By Richard Tanner
Good afternoon, and welcome to Telegraph Sport’s coverage of the final day of the 2021/22 Premier League season, as Liverpool hope for a Manchester City slip up to keep hopes of a historic quadruple alive.
Jurgen Klopp expects the gap between the top two and the rest of the Premier League to narrow next season, with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United – under new manager Erik ten Hag – offering a far greater challenge to his Liverpool side and title favourites Manchester City.
While only one point separates City and Liverpool on the final day of the season, there is an 18-point gap to Chelsea in third place and a 21-point advantage on fourth-placed Tottenham. United trail an embarrassing 31 points behind their Merseyside rivals.
But Klopp expects all three of those clubs to strengthen over the summer and predicts that if City and Liverpool’s remarkable consistency begins to slip then others will come into the picture.
Liverpool needed shoot-outs to beat Chelsea to win both the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, after two titanic goalless draws at Wembley, and also drew twice in the Premier League with Thomas Tuchel’s side. Tottenham also held them to two draws in the league.
Klopp’s team had no such problems with United, however, beating them 9-0 on aggregate, but he expects their new Dutch manager to spark a major improvement.
“Can I see other teams challenge the City/Liverpool domination? Yes. I see it when we play Chelsea,” Klopp said.
“In the FA Cup final, I was over the moon about the way we played in the first half an hour because it was the best half an hour we have ever played against them because they are so very difficult to beat.
“We all learn and we will see how the squads will look next year. But you do know that Erik ten Hag is arriving at Manchester United? And they don’t wait five years now or whatever – they will go big.
“And then you have Tottenham. Obviously, Antonio Conte is very, very ambitious and they already have a good team. If they are going to play in two competitions [Premier League and Champions League] they maybe need a few more players but they will bring them in.
“Nobody has to worry that the [present] gap will stay forever. It was the hardest work to get here so if we ease off the gas a little bit then the 18-point gap is immediately three points – or nothing.
“We don’t have a real influence on the rest. It is all about us making sure we can be as good as possible. We have a talented group now, and we will have a talented group next year. But we have to make a proper, proper machine of it and then we will go again and we will see.”
Even if Liverpool are pipped for the title by City today for the second time in four years it will not spoil Klopp’s enjoyment of a superb season in which his squad have taken their hopes of a trophy quadruple to the final two weeks of an exhausting campaign – after today’s home clash with Wolves, they face Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday, their 63rd fixture of the campaign.
Klopp said he learned to take the positives out of setbacks during his first managerial job at Mainz when they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Bundesliga in both his first two full seasons in charge but went up in his third.
“Out of 365 days in the year, 364 days at Mainz were better than ever before in our lives as footballers,” he said.
“And the last one was particularly bad. It’s up to us to judge what we make of that. And I always made of that, ‘OK, let’s give it a try and make 365 of it [next time].’ And that’s how it is.
“But for that you need the other 364 as well. And that’s what we always did. “At Mainz, life gave me another shock because we didn’t get promoted by a point and then by a goal, so it was a real test. And then we got promoted. So things work out if you stay on track, if you stay in the right mood. And that’s what we will do.
“So, I learned it early. That’s the only way I can do it actually. I enjoy the journey a lot and everyone who wants to do that as well is invited. And if not, then I cannot change that.”
Apart from promotion with Mainz, Klopp made his name by guiding Borussia Dortmund to the league and cup double before taking them to the Champions League final.
But he admits his spell at Liverpool, where he has now won all six major trophies – Club World Cup, Champions League, Uefa Super Cup, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup – has been the most exciting of his career.
“Definitely,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few exciting times. If you ask my missus, she asks why it always goes down to the last match day. It happens incredibly often.
“It is the most exciting because I’ve seen how good the boys are and seen the steps that we’ve made with just two games to go. It’s unbelievable. It feels like five minutes ago it was seven games. Now, wham, here we go, two ‘finals’. We’ve been playing ‘finals’ for ages but now really two finals. It’s absolutely massive and, yes, it’s the most exciting time of my career.”
Klopp has to decide whether to risk leading scorer Mohamed Salah and key defender Virgil van Dijk – both injured in last weekend’s cup final – for fear of aggravating their injuries ahead of the revenge clash with Real.