Not with a boom, but with a whimper. Liverpool overcame the autumn slog, fought past well drilled Augsburg, saw off rivals Manchester United, threw caution to the wind against Borussia Dortmund, outclassed Villarreal. For a time, they seemed favourites to lift the Europa League trophy.
Then a bad goal to start the second. Alberto Moreno beaten, defenders missing in the middle. And everything fell apart. The game wasn’t over, but Liverpool played like it was. Played as they had in a second half collapse against Southampton that previously stood as their worst moment under new manager Jürgen Klopp.
"We never started in the second half and it’s devastating," was James Milner’s dejected reaction to the defeat on Wednesday evening. "We didn't show near our ability and that’s the biggest disappointment. We were ready, we made sure we said the right things at half-time. We gave a sloppy goal away and never got back into it.”
Liverpool have been on the other side of results like this. Games where the opponent is favoured and on top but a result seems fated. In some ways, Liverpool were on the other side in a result like this the last time they won a European trophy, and when the whistle blew to end the first half, there really only looked one winner.
Then, the underdogs from Spain—underdogs with a chance to win their third consecutive Europa League trophy—got their goal. And then another. And another. And then game was over. Some questionable decisions by the referee may have played a role, but in the end it was only Liverpool’s players to blame for falling apart.
"It’s nothing to do with the referee, it is about us,” added Milner. “We didn't do it on the night it mattered. We didn't manage to get over the line. It’s a double blow not to be in Europe next season. We go into two finals and lost both, next time we need to finish the job. We showed character in the competition just not today.”
It’s a loss that hurts all the more for the fact that Liverpool showed such character against United and Dortmund and Villarreal. It’s a loss that hurts more for the fact that it leaves Liverpool out of Europe entirely next season. It hurts that at the end of 63 games there is nothing. No silverware. No top four finish. No Europe.
Still, there is hope. There was a European final. There were victories over Villarreal and Dortmund and United and Augsburg. There was a deep run in the League Cup and other moments to show what the club could aspire to, at their best, under Jürgen Klopp. Next time, then, James. Next time.