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Liverpool in 2021: So close, yet so far?

A lot has happened at Liverpool over the past year.

A disastrous run of home defeats, an injury nightmare at centre-back, a late recovery to secure top four, goalkeepers scoring last-gasp winners, embarrassing their biggest rivals – there’s been a lot to talk about.

They go into the new year in second place. Here is a recap of their 2021.

Best player – Mohamed Salah

Trent Alexander-Arnold can consider himself unlucky to miss out on this accolade, having also had a sensational year. However, Mohamed Salah simply could not be ignored.

Even when the Reds struggled at the beginning of the calendar year, Salah was still scoring goals. He ended up just one behind Harry Kane in the Golden Boot race.

But it’s this season where the Egyptian has made an impression. He has arguably been the world’s best player in the 2021/22 campaign, hitting 22 in all competitions as well as nine assists. He currently leads the league in both goals and assists.

If he manages to maintain these obscene standards, he could give himself a real chance at winning the Ballon d’Or.

Best game – Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool

Liverpool were enjoying a very strong start to the campaign when they travelled to Old Trafford. They were unbeaten in their opening 12 games, winning nine.

By contrast, Manchester United hadn’t been as convincing. They had lost four of their first 11 and often relied on individual brilliance to get them through games.

The game went as per the form book, as Jurgen Klopp’s men inflicted a humiliating defeat on their bitter rivals. Naby Keita opened the scoring early on, finishing from Salah’s through ball.

Not long afterwards, their lead was doubled. Alexander-Arnold drilled a low cross towards the back post, and Diogo Jota converted to make it 2-0.

Then Salah got in on the act, adding two more before half time. He tapped in at the near post from Keita’s cross and then swept in at the near post after being teed up by Jota.

After the break, the winger completed his hat-trick, racing onto Jordan Henderson’s brilliant through ball before poking past David de Gea.

There were no more goals, but Man Utd’s misery was compiled even further when Paul Pogba was sent off for a nasty challenge on Keita.

Worst game – Liverpool 1-4 Manchester City

The beginning of 2021 was a bit of a disaster for Liverpool, losing consecutive home games against Burnley and Brighton and Hove Albion.

Meanwhile, Manchester City had won all ten games of the new year, conceding just twice in the process. This allowed them to take a commanding lead in the title race.

For the visitors, this was an opportunity to make a statement. For the hosts, this was their last chance to salvage their hopes of defending the league title.

There wasn’t much to talk about in the first half. Ilkay Gundogan blazed a penalty over the crossbar after Fabinho brought down Raheem Sterling, but that was pretty much it from the opening 45 minutes.

The German made up for his spot-kick in the second half with a brace. He broke the deadlock in the 49th minute, slamming in the rebound after Alisson had denied Phil Foden.

Salah levelled things 14 minutes later from the penalty spot after being pulled back by Ruben Dias. But Liverpool’s joy lasted just ten minutes, as Gundogan grabbed his second to put Man City back in front.

Alisson’s poor clearance found Foden, and he danced into the box and squared for the midfielder to tap in from close range.

And the goalkeeper was once again at fault just moments later as the Cityzens made it 3-1. He passed the ball straight to Bernardo Silva, who clipped a ball to the back post, leaving Sterling with a simple header against his former club.

The away side put the finishing touches on a dazzling performance in the final ten minutes. Foden, who had been excellent all evening, picked the ball up out on the right, worked his way into the box, and fired a thunderous strike into the back of the net from a tight angle.

It was this match that effectively ended the title race. Pep Guardiola’s men went on to cruise to their third Premier League trophy in four years, finishing 12 points clear of second-placed Man Utd.

As for Liverpool, this was the third in a run of six home defeats in a row. They later lost to Everton, Chelsea and Fulham.

Transfer business

Not a whole lot to report.

To deal with their injury crisis at centre-back, they brought in Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies in January. The former made little impact before returning to Schalke, while the latter is yet to make an appearance for the club.

In the summer, the Reds made just one signing, bringing in Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig. The 22-year-old has looked encouraging at the back, proving to be a capable partner to Virgil van Dijk.

Georginio Wijnaldum departed after five years, leaving on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. It was hoped that Harvey Elliott could be his replacement, but the former Blackburn Rovers loanee suffered an ankle injury early in the season.

Xherdan Shaqiri was also sold to Lyon in the summer, while youth products Harry Wilson and Taiwo Awoniyi left for Fulham and Union Berlin respectively.

How did the manager do?

Given the circumstances, Klopp did a reasonably good job to secure Champions League football for 2021/22.

He had lost Van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injuries, while Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson also suffered long spells on the sidelines. The likes of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams had to be fast-tracked to the first team to compensate.

And his start to the new league season has been mostly positive. They’re looking like one of the best teams in Europe again.

However, Klopp has also suffered some disappointments. His side were knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round by Man Utd and lost to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

In addition, while they have played well this season, it is still looking like it won’t be enough. At the time of writing, they sit six points behind leaders Man City.

Klopp will have an opportunity to get his hands on some silverware in the Carabao Cup over the coming weeks. Liverpool face Arsenal in the semi-final, then either Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea in the final should they progress.

It’s a competition that the German hasn’t taken too seriously during his time in England. It should be interesting to see whether he changes this stance having got this far.

Overall consensus

It’s been a relatively positive year for Liverpool. Having looked down and out back in March, they did well to recover and qualify for the Champions League. And since the beginning of the new season, they have started to look back to their best.

But some frustration remains. They end the year without a trophy and have lost pace with Man City in the title race. It could be a case of being good, but not quite good enough.

They have been very impressive, although they will be desperate to get another piece of silverware in the cabinet. It should be interesting to see whether they can accomplish this in 2022.

Read also: Arsenal in 2021 – A mixed year, but hope for the future.

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