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(CNN)Ninety-seven points. One defeat. Second place.
A day of anguish at the end of a fascinating, record-breaking, unprecedented season.
There was, for a short time at least, ecstasy. But ultimately, Sunday afternoon would become one of painful agony for Liverpool fans worldwide. A curious kind of heartache, though.
For this has not been a title lost or an opportunity blown, but a race fought from first day to last. And at the end of it all, a contest won by Manchester City on the day that a marathon became a sprint.
Liverpool’s final points tally would have won the Premier League in 25 of its 27-year existence — bettered only by this City side of the last two years.
For Jurgen Klopp, it is a statistic that makes the final result easier to accept, though even harder to understand.
“People might say we could have done this or that but not really, I don’t think [we could have done any more],” he told Sky Sports. “City were lucky in moments, we were lucky in moments. It was about staying in the race and believing and that’s what we did.
“When your opponent is City, it’s difficult. They couldn’t get rid of us and we couldn’t get rid of them. Being second in the Premier League is not what I wanted but we have to see it as the first step for this team. We have three weeks to prepare for the Champions League final – let’s give it a go.”
A 2-0 win against Wolves will succumb to the archives. It is the winners who are remembered. And Pep Guardiola’s City side did what a champion does — and in some style.
However, there was a spell — albeit a short, fruitless time — when all appeared to be pointing tentatively in Liverpool’s favor.
When Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cut-back on 17 minutes was met with the decisive thud of Sadio Mane’s right boot, Liverpool climbed above its great rival.
When Glen Murray nodded in to give Brighton a shock lead at the Amex Stadium on England’s south coast, the roars from the Anfield faithful could well have been heard among the seagulls more than 250 miles away.
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But, perhaps appropriately in a season that has seen both Liverpool and City raise one another with win after win, Sergio Aguero equalized almost as quickly as his team had fallen behind. A rumbling Anfield turned, if not to a hush, then to a series of murmurings.
And when City marched into the ascendancy through an Aymeric Laporte header, the sense of foreboding had begun further north. Liverpool, sharp and fast early on, became sloppy and edgy. Very possibly feeling the effects of an extraordinary week that began with a famous 4-0 win over Barcelona, Liverpool became slower.
For long spells, Jurgen Klopp’s outfit was indebted to Alisson, the Brazilian goalkeeper who has played such a key role in making Liverpool a far sturdier side than in times gone by. Seen as the missing piece of the jigsaw upon his arrival, he has more than lived up to expectations. He was handed the league’s golden glove award after the match, having kept 21 domestic clean sheets.
If Matt Doherty’s strike that clipped the crossbar on the stroke of half-time was meant to be taken as a warning sign of sorts, it was advice that Alisson heeded as the second half wore on.
He made crucial stops from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez as all the flowing football came from the visitors, who were playing with a freedom that could not be said of Liverpool as the tension of the day and the impending disappointment wore on.
A second goal did eventually come for Liverpool; Tuesday night’s hero Divock Origi had already hooked over when well-placed, before Mane doubled his side’s advantage with just nine minutes to go.
In truth, it came against the run of play as he headed in Alexander-Arnold’s pinpoint cross. It was his 22nd league goal of the season — the same number achieved by teammate Mo Salah and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Virgil van Dijk, announced as the Premier League player of the season shortly before kick-off — the latest individual gong to add to his burgeoning collection — headed against the woodwork as Alexander-Arnold closed in on a rare hat-trick of assists late on. However, by then, Liverpool’s race was run — not that there was much more the north-western team could have done.
When Manchester City lost at Newcastle on January 29, Guardiola and his reigning champions had 14 games remaining. His team had to win each and every one of them.
14 games on — and 14 victories later — City had achieved what did, at one stage, seem the improbable dream.
For Liverpool, nightmares of hindsight will turn back to a three-week spell in January and February; it was by no means a poor time, but draws against both Leicester City and West Ham, as well as a stalemate against a Manchester United team depleted by injuries will be looked back upon as moments where a thrilling race was won and lost.
A 2-1 reversal when Liverpool visited Manchester City’s Etihad stadium on January 3 always felt — both before and afterwards — that it might become a defining moment in a titanic struggle. Aguero and Roberto Firmino shared a goal each, before Leroy Sane scored a 72nd-minute winner for the home side.
In a year settled by a single point, John Stones’ goal-line clearance for City, with 11 millimeters to spare, could scarcely have been more important.
It all meant that Liverpool’s fate was out of its hands. The club’s fans remained defiant to the end, remaining afterwards to applaud the efforts of a team that has provided a colossal title race when, perhaps, logic suggested there should not have been one. 97 points — 25 clear of third-placed Chelsea.
In 116 of the last 119 top flight seasons, it would have been enough to clinch the trophy. Not this time.
A race settled by the finest of margins.