LIVERPOOL, England — The 30-year wait is over. Liverpool is champion of England again.
Liverpool clinched its first league title since 1990 on Thursday, ending an agonizing title drought without the players even having to take the field.
Instead, the Premier League crown was secured when Chelsea beat second-place Manchester City 2-1, a result that means City can no longer catch Liverpool with seven games remaining.
For the city of Liverpool, this has been a party three decades in the making, and even the restrictions caused by the coronavirus failed to prevent fans from gathering to celebrate outside Anfield.
Only a few dozen supporters were outside the stadium as the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge. But hundreds more quickly arrived, setting off flares and fireworks, waving flags and singing “Allez, Allez, Allez” on the steps of the stadium.
“It is such a big moment, I am completely overwhelmed,” said Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who was almost in tears as he spoke to broadcaster Sky Sports via video link. “I never would have thought it would feel like this. I had no idea.”
After a dominant campaign that was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Liverpool became England’s earliest-ever champion — and the latest. No team since the inception of the country’s league system in 1888 has clinched the title with seven games remaining. And no team has been crowned Premier League champion in June.
The title itself had hardly been in doubt since December, with Klopp’s team quickly building a massive lead with a rampant attacking style of play that has earned 28 wins in 31 games so far.
“The world has watched the fierce determination of this club on the field for every single match,” said John Henry, Liverpool’s American-based owner, “the preparation, the resolve and the talent of those who put together perhaps the greatest league performance ever in any country’s history.”
For a while, though, it seemed the coronavirus could still prevent Liverpool from ending its drought.
The club was 25 points clear when the league was abruptly halted in March as the country was forced into lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Null and void” became the dreaded term in the red half of Liverpool amid fears the season could be canceled completely as the coronavirus death toll soared and clubs struggled to agree on a strategy to restart the league during the country’s gravest emergency since World War II.
After Liverpool finally returned to the field on Sunday, a 0-0 draw in the Merseyside derby against Everton delayed the crowning moment. But not for long.
The team quickly rediscovered its scintillating attacking form as it swept aside Crystal Palace 4-0 on Wednesday inside an empty Anfield.
Chelsea then put Liverpool over a winning line that had proved so elusive for a team accustomed to dominating English football in the 1970s and 80s.
After waiting so long to win a 19th English title, the pandemic left an anticlimactic cloud over celebrations on the hottest day of the year so far.
Fans couldn’t even gather in pubs, which have been shut since March, to watch Chelsea clinch the title for them. Gatherings of multiple households are also still banned inside.
The only communal viewing experiences allowed are for groups of up to six people to meet outside. Photos of garden viewings spread on social media. A few fans watched on phones outside Anfield.
Klopp, the German manager who has restored a winning mentality to Liverpool with his brand of “heavy metal” football, already led the club to the Champions League title last year. But this will widely be regarded as the moment he truly brought Liverpool back to the pinnacle of English football.
The last time Liverpool won the league, it was still called the First Division and the club held the English record for most titles with 18. But the inception of the Premier League in 1992 transformed the landscape of the English game.
Liverpool faded as a force, to be eclipsed by Manchester United. Sweeping to 13 Premier League titles, United manager Alex Ferguson succeeded in his mission of knocking Liverpool “off their perch” by helping the Mancunians become 20-time English champions and one of the wealthiest sports teams in the world.
Liverpool was even in a fight for financial survival in 2010 when the American ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. plunged the club into heavy debt.
The club was rescued — via High Court action — by new American investors from the Fenway Sports Group led by Henry, who added Liverpool to an investment portfolio that included the MLB’s Boston Red Sox.
It has been on a steady rebuilding path since.
The experiment of bringing back 1990-title winning manager Kenny Dalglish was short-lived, as it its eighth-place finish in the league in 2012 was the club’s lowest in 18 years.
Within two years, the team was on the ascent again under Brendan Rodgers, finishing within two points of champion Manchester City in 2014. The anguish of coming so close to the summit before slipping up — literally, as then-captain Steven Gerrard slipped on the field at a crucial moment — was hard to recover from.
A slump in form saw Rodgers fired in 2015, which ushered in the arrival of Klopp.
After a slow start, and another eighth-place finish, Liverpool regained its swagger.
Not even the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in 2018 derailed Liverpool’s ambitions. Instead, that money was reinvested wisely to ensure that the entertaining attack unit had a robust barrier at the back with then world-record fees paid for goalkeeper Alisson and center back Virgil van Dijk.
More frustration was to come, though. After leading the league for much of the campaign, Liverpool finished just one point behind winner Man City last season following one of the closest and most entertaining title races in history.
There was no stopping Klopp’s team this time.
“We had a magnificent season last year, but we came in second and so this is especially gratifying for us,” Liverpool chairman Tom Werner told The Associated Press after watching the game on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. “We share our joy with your game and our team. They really did play magnificently all year. Yesterday’s game was another example of how talented the team is. And I’m just happy for all of our supporters in Liverpool and around the world.”
But any thoughts of a victory parade will have to wait until the pandemic regulations are eased further. – AP