For Liverpool, 2018 was a year of dramatic late victories, unforgettable European nights and new fan favourites – an exhilarating 12-month ride that featured its share of lows but ended with the Reds on high.
Here’s our look back on the story of 2018…
One of Liverpool’s most momentous days of 2018 was the very first.
On the morning of January 1, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton was signed and sealed after an agreement had been announced five days earlier. That day, though, the Dutchman’s new teammates were occupied elsewhere and a different centre-back took the limelight as Jürgen Klopp’s side ground out a hard-fought and memorable victory away to Burnley.
The score was 1-1 as the match creeped into its 94th minute on a wet and windy day at Turf Moor, when Ragnar Klavan appeared at the back post to bundle in a Dejan Lovren knockdown and spark scenes of absolute mayhem in the away end.
Just four days later, the Reds were at it again, pulling off another thrilling 2-1 win thanks to an 85th-minute debut goal from that man Van Dijk. The occasion was a third-round FA Cup tie and the opponent, just to make it that bit sweeter, was Everton. The new No.4 hadn’t been expected to debut in the Friday night kick-off but was entrusted with a start by Klopp and went on to showcase the marriage of strength and style that would distinguish his play throughout the year.
After a nine-day recess Liverpool took on Manchester City at Anfield in the first of four competitive meetings between the sides throughout the year, which the Reds would emerge unbeaten from. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah all scored Goal of the Season contenders in the consensus Premier League game of the season, with the hosts running out 4-3 winners to inflict a first league defeat of the campaign on Pep Guardiola’s eventual champions.
Defeat away to a Swansea City side temporarily galvanised by Carlos Carvalhal’s appointment was followed by FA Cup elimination at the hands of West Bromwich Albion in the first ever Anfield fixture to feature use of the video assistant referee (VAR) system, but the month ended on a brighter note with the campaign’s second 3-0 success over Huddersfield Town, the team managed by Klopp’s good friend David Wagner.
One of the finest of the 44 goals Salah registered in all competitions last season arrived in early February, the Egypt international demonstrating incredible speed, strength and agility to weave through several Tottenham Hotspur defenders and chip goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Unfortunately, the goal did not get the result it deserved as Harry Kane – whose earlier penalty had been saved by Loris Karius – converted a second spot-kick in the 95th minute to ensure Spurs escaped Anfield with a 2-2 draw.
The rest of the month went very much to plan, however, the Reds seeing off Southampton, FC Porto and West Ham United 2-0, 5-0 and 4-1 respectively.
Unsurprisingly, Salah scored in all three and bagged his fifth Standard Chartered Player of the Month award, but equally deserving of acclaim was Mane, who became only the second Liverpool player to score an away European hat-trick in the destruction of Porto.
That rainy evening at Estadio do Dragao also bore witness to the birth of the fan anthem that would define the march to Kiev – Allez, Allez, Allez – penned by Phil Howard and Liam Malone.
Liverpool’s positive momentum continued into the spring, a 2-0 home win over Newcastle United followed by a comfortable navigation into the Champions League quarter-finals via a goalless second leg versus Porto, though they subsequently endured a frustrating 2-1 loss at Old Trafford
Off the pitch, the series of BOSS Nights – independent fan events held at District in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle to celebrate all things LFC – became ever more regular and well-attended as the season went on, and the song on everyone’s lips was Allez Allez Allez, which local musician Jamie Webster had by now adopted and made his own.
The Reds ended March with two more victories dominated by the man now known as The Egyptian King, Salah scoring every goal but one in a 5-0 rout of Watford before snatching a late winner in the come-from-behind victory at Crystal Palace.
He was ubiquitous off the pitch, too, jumping through a wall to surprise local schoolchildren – who thought they were competing in a commentary competition – as part of a viral video that went on to gain more than 50 million views across the club’s official platforms.
A hectic but satisfying month, a tale of seven fixtures in four weeks including three Champions League outings and a Merseyside derby.
First up was the visit of City in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier club competition, where three of the four goalscorers from January’s league game struck again as Liverpool ran amok in a remarkable opening half-hour played in a raucous atmosphere at Anfield. That early blitz gave Klopp’s charges a clear advantage but they were still subjected to a scare by Gabriel Jesus’ second-minute goal in the return at Etihad Stadium, before eventually triumphing 2-1 on the night and 5-1 on aggregate.
