Jurgen Klopp took his Liverpool players across to their jubilant followers at the final whistle at St Mary’s.
He would embrace each one of them, heaping praise on the wily old-timer James Milner, his match-winner Joel Matip, exhausted captain Jordan Henderson and “brilliant” Roberto Firmino before turning to his supporters. Behind the choreographed, trademark triple fist-pump is a carefully-devised plan.
So many changes in this penultimate game of the Premier League season was never a sign of surrender, just of restructure.
Witness how Klopp’s mood darkened after referee Martin Atkinson refused to award a foul when Lyanco challenged Diogo Jota in the build-up to Nathan Redmond’s opener. The tension was still there towards the very end as Milner was belatedly awarded a free-kick after a Southampton corner was the initial verdict.
Every decision counts at this stage, and yet even in the pursuit of history comes a dose of realism. Injuries, fatigue and the frantic nature of an intense schedule comes with the territory when fighting on all fronts.
The iron will and relentless super-substance of this remarkable squad, however, made Tuesday’s 2-1 win at Southampton never truly feel in any doubt. There’s is a collective mindset. A change in personnel but not of principles. For Klopp, there was no risk in his rotation, just full faith in his “Ferraris in the garage”.
Klopp opted to make nine changes following Saturday’s grueling FA Cup final win over Chelsea and was without a host of star names, including Sadio Mane and injured duo Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker and defender Ibrahima Konate were the only men retained from the shootout success at Wembley, during which Van Dijk and Salah were forced off with knee and groin problems respectively.
It was only the third time that Mane and Salah had both been absent in the 189 Premier League games since the Egypt forward arrived in 2017, adding to the victories over Brentford and Crystal Palace during the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
Now is not the time to feel the nerves or to change a winning system. Trent Alexander-Arnold has won it all, at 23. Sixty-one matches down this term, what’s another two?
“It’s why we’re in the game,” a relaxed Klopp exclusively tells Sky Sports. “It’s a very special situation and you can never really plan for it. It’s not a situation I feel we’ll reach many times in our lives, having already won two competitions and with two more to go.
“It’s absolutely incredible to be sat here with two games to play. It felt like five minutes ago it was seven games. The time has gone so quick but let’s see what we can achieve from here.”
Liverpool remain in contention for an unprecedented quadruple and welcome Wolves to Anfield on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, hoping Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa can do them a major favour away to Manchester City.
Having already lifted the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, Klopp will hope to welcome back some of his star men for the tantalising weekend climax before turning his attentions to the Champions League final with Real Madrid on May 28.
His reserves have taken Liverpool’s tilt at a second Premier League title to a final day. Even the understudies have played their part in this march to potential immortality.
Whoever is picked has resembled a side that is a prototype of everything Klopp stands for – meticulous preparation, wide full-backs and hard work for the team sculpted on the training pitches.
Witness the importance of Kostas Tsimikas’ set-pieces in the past two games, his winning spot-kick against Chelsea at Wembley followed by his outswinging corner which led to Matip’s winning goal at Southampton. Fine margins have decided this year’s two domestic cup finals.
Two contests with Chelsea that when extra time and stoppages are considered have felt more like three. Two strikes of a penalty kick, but Liverpool are a title-winning machine. They won the FA Cup without Salah, Van Dijk and Fabinho on the pitch.
The two finals have shown that fringe players matter. The first will be remembered for Caoimhin Kelleher. The second for Tsmikas. Klopp’s faith in his wider team has been rewarded.
After losing more than 1,500 days to injury during the 2020/21 season, something had to change. Just 1,008 days have been lost this time around, and crucially days lost to ‘substantial injuries’ – defined as those lasting more than nine days – have almost halved from 1,409 to 841.
The use of computer algorithms – artificial intelligence tool Zone7 – have helped predict injury risk and recommend appropriate responses, and Klopp is heeding the advice even at a time of such heightened emotion.
“No not yet,” he says when asked if he has a fixed idea of his starting line-up on Sunday. “We had to rest players after the FA Cup final, there was no chance of playing close to the same team so it was wonderful to see how the boys dealt with the situation.
“Humankind is like this. They are only human beings and we tend to feel sorry for ourselves thinking we should always deliver in these kind of situations but the boys really delivered and were incredible [at Southampton].
“There’s no need to rest now for the weekend. It’s just a normal but very important football game. I wouldn’t say what the line-up will be but we have no idea at this moment.
“We have a team in charge of telling me who is available and then I’ll make a decision when I know from which group I can choose from.”
Having closed a 14-point gap to City from January, Klopp’s team remain on course to register 90-plus points for the third time in four seasons – a tally which would usually guarantee top spot were it not for the continued excellence of Guardiola’s side.
