Four weeks of football. Spread over four months. That’s far from normal, but in the end, nothing about the 2019-20 season was especially normal. From Liverpool’s runaway league lead heading into March to the global pandemic that then put the game on hold for three months to a conclusion to the season played in empty stadiums starting in June.
Having played a U23 side in the previous round’s replay against Shrewsbury, nobody quite knew what to expect here. Chelsea were a much bigger opponent, and there was a quarter-final to play for. But it had been clear for some time that Jürgen Klopp’s first, second, and third priorities this season were the league—followed in fourth, maybe, by the Champions League.
It wasn’t quite the U23s this time out, but there were more fringe players than first team regulars in the side, and with Chelsea running out a more established group the game always felt like it was tilting Chelsea’s way, as Liverpool had more of the ball but without their regulars couldn’t do a great deal with it and Chelsea had the better of the chances.
In the end, an early marker for Willian and a late goal for Ross Barkley sent the Reds out of the cup, and while it wasn’t a terrible result given those priorities, but it was another sub-par result or performance following the return from their winter break.
March 7th, Premier League
Liverpool 2–1 Bournemouth
Normal service was very briefly resumed in the league as Bournemouth came to town. Goals for Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah gave Liverpool all they’d need to hold off the pesky Cherries and earn another three points, taking their lead to a quite ridiculous 25 points over Manchester City—though with City having two games in hand.
Meanwhile, questions were being asked about coronavirus. For most people, the threat hadn’t been taken especially seriously before the beginning of March. Other flu-like viruses in recent years, things likes SARS or MERS, had gotten a great deal of media attention and in the end had made little impact on the majority of the global population, and the in general there seemed a belief that coronavirus, COVID-19, would inevitably go the same way in the end. Right up until it didn’t—something that happened very, very quickly.
On March 7th, the general belief was still that the season would be played out as scheduled, and even in the worst case scenario most thought Liverpool would be able to get to their matches against Everton and Crystal Palace before things—maybe, in a worst case scenario—had to be put on hold. Two days later, on March 9th, Serie A suspended play
March 11th, Champions League
Liverpool 2-3 Atletico Madrid [2-4 agg]
The second leg of Liverpool’s Round of 16 tie against Atletico Madrid was a surreal affair. Two days after Serie A had been suspended, there was still a cautious hope that the Premier League wouldn’t be impacted, and in Spain La Liga remained operating despite much of Spanish society beginning to shut down.
With that in mind, there were growing concerns—not least because Madrid, where thousands of fans would be travelling from, was a coronavirus hotspot. Their fans would be coming to Liverpool, passing through airports in Manchester and London, staying in local hotels and eating at restaurants and visiting tourist attractions. There were some—not many, but some—calls to shut down the match, or to at least bar the Atleti fans from travelling to it. Instead, it went ahead.
Gini Wijnaldum scored on the 43rd minute and the game hit 90 minutes with the sides level on aggregate, forcing extra time. When Roberto Firmino scored in the 94th, Liverpool were briefly through—until Marcos Llorente scored in the 97th. It was 2-1 to Liverpool on the night and 2-2 on aggregate but the away goal rule meant Liverpool were out if the scoreline didn’t change. Then, as they pushed forward, Llorente scored his second of the night in the 106th minute to seal the match for Atleti and eliminate the champions.
The next day, March 11th, play was suspended in La Liga. In England it was suspended on the 12th. On the 15th, the Champions League was suspended. Football, at least for the time being, was over.
June 21st, Premier League
Everton 0–0 Liverpool
Three months later, it returned in England looking very different. There were no fans in the stands, there was fake crowd noise, and there were questions as to whether it was entirely wise to be trying to resume. But, however different it was, it was at least football, and with it a chance for Liverpool to mathematically secure the title—not that even a permanently suspended season would have threatened it, such was their lead.
Their first game back, though, fell short of top entertainment. The players looked rusty, hardly surprising with many having spent the longest stretch ever away from the football pitch with the game on hold for three months, and in the end a rather dull nil-nil derby draw was played out.
June 24th, Premier League
Liverpool 4–0 Crystal Palace
Their next game following the restart was another matter. Their next game was Liverpool back to their best, drawing themselves up and digging deep and focusing for a flawless 90 minutes Trent Alexander-Arnold scored, then Mo Salah, then Fabinho hit a hammer blow before Mané capped things off. If one were to compile a list of Liverpool’s most complete, comprehensive games this season, Palace would be near the top of the list.
The only real downside was that with City playing the next night, it wasn’t a win that secured the title out on the pitch. That would have to wait for the next night, June 25th, when City took on Chelsea while Liverpool’s players gathered at a hotel and watched as a group. When the final whistle on that game blew, Chelsea were 2-1 winners and Liverpool were Premier League champions, winning number nineteen after thirty years—and with an extra three months of waiting tacked on the end of it due to a global pandemic.
Liverpool were champions, both the earliest ever by matchweek and the latest ever by calendar date. Liverpool were champions of the longest, strangest season in the history of the Premier League certainly and maybe in all the history of English football.