In between the first and second legs, a much-changed Reds side played out a 0-0 draw at Goodison Park in what was certainly the least memorable of the year’s three derbies.
Bournemouth were beaten 3-0 in L4 and then there were draws against West Brom and Stoke City sides fighting for survival, though Liverpool remained on course to finish in the top four and any disappointment was tempered by the result that they sandwiched.
In the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against AS Roma, the Reds produced perhaps the ultimate expression of Klopp’s philosophy as a stunning display of relentless, incisive football saw them rack up a 5-0 lead with more than 20 minutes still to play, Salah and Firmino both netting doubles either side of a Mane strike.
Two late goals meant I Giallorossi were not without hope for the second leg, while Oxlade-Chamberlain sustained a long-term knee injury, on a night tarnished by the attack which left Liverpool fan Sean Cox in a critical condition in hospital.
The final stretch of the season began with a visit to a city redolent with memories for Reds fans, and a venue inextricably linked to several of the most glittering nights in the club’s history.
At the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the site where Liverpool’s first and fourth European Cups were won in 1977 and 1984 respectively, the class of 2018 rubber-stamped their place in the Champions League final, defeated 4-2 by Eusebio Di Francesco’s side on the night but prevailing 7-6 on aggregate.
Before the Scouse exodus to eastern Europe could begin, though, the Reds had Premier League commitments to wrap up, losing 1-0 at Chelsea but overcoming Brighton and Hove Albion 4-0 on the final day to secure fourth place and another year of Champions League football.
On the evening of May 26, at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium and Shevchenko Park in Kiev, at a packed out Anfield screening, and in countless public houses and living rooms on Merseyside and around the world, Liverpool fans gathered together in the hope of watching their team grasp European football’s grandest honour for a sixth time.
Sadly, it was not to be, Mane providing a brief moment of ecstasy with his reply to Karim Benzema’s opener before Gareth Bale’s brace sealed a fourth Champions League trophy in five seasons for Real Madrid. Salah had been forced off with a shoulder injury before half-time amid a cruel end to such a captivating journey.
But the final score could not stop Kiev being a defining occasion for a whole generation of Reds, particularly those that hung from tree branches and friends’ shoulders in the joyful chaos of Shevchenko Park, where Webster and a host of musicians, podcasters and well-known fans put on perhaps the greatest LFC-themed gig of all time during the afternoon before the game.
Fewer than 48 hours after the final whistle had blown, the signing of versatile and highly-rated Brazilian midfielder Fabinho was announced, and very quickly the focus began to shift, from what might have been in the season just past, to what could be in the season to come.
June was a busy month for the eight members of the first-team squad representing their nations at the 2018 World Cup.
Firmino, Mane and Salah each found the net for Brazil, Senegal and Egypt respectively in Russia, but it was Lovren who went furthest. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson’s England were beaten by Lovren’s Croatia in the semi-finals before the centre-back lost the final 4-2 to France.
The month started with celebrations marking a significant date, 126 years to the day since founder John Houlding received the Board of Trade certificate that officially brought the club into existence on June 3, 1892, and it ended with another significant arrival, that of Naby Keita, the Guinean midfielder finally checking in at Melwood after first agreeing his transfer from RB Leipzig back in August 2017.
Pre-season gave us a hint of what was to come during the campaign proper – nine games across July and August of which the Reds won seven and lost only one. As usual, it was a story of contrasts and the curious juxtaposition of quaint old English grounds with vast modern stadia on the other side of the world. Liverpool seguing from places like Tranmere’s Prenton Park and Bury’s Gigg Lane on their mini-tour of the north west to MetLife Stadium and Michigan Stadium on their trip to north America.
Joining up with Klopp’s travelling band for the latter stages was new boy Xherdan Shaqiri, who marked his debut with a spectacular scissor kick in the 4-1 friendly victory over Manchester United that rounded off the journey. It would not be the last time he netted against our arch-rivals in the calendar year…
Another notable debut came on August 4 in Dublin, where goalkeeper Alisson Becker donned a Liverpool jersey for the first time having completed his move from Roma just a few days after Shaqiri’s arrival in July. It was another match that now seems spookily prophetic of what was to come, with Salah scoring and Alisson keeping a clean sheet as the Reds outplayed Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli in front of a partisan crowd at the Aviva Stadium, winning 5-0.