“For sure, we push each other,” Klopp says on Guardiola. “It’s not only Manchester City, but it’s especially them. I’d have to say now that my respect for Chelsea couldn’t be bigger to be honest. It’s been a difficult season for them, obviously with what’s been going on there but finishing third is still massive.
I don’t think they would have the sort of points tallies we’ve seen if it wasn’t for us and vice versa. It’s as good as it gets in football.
“We had a difficult season last year for different reasons but we’ve shown you can build on that. For Pep and I, it’s been like this. I don’t think they would have the sort of points tallies we’ve seen if it wasn’t for us and vice versa. It’s as good as it gets in football.
“You want to have these kind of fights for the Premier League with the last matchday and two teams fighting for the title. There’s still two teams fighting for the Champions League, two in the fight to stay up and even two teams competing to qualify for the Europa League.
“You cannot wish for more from the final round of matches. There’s a lot at stake.”
‘100 per cent Stevie would like us to be champions’
The fact Gerrard, for whom the Premier League was the only winner’s medal missing from his career at Anfield, will be in the opposition dugout at the Etihad provides a more fantastical addition to a thrilling climax.
While Klopp joked that he would have liked to have seen Gerrard on the pitch, he insists he has not given much thought to how Sunday afternoon will play out.
“No I haven’t [felt tempted to speak to Gerrard],” he says. “It’s really not necessary. Stevie is manager of Aston Villa, and the only way I can judge a situation is by putting myself in his shoes. If I were Villa manager, I’d want to go and win at City for my club, as difficult as that is.
“The problem with Man City is that if you’re not on top of your game when you play them, you can get a proper knock. They can score four or five as they have done in the last few games. If you’re on top of your game, you have a chance to get a draw but it’s 100 per cent clear what Aston Villa has to do to fulfil their own targets.
“On top of that, we all know Stevie. It’s 100 per cent clear that he would like us to be champions – but he’s not playing. There are players out on the pitch, and unfortunately Stevie isn’t one of them!
“I think last night was a good example in Crystal Palace. They lost in the end, but the way they played was incredible. People may ask, what were they playing for? Everton were fighting to stay in the league but Palace showed up like they were going for absolutely everything.
“It was a great game and that’s what you expect on the last matchday. It’s what Aston Villa will deliver and the rest we’ll see.
“We’ll know what’s happening from the stands. There’s no plan in place because it makes no sense for us. We know we have to win our game anyway. There’s no scenario where we could lose and become champions, it’s not possible.
“There’s not even a scenario where a draw would be enough… well, almost! Maybe if City lose 25-0 or something [City have a six-goal superior goal difference]. It would be pretty extraordinary, so we know we have to win the game which is difficult as it is, which is why we’re fully focused on us and not on other things.
“As far as I know, Bruno [Lage] and Wolves want to finish on a high, even if qualifying for Europe is no longer possible. I remember when we played at theirs, Divock Origi scored a late great goal. Their defending was outstanding so I’ll expect something similar and it’ll be the opposite of easy.”
‘After 61 games, it’d be crazy to change things now’
Klopp signed a new two-year extension only last month meaning he will stay at Liverpool until the summer of 2026 at least. The passion still burns brightly as he looks to add to his legacy. Witness his sprints down the touchline, cheeks puffing, cajoling his players before the no-holds-barred frankness of his post-match interviews.
Klopp is a man with football running through his veins, from guiding Mainz to their first promotion to the Bundesliga in 2004, through his seven years at Borussia Dortmund to Anfield, where he is now the Premier League’s longest-serving manager.
He has always looked at ways of providing a release for his staff from the stresses and strains of competing on multiple fronts. He installed at Melwood a padel tennis court and has taken that to Kirkby at the club’s new state-of-the-art training centre.
Alongside assistant Pep Lijnders, he has developed a secret sporting passion – and quite a fierce pairing. It is the “perfect way to switch off”, but Klopp is not resting now. With City still in his sights, the smallest details can make the biggest difference.
“There’s too much to do so we haven’t actually played too many times together,” Klopp remarks when asked how he and Lijnders are alleviating the pressure.
“We always have press conferences, dinner or the boys are then waiting for their analysis meeting. When I came in today, there were shirts everywhere so we have also a signing session so we don’t play often enough.
English Quadruple attempts
|League Cup||FA Cup||League||Champions League||Bid ended|
|Liverpool (2021-22)||Won||Won||Second||Final vs Real Madrid||Will last till at least May 17|
|Chelsea (2006-07)||Won||Won||Second||Semi-finals||May 1|
|Man Utd (2008-09)||Won||Semi-finals||Won||Runners-up||April 19|
|Man City (2018-19)||Won||Won||Won||Quarter-finals||April 17|
|Man City (2020-21)||Won||Semi-finals||Won||Runners-up||April 17|
“It’s never for cooling the nerves down but just because we love the sport. For the players, it’s just a normal procedure with meetings and training sessions. After 61 games of a routine, it would be a bit crazy to change it now or try something completely different.
