Liverpool started the 2020-21 season looking to defend their first domestic title of the Premier League era. They ended it in a scramble to finish in the top four.
As much of a downgrade as that might have been from pre-season expectations, nobody at the club feels disappointed now according to assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders. In fact, given the difficulties of the past year, there is a sense of achievement in it.
“If you’d asked us on the first day of the season, the answer would be of course not,” Lijnders said when asked if top four was the target last summer. “But if you ask me now it feels we became a champion with the way we finished the season.
“The reason for that is because the pressure we had in the last ten games was immense, but we showed a champions’ heart and character. And the conclusion? Our journey is not ending.”
That last part is important. While top four might not have been the goal going in, the determination shown by the team to get there in the end by taking 26 of 30 points in their final ten games was a reminder of what they’re capable of.
For all Liverpool’s struggles, when it mattered most this group—still missing all three of the senior centre halves they’d started the year with—set a pace that to earn 99 points over an entire league season.
Now, having proven they’re still the side that won the Premier League and Champions League the past two seasons, they get a summer to heal, recuperate, and add reinforcements.
“This season was frighteningly intense, especially emotionally,” Lijnders added. “Setbacks came, but they never won. The boys kept working so hard in training and in the long term you will win with this.
“We were not perfect, but we found a team again—a team who developed courage. Over the last weeks the boys created the mentality to see the next game as a final, just like in our good days. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.
“Now we can look forward. We deserve to be in the Champions League, we earned this right. We just have to believe how good we are and believe that with a full Anfield we can be on fire in the Premier League again next season.
“Shankly said it like this: playing football at the highest level isn’t pressure, it’s the reward. And we showed exactly that in these last decisive games.”