Liverpool and Scotland end long waits in turbulent year for football
While 2020 was not a normal year by any standards, for Liverpool it was an exceptional one.
An emotional Jurgen Klopp cried in his live television interview when their first league title since 1990 had been confirmed by, of all things, rivals Manchester City losing at Chelsea.
It was not quite an end to 30 years of hurt – the club had won two Champions League titles, a UEFA Cup, two European Super Cups, three FA Cups and three League Cups during that time – but this was the big one, the one the club and its fans had spent three decades yearning for.
That confirmation did not come until late June because of a three-month hiatus due to the national lockdown, which only intensified the agony and the ecstasy as, for a while, a ‘will it-won’t it’ scenario with calls to void the season left the outcome hanging in the balance.
Calls to void the season came loudest from clubs near the bottom of the table, but in the upper echelons Liverpool were in a different stratosphere as when football came to a halt they had amassed an incredible 25-point lead over City and needed a maximum of two more wins to clinch the title in record time.
That the advantage had reached such huge proportions was down to a remarkable run which did not see them lose a match until a shock defeat against Watford in late February and by the time the campaign was suspended they had still only dropped five points out of a possible 87.
After three months of uncertainty over whether the champions-elect would have the title snatched from their grasp, football resumed in June and, in keeping with the unusual season, Liverpool’s coronation was confirmed on a night when they did not even have to play with Willian’s 78th-minute penalty for Chelsea starting the celebrations at the Reds team hotel base.
“It’s the best thing I can imagine and more than I could have ever dreamed of. I have no words, it’s unbelievable,” said a tearful Klopp.
There was not even a consolation prize of the FA Cup for City, who won their third successive League Cup in March, as Pep Guardiola’s former assistant Mikel Arteta picked up his first piece of silverware with Arsenal having taken over from the sacked Unai Emery in December.
City’s focus was zoomed in on the Champions League, which holders Liverpool had crashed out of with defeat to Atletico Madrid before the lockdown came.
Victory over Real Madrid, mirroring the 2-1 from the first leg back in February, set up a one-off quarter-final with Lyon with the knockout stages completed in Portugal, but they were undone by two late goals from Moussa Dembele as their European quest came to an end.
Bayern Munich lifted the trophy with victory over Paris St Germain in the final.
Back on domestic terms the Premier League said farewell to Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth, who were replaced by Leeds, back in the top flight after a 16-year absence, West Brom and Fulham.
England’s last hopes in the Europa League, Wolves and Manchester United were beaten by eventual winners Sevilla in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively in Germany.
In Scotland, Celtic made it nine titles in a row after an average points-per-game method was used to determine final league positions, leading Hearts to pursue unsuccessful legal action after being relegated to the Championship.
A quick turnaround between seasons saw Liverpool pick up where they left off – even after suffering an embarrassing 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa, who had survived relegation on the final day – but Jose Mourinho’s influence at Tottenham was beginning to grow as they began impressively.
Everton, having been under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti since December, had their best start to a season in over a century and briefly enjoyed a spell at the top of the table for the first time since 2007.
Time finally caught up with Celtic as Rangers began the new campaign looking like the dominant force.
Scotland’s national team, meanwhile, celebrated qualifying for their first major tournament since 1998 by dancing to 1970s disco classic ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ after defeating Serbia on penalties.
But there was no such Euro 2020 frivolity for Northern Ireland after their extra-time defeat to Slovakia.