“If I were a player and I saw my manager changing a formula, I’d think the boss is nervous – and I’m not, so why should I act nervous? I’m completely fine with the situation and I know what’s at stake. I know it’s not a big chance, but there’s a possibility which I’ve never needed more in my life so we’ll give it a go.
“I’m pretty sure City, when we were 1-0 down [against Southampton], some of them would’ve thought the result would follow and it would be cool. We then turned the game around so they are under pressure as well.”
‘Victory parade incredibly important’
The odds are still stacked against them, as they were three years ago when an identical scenario arose, but Liverpool aren’t giving up the chase of City. Klopp’s Ferraris have taken this brilliant title race to the very last lap.
“We’ve got two of the best teams we’ve ever seen in the Premier League,” Jamie Carragher said. “It’s fitting that we go to the final day as these two teams deserve that. There is no doubt Manchester City watched the Southampton game thinking, ‘Liverpool will you please go away.’ But they’re still there and they’re still fighting.”
Klopp is still there smiling in City’s rear-view mirror. A place in history is still on the line. A trophy parade is confirmed for May 29 – a day after the Stade de France showpiece.
Liverpool’s Quadruple attempts
|League Cup||FA Cup||League||European Cup||Bid ended|
|1982-83||Won||Fifth round||Won||Quarter-finals||Feb 20|
|1981-82||Won||Fifth round||Won||Quarter-finals||Feb 13|
|1983-84||Won||Fourth round||Won||Won||Jan 29|
|1980-81||Won||Fourth round||Fifth||Won||Jan 24|
But were Liverpool to falter now, by not winning the Premier League despite the possibility of 92 points and by losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid, would Klopp deem winning two domestic cups a successful season?
“The parade is incredibly important,” he stresses. “This season is very special and maybe we have different things to celebrate. Nobody is forced to go there. If some people decide it’s only the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup [that is being paraded], they can stay at home – no problem.
“For me, it’s the Carabao Cup, it’s the FA Cup, for me it’s potentially whatever is coming up. And for me, it’s also about celebrating life as well. To just be there, as it’s a really good time to be a Red.
“We should not waste opportunities, and on top of that two years ago we became champions but we couldn’t do it. I said at the time whenever we have the chance to celebrate then we would.
“If some people in the crowd want to celebrate that [winning the Premier League in 2020] then that’s fine. They’re happily invited, and what the outside world thinks about it I couldn’t care less.
“This club is so special. It’s our life, our love and it’s our club – we can do whatever we want. We want to celebrate more than the two cup competitions and we’ll give everything to celebrate more, but if not, then it’s still for me enough to go to the parade with all we have.”
Whatever happens between now and 6pm on Sunday, it has been one of the greatest campaigns in English football. Should Liverpool’s domestic campaign ultimately end in disappointment, you can guarantee Klopp will use it as a springboard to deliver in game 63 next weekend in Paris.
Come what may, there will no ripping up of the template, no drastic changes to Klopp’s well-oiled fleet of Ferraris.
What are the final day title race permutations?
Manchester City (90 points) have already won three Premier League titles on the final day of the season – in 2012, 2014 and 2019 – and they could do so again this Sunday. Pep Guardiola’s men lead Liverpool by a solitary point.
So this means:
- Manchester City will win the Premier League if they beat Aston Villa on Sunday – or match Liverpool’s result at home to Wolves.
- Should City draw against Villa, Liverpool will be crowned champions if they beat Wolves.
- Given their inferior goal difference, a draw would only be enough for Liverpool to be champions on Sunday if Manchester City lose by a seven-goal margin to Aston Villa.
An unlikely play-off for the Premier League title is still possible, in the event of both Man City and Liverpool finishing on the same number of points, goal difference, goals scored and goals conceded – with their head-to-head record already level.
For that play-off to happen, Manchester City would need to lose 6-0 at home to Villa, with Liverpool and Wolves drawing 5-5 at Anfield.
Sky Bet odds to win Premier League…
Follow all the twists and turns at the top and bottom of the Premier League on the final day as Sky Sports show three live games, while Soccer Special on Sky Sports News will broadcast all the goals from all the games as they go in.
Sky Sports will simultaneously broadcast Manchester City vs Aston Villa on Sky Sports Main Event, Liverpool vs Wolves on Sky Sports Premier League and Brentford vs Leeds United on Sky Sports Football and Showcase, with coverage starting at 3pm ahead of the 4pm kick-off.
But Sky Sports viewers will also be able to watch goals from the other seven games, including Tottenham vs Norwich, Arsenal vs Everton and Burnley vs Newcastle, as part of our live coverage and also on Soccer Special on Sky Sports News.