Strange how despite the worst league finish in years for Liverpool has cast such a positive as ever outlook on the future.
Despite a 1-1 draw away to West Brom with a an almost unrecognizable lineup, the Reds head into the only match that matters on Wednesday night with a chance to play for both money and glory.
Never was Jurgen Klopp going to hazard a chance with the Europa League final in the offing. Consequently, Liverpool started at the Hawthorns with 11 changes and half the side having made fewer than 10 starts.
It all made for another late-season affair, except for a few highlight moments that had less to do with the play and more to do with the players making unlikely appearances as starters and substitutes.
A draw was well earned but few will care much about the eight place league finish if Liverpool can beat Seville and return to the Champions League. The season hinges on the final match in Basel.
Victory will wash away a lot of mistakes and misfortune. A defeat will render the whole campaign as definitely one of transition with greater expectations and undoubtedly added pressure to the new season withoug any European football.
Here’s what I took from the West Brom game:
Only a few days into Klopp’s arrival, Danny Ings fell victim to a ligament injury that cruelly ended a bright start to his Liverpool career. It was particularly hard luck given that he emerged as one of the best striking threats in the side.
Yet somehow, he was able to return for a brief cameo appearance in this final fixture. It was more than a personal moment for Ings as the traveling supporters sang his name with relish.
Having successfully made a stunning comeback in extraordinary time, only seven months, his return only added to the feel good factor that has the club headed into its most critical match. Even Klopp’s recognition of the psychology of the moment is an encouraging sign.
CHOPS AND CHANGES
This lineup certainly provided a window into the challenges that Liverpool faced this season.
Having now played over 60 matches in the campaign in four competitions, more than any other English side, the size of the squad was strained to the point of breaking repeatedly.
There were matches that could have been avoided, of course, but the drive towards two cup finals takes a toll.
This summer will be the critical one for the club and manager. The need for a deeper side with better quality all over the pitch will be required to get Liverpool safely back amongst the strongest clubs at home and abroad.
Even more pressure arrives on this front with a victory midweek. New blood is already on the way but more will likely be required.
The squad will need to be bigger but there will be a clear out too. This surely is the last the Reds will see of Adam Bogdan and likely long-serving Martin Skrtel.
Yet there are a host of question marks surrounding the likes of Christian Benteke, Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen, Jordon Ibe, and a host of academy players that may well be good footballers but likely need to move on have a shot at a first team.
Wednesday shapes up to be the kind of all-or-nothing affair that perhaps suits Jurgen Klopp as well as anyone.
It is hard to see how the gaffer is not relishing the chance to catch lightning in a bottle with Liverpool, hitting the reset button for the club in one fateful moment.
The fact that he has won silverware before gives not only gives him credibility but, having driven Germany’s second side to topple its arch-rival more than once, Klopp has nurtured the underdog, go-for-broke, gambler image. His gambles are calculated but he does not want for carrying romance for the game. One gets the sense that he would not have wanted this season to end any other way.
Moreover, the fact that he led a truly exceptional side to a Champions League final only to be spurned by Bayern Munich may well prove a benefit for the Reds. He knows better than anyone in the locker room the stakes and what it takes to navigate them with the experience.