Liverpool have needed the title too much and it has ended badly… this time it’s different

It was Jamie Carragher who best described how expectation can weigh so heavy on Liverpool that it crushes the soul. ‘We can sometimes dream too soon,’ he said. ‘We need to lose that.’ It was October 2010 at the time and the team were third.

This, in a sense, is the Liverpool way. The city’s heart is stitched to its sleeve and experience is lived in the raw. That legendary Steven Gerrard huddle, on the Anfield pitch after the 3-2 defeat of Manchester City in April 2014, was so typical. ‘This is gone. We go to Norwich, exactly the same, we go again. Come on!’ The city lapped it up. Someone scrawled Gerrard’s words on a bedsheet which was draped over the Melwood wall the next week.

What’s different this time is that the club have a manager with a force of personality to counteract the cloying expectation in a place, which comes after 28 years of waiting for another title. It wasn’t so much what Jurgen Klopp said on this subject which mattered late on Saturday night, as the way he said it.

Klopp has a way of wrapping up his menace in pretty words and a joke or two. There was a neat line from him about how he and we could swap jobs so we’d know how he felt about the relentless questions — with him ‘still earning the money I earn.’ Yet the underlying message was unmistakable. Don’t go there with your title talk. ‘The only thing that can get annoying after a while is answering the same questions,’ Klopp said.

‘So maybe you think a little bit about what you ask.’ He had taken 20 minutes or so to arrive to talk. Everything seemed designed to douse the fire.

Though Brendan Rodgers took Liverpool to extraordinary heights as they ran City so close five years back, this kind of talk was not his way. Rodgers wanted to be liked too much. 

He went with the emotional flow — no more in control of events in that crazy spring of 2014 than Gerrard, who two weeks after corralling the troops was so brutally and literally brought down to earth. On his beloved Anfield pitch, of all places. In a sense, Gerrard wanted the title too much.

Klopp brings greater perspective — the experience of an individual who has won titles and run this psychological gauntlet before. He has a way of enabling the players to enjoy the ride. 

As Liverpool led 5-1 on Saturday, Jordan Henderson blazed a shot over the Arsenal bar to the back of the Kop. The fans, in a time-honoured and unprintable way, asked what on earth that was. Henderson, one of multiple captains in this collective, was jogging back to his own half. He turned, raised his arms and flashed a smile.

The architect of the club’s greatest triumphs, Bob Paisley, would certainly have approved. 

When Liverpool arrived in the dressing room 2-0 down at half-time to Aston Villa on Easter Monday 1979 — the single occasion in the title-winning 1978-79 season when the team conceded more than one goal — Paisley rounded on defender Alan Kennedy, whose discussion with newspaper journalists of a title possibility the previous day seemed reasonable, given that the team were six points clear.

‘This is all your fault,’ Paisley told Kennedy. ‘Never, ever say you’ve won something until you have the medal in your hand.’


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