THE last time Manchester City pipped Liverpool to the Premier League title on the final day of the season, the margin was a single point — or 11 millimetres.
Jurgen Klopp still remembers it keenly — an extraordinary goal-line clearance by John Stones in City’s 2-1 victory at the Etihad which was Liverpool’s ONLY league defeat of that 2018-19 campaign.
If Sunday’s final day goes to form, with home wins for City and Liverpool leaving Pep Guardiola’s men a point clear again, this time Klopp will locate the fine margin for success and failure inside the wiring of referee Paul Tierney’s brain.
While recognising every team has several ‘if only’ moments during the course of a season, Klopp mentioned the Reds’ 2-2 draw at Tottenham on December 19.
The fact he had to start with teenager Tyler Morton in central midfield due to a Covid outbreak and the failure of Tierney, or his VAR Chris Kavanagh, to award a stonewall straight red to Harry Kane for a reckless first-half challenge on Andy Robertson, who was later sent off himself.
Last summer, we were expecting Kane to settle the title race as a Manchester City player.
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Instead, he netted twice when Spurs defeated City 3-2 in February.
But Klopp also readily recalls the moment when Kane escaped a sending off against his side.
Harry Kane was not sent off for this tackle on Andy Robertson
Klopp’s mind was whirring as he analysed the title race, after his second string had secured an impressive comeback victory at Southampton on Tuesday, to set up Sunday’s climax, when City face Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa and his Quadruple-chasers host Wolves.
This title race has been magnificent but England’s undisputed ‘Big Two’ have not been as relentless as they were three years ago, when Liverpool won their final nine league games but City managed 14 straight victories to edge them out.
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Klopp mentioned Stones’ clearance in 2019 and he referenced the “madness, absolute madness” of Liverpool winning 15 and drawing three of their 18 fixtures in the second half of this season.
The Anfield boss added that this was “the only way to keep the distance to City like this” — and with his fingers he indicated the tiniest of margins.
Like any partisan football man, Klopp’s mind is quick to recall misfortune, while swift to forget moments of good luck.
He recalled away games at Spurs and Chelsea either side of Christmas, which both ended in 2-2 draws, when the Kop were suffering through Covid absences.
For the Spurs game, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara were all positive for the virus, while Jordan Henderson was also out with illness.
Jurgen Klopp’s side need to hope Aston Villa get a result against Man City on Sunday, while Liverpool beat Wolves
And while Klopp expressed his “love” for Morton, the 19-year-old has not featured in the Premier League since.
Klopp mentioned “when Robbo got a red card and Kane didn’t” — as Robertson had a straight red awarded by VAR Kavanagh, after he failed to do the same for Kane’s wild challenge earlier on.
But Kane had already fired Spurs into a 1-0 lead by that point, while the scoring had finished by the time Robertson received his marching orders.
If City defeat Villa on Sunday, though, that Spurs away game will be the match which lingers in Klopp’s thoughts.
Perhaps even more if Liverpool defeat Real Madrid in the Champions League final and miss out on the Quad by a single league point.
But Klopp was adamant the Reds, with most of his first-choice players well-rested, will be fully focused on defeating Wolves because: “If we have one ear in Manchester, suddenly Jimenez bang!”
But, as for the prospect of a miracle from Liverpool legend Gerrard at the Etihad, Klopp did not sound hopeful, especially given that Villa host Burnley tonight with almost no recovery time before they face the champions.
He said: “They play Burnley, then they must collect the bones and go again on Sunday.
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Fixture scheduling, Covid absences, refereeing mistakes — every club has their moans over the course of a season.
And if Liverpool fall just a point short, Klopp will not be slow in airing his frustrations.
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