liverpool progressed into the season as well.

During this period, Liverpool were involved in two other competitions – four Champions League matches and two Carabao Cup games. These matches were what rescued the Reds’ season. The Premier League is a long 38-game season, where players seldom get rest.

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The Champions League and Carabao Cup matches worked as breathers for the players as this is where Klopp started rotating his squad, allowing the youngsters to show their quality as well. All four of the matches played resulted in a Liverpool victory with an aggregate score of 18-5. Klopp persisted with the same formation while allowing reserve players such as Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Caoimhin Kelleher and Joe Gomez to get their chance to shine alongside the promising youth.

Midseason slump

The next 10 Premier League matchdays were probably Liverpool’s worst run of form for the season. With two draws (2-2 vs Tottenham Hotspur away and 2-2 vs Chelsea away), two losses (3-2 vs West Ham United away and1-0 vs Leicester City away) and six wins, Liverpool continued to be second in the table but were 14 points away from first-placed Man City.

Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result

While the loss against West Ham could be considered a little unlucky, the loss against Leicester was the only time all season that the Reds wouldn’t score a goal. Salah missed a penalty, and the entire attack lacked the ambition to score goals. The draw against Spurs came at an unfortunate time due to COVID-19 hitting both teams and forcing Liverpool to be absent without several key players.

The draw against Chelsea was played on similar terms with this being the last game the African players would take part in as they would be joining their international teammates for AFCON.

Liverpool were involved in three other competitions. Two more Champions League wins put the Reds on top of their group (six wins out of six). A fiery Carabao Cup quarter-final match against Leicester City ended 3-3, with Liverpool going through on penalties.

This particular game gave many youngsters the chance to shine, with the likes of Billy Koumetio (CB), Conor Bradley (RB), Tyler Morton (CM), Neco Williams (RW) and Owen Beck (CB) all making an appearance. Neco Williams, previously seen as a fullback, started his first game as a winger, allowing him to explore his attacking tendencies.

The turnaround and chasing a quadruple

The January transfer market saw Liverpool go in for talented winger Luis Diaz from Porto and secured him a fee of €45 million excluding add-ons. This boosted the squad majorly in terms of quality and morale. Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah would all be missing a month’s action.

Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result

The rest of the squad needed to keep accelerating each game as they were still in the race for all four trophies, the quadruple – a feat no English team has previously achieved.

The next 10 matchdays proved to be their most fruitful of the season. Having won all three Premier League games without their African players in January, it was only on 13 February 2022 that Jurgen Klopp had a complete squad to choose from. This was the first instance all season where all the players were fit and in contention to play.

The remaining seven games from this period, which ended in the first week of April, were all won by the Reds. Klopp’s side brought down the 14-point gap with Manchester City to just one point. Out of those 10 games, eight were won by keeping a clean sheet. The defense had started to click, the attackers were scoring, and the players had healthy competition going on.

There were three other competitions Liverpool took part in throughout this period – the Champions League, Carabao Cup and the FA Cup. All of these matches accounted for an additional nine games in the last three months. Two Champions League games (Round of 16 vs Inter Milan, 2-1 on aggregate), three Carabao Cup games (semi-final vs Arsenal, 2-0 on aggregate and final vs Chelsea) and four FA Cup games.

Klopp’s strategy of employing primarily young players for these fixtures helped the first team members catch up on some deserved rest, playing close to 2-3 matches in an 8-10 day schedule.

The end of the season

The final eight Premier League matchdays started on 10 April and ended on 22 May. The title race was on, influential players were changing games and the team was converting each match into an easy three points. Two out of these eight games ended up being draws (2-2 vs City away and 1-1 vs Spurs at home).

Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Champions League – Group B – FC Porto v Liverpool – Estadio do Dragao, Porto, Portugal – September 28, 2021 Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their third goal with Virgil van Dijk REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

The same problem again, the midfield unable to control the tempo vs City and an off game for a few players vs Spurs. The points difference continued to stay at one leading up to the final matchday. It was a repeat of the 2018-19 season, where City won the title by a one-point margin. Key fixtures during this period included wins against direct rivals Manchester United and Everton.

The squad was involved in six other fixtures, which included four Champions League matches (quarter-final vs Benfica, 6-4 on aggregate, and semi-final vs Villarreal, 5-2 on aggregate) and two FA Cup matches (semi-final vs Man City, 3-2, and final vs Chelsea). Due to these fixtures being of importance for the Quadruple, there was not a lot of rotation possible, so we saw a lot of key players playing almost all of the last 16 games in the last two months.

The finals

Liverpool played three cup finals last season, two against Chelsea (Carabao Cup and FA Cup) and one against Real Madrid (Champions League). The problem the team faced all season, despite them having a tremendous run, was the lack of goals in the finals.

Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result

The Reds had zero goals throughout their three finals. They also weren’t able to win a single game out of the six they played against in the top 4 of the Premier League. While the Carabao Cup and FA Cup were won on penalties, Real Madrid won the Champions League by a narrow 1-0 margin.

The lack of a proper No. 9 hurt Liverpool in the finals and eventually cost them the quadruple. While this false nine system works in longer runs, these one-off games are rarely influenced by false nines. When you play against teams with rigid defences like Chelsea or Real Madrid, your formation must be flexible. Klopp’s rigid and stubborn attitude towards formation and adapting to the opponent’s shape cost Liverpool the Champions League.

Player of season – Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah was by no means the only Liverpool player to have a great 2021-22 campaign – indeed, you could go right through the team and make a case for most of their regular starters.

Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result

Alisson Becker’s one-on-one expertise saved the Reds on numerous occasions, Trent Alexander-Arnold continued to enhance his reputation as a right-back legend in the making, while Andrew Robertson was just as impressive on the opposite flank. In the middle, Joel Matip – and Ibrahima Konate for the Champions League in general – were every bit as important as Virgil van Dijk this term.

In midfield, Thiago Alcantara reached another level during the second half of the season, while Fabinho underlined his importance to the team on a weekly basis.

Up front too, each of Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Salah himself had moments of the campaign when they could justifiably lay claim to being Liverpool’s most important attacker – and Mane in particular was perhaps more responsible than anyone for Liverpool’s incredible second half of the season.

However, when a team has the FWA Footballer of the Year and PFA Fans’ Player of the Year in their ranks, it is difficult to look past him for this award.

Salah directly contributed to 47 goals in just 51 appearances across all competitions, scoring 31 times and creating 16 more for his teammates, and while his form undoubtedly tailed off following his Africa Cup of Nations heartbreak, he still did enough to end the Premier League campaign as both the top scorer and the top assister in the division.

The 29-year-old’s Golden Boot was the third of his Liverpool career, with Thierry Henry now the only player in Premier League history to have won more, while he has now ended the season as Liverpool’s top scorer five years in a row – something only Michael Owen, Roger Hunt and Gordon Hodgson have ever managed before.

Salah scored 15 goals and registered six assists in his opening 12 outings of the season, and incredibly only failed to directly contribute to a goal in one of Liverpool’s first 17 Premier League games.

The Egyptian had a hand in no fewer than seven goals in Liverpool’s two league games against Manchester United alone – including a memorable hat-trick at Old Trafford – while Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Burnley were the only clubs against whom he failed to register either a goal or assist in the league.

Standout Result

There are no shortage of contenders for this award in a season where Liverpool were involved in three cup finals and enjoyed many memorable Premier League results.

The journey to Paris – if not the match itself – and both visits to Wembley are of course all high on the list, as are league wins over Leeds, Everton and the 4-0 hammering of Manchester United at Anfield. Even the 2-2 draw with Man City deserves to be in consideration despite the dropped points, such was the quality of the game.

However, while Man City are now Liverpool’s biggest rivals for silverware, there is still nothing quite like facing Manchester United, and the Reds’ 5-0 procession at Old Trafford will be talked about for years to come.

In one of the most one-sided editions of the famous fixture ever seen, Liverpool took the lead after only five minutes, doubled it after 13 and were incredibly four goals to the good by half time.

Liverpool 2021/22 Season Review: Star Player, Best Moment, Standout Result

Salah completed a 12-minute hat-trick either side of the interval by making it 5-0 to Liverpool five minutes into the second half, and at that stage it looked as though Klopp’s men could and would run up a cricket score.

However, they almost seemed to take pity on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as Man United retreated into damage limitation mode, keeping the ball and toying with their hosts for the remainder of the game, leaving Liverpool fans who wanted seven or eight – which at one stage looked likely yet alone merely realistic – slightly disappointed at ‘only’ winning 5-0.

Nevertheless, inflicting such humiliation on their greatest rivals – it was their biggest ever away win over Manchester United – will go down in history, and the Liverpool fans will not allow their Manchester counterparts to forget it any time soon.

Best Moment

As with the standout result, the list of possibilities for this award was very long given how much success Liverpool enjoyed this season.

The two domestic cup finals take some beating, particularly with the added drama of the penalty shootouts on both occasions, but the scenes at the end-of-season open-top bus parade may live even longer in the memory.

Many might have been expecting a more subdued atmosphere given that it was less than 24 hours after not just a disappointing defeat in the Champions League final, but also the preposterous chaos which preceded the final, but the Liverpool team were given a fitting send-off to the 2021-22 campaign.

Half a million people are thought to have lined the streets in celebration, and the joy of the players and coaching staff was clear to see, with captain Jordan Henderson even suggesting that it was one of the best days of his life.

While there were many great moments – from cup final wins to a 9-0 aggregate triumph over Manchester United – the parade encapsulated all of their success in one afternoon and allowed the fans to show just how highly they regard this special group of players.

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