Very few, if any, would have predicted Liverpool’s downfall at Anfield after an unprecedented home run guided them to their first title in 30 years. After an unbeaten home record that stretched back almost four years, a combination of injuries and lack of form saw them struggle to win games, with Burnley ending their streak and then Everton, Brighton and Fulham inflicting further damage.
With no fans to get behind the Reds during a turbulent period, it looked like the season was on the verge of a collapse, but Jürgen Klopp salvaged a third-place finish, and with fans returning to Merseyside this season after a 19-month absence, the atmosphere may prove to have a massive influence on the title race, and in fact boost their chances in the Premier League winner odds come the end of an arduous campaign.
The ‘12th man’ cliché is tossed around a lot in football. However, the Kop and the rest of Anfield plays such an enormous part in the Reds’ success and has done throughout the club’s history. A cathedral littered in tradition and liturgy, with emphasis on Klopp’s tenure so far as boss. The Kop has become an institution — a part of the Liverpool legend. It exists as a living, breathing entity which, spontaneously, can erupt into song, or chant a chorus — something that has been missed in copious amounts with the absence of supporters.
Anfield’s famous atmosphere renders any side emotionally and technically helpless on the right day, and this coat of armour will be a key asset as Liverpool embark on another title race with Manchester City. The Citizens were beaten on the opening weekend of the season but possess so much firepower and quickly bounced back, decimating an exceptionally ordinary Norwich City 5-0. For all of Pep Guardiola’s excellence at City, it took him several attempts to break the equilibrium and win at Anfield last season on the path to the league title, but the Spaniard has witnessed first-hand how capable the ground is when fully packed out.
Big games at Anfield are so often decided by fast starts. At times the irresistible football played by the Reds can finish teams off within the first few minutes, other times the crowd can do so before a ball has even been kicked. The cauldron of colours with red and white entwining can overwhelm and disorientate even the best, with City and Barcelona both succumbing to big defeats with varying speeds of capitulation, crumbling under the pressure in recent years. Their fragility exposed as the team bus goes past the Twelfth Man pub and down Anfield Road, less a street – more a carnival.
Despite the lack of transfer activity, this summer optimism seeps through the air at Anfield. With the core of the squad putting pen to paper on new deals, it seems like owners Fenway Sports Group have finally learnt their lesson after failing to tie down Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum in seasons gone by — both departing for free. The arrival of Ibrahima Konaté provides cover and continuity at the back now Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez have recovered from lengthy injuries, avoiding the likelihood of another implosion like last season, where defensive options were so bereft.
After being denied an opportunity to celebrate their title win with supporters, there will be an extra incentive for Klopp and his team heading into this season. All EPL betting tips are touting them to challenge all the way and there is no doubt the fans will play their part in trying to bring title number 20 back to Merseyside.