Liverpool’s great season at risk of ending in disappointing anticlimax

When in 20 or 30 years Liverpool fans settle down to revel in the great side that ended the 30-year drought, it’s probably not this game they’ll be watching. The 19th league title, the first since 1990, will come and there may yet be further wonders to garnish the final weeks of the season, but the derby was not a game to dispel fears that what should be one of the most gloriousseasons in the team’s history will end in anticlimax. The likelihood 100 days ago was that they would win the league with six or seven games remaining, setting a record for the earliest a championship has ever been settled. Out of the FA Cup andout of the Champions League, with nothing to play for other than records, that’s a very long coronation procession, even after waiting for three decades. This performance was of a piece with those final weeks before the crisis: no lack of effort, but the slick interplay not quite firing. Perhaps it was fatigue brought about by a hugely demanding style of play and a programme that, in December particularly, became absurdly hectic. Or perhaps the problem was not playing – the real wobble came after Klopp insisted onhonouring the winter break by fielding a youth team in the FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury. Energy and commitment didn’t seem the issue, but there was a raggedness to Liverpool early on, for all that they dominated both possession and territory. The familiar flow wasn’t there, but then it hadn’t been for some time, and the absence of Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah would have been disruptive anyway. The width Robertson offers, opening up the pitch on the left, was particularly missed and Liverpool will be glad of his probable return on Wednesday.