A final pre-season engagement saw Torino beaten 3-1 at Anfield before the new term officially commenced at home to West Ham, with Mane’s double the highlight of a comfortable 4-0 win. The PFA Player of the Month also registered in the 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace, before an early Salah goal edged out Brighton 1-0 at Anfield.
Klopp swapped his tracksuit and cap for hi-vis jacket and hard hat in September, the boss playing his part in a ‘breaking ground’ ceremony that marked the beginning of the construction project which will eventually see first team and youth football operations come together on one site at the Kirkby Academy.
Back on the field it was another immensely busy four weeks, starting with 2-1 wins away to Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur – against whom Georginio Wijnaldum scored his first ever away goal in the Premier League – before a scintillating Champions League curtain-raiser against Paris Saint-Germain.
Kylian Mbappe showed his class with a late goal at the Kop end to make it 2-2, only for Firmino to fire in a superb 91st-minute winner at the Anfield Road end, replete with an iconic celebration referencing his recovery from an eye injury.
A more sedate 3-0 Anfield victory over Southampton followed, and then it was time for a double-header against Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea.
Klopp and Sarri made their admiration for one another’s football clear over the course of two high-quality matches, Chelsea winning the first – a third-round Carabao Cup tie at Anfield – 2-1, then leading for most of the league clash at Stamford Bridge three days later before yet another stunning last-gasp Liverpool goal, this one arced into the top corner by Daniel Sturridge.
October began with Liverpool having to swallow some of their own medicine, conceding a last-minute goal in a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Napoli. Then came the biggest game of the season so far, at home to City, a much more tactical affair compared to the ding-dong battles earlier in the year which ended goalless after Riyad Mahrez fired a late penalty over the bar.
A hard-earned 1-0 at Huddersfield decided by who else but the Egyptian King was followed by two resounding Anfield successes, 4-0 and 4-1 against Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff City respectively.
Aside from the on-field excitement, Liverpool fans were kept smiling during 2018 as a series of extended contracts were signed by a number of important squad members.
Firmino committed his future to the club in April, Salah did likewise in July, followed by Henderson in September and Joe Gomez in December. In November, it was Mane’s turn, the No.10 describing the new agreement as ‘the best decision in my career.’
It was a month where Klopp’s side remained impressively consistent on the home front but began to run into difficulties in Europe. A 1-1 draw away to an Arsenal team unbeaten in 13 games preceded commanding wins over Fulham and Watford, but a 2-0 loss at Red Star Belgrade was followed by a 2-1 defeat at the hands of a resurgent PSG in Paris.
After such a remarkable Champions League adventure the previous season, group-stage elimination was suddenly a real threat this time, dependent on one last Anfield showdown against Napoli…
How about eight games in 27 days to wrap up the year?
First up was the visit of Everton, when a rather uneventful Sunday afternoon was transformed into something magical by the introduction of unlikely hero Divock Origi, the substitute’s 96th-minute header giving the Reds the spoils from the 232nd meeting of the two clubs.
Two away trips in the space of four days followed, Liverpool coming from behind to oust Burnley 3-1 before Salah’s hat-trick in a 4-0 romp at Bournemouth.
When it came, the decisive tie with Napoli was every bit worth the wait. Salah’s brilliant individual goal sealing the Reds’ progress to the Champions League last 16 at the Italians’ expense. The 1-0 scoreline could have been more given the home team’s dominance on the night, but a debt of gratitude was also owed to Alisson for his magnificent late save from Arkadiusz Milik.
Manchester United succumbed to a 3-1 loss inspired by ‘Super Sub’ Shaqiri; strikes from Salah and Van Dijk – his first since that derby winner nearly a year prior – sealed a 2-0 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers; and Klopp’s men eased to a sparkling 4-0 Boxing Day win over Newcastle United.
And there was still time left for Arsenal to visit Anfield last Saturday.
When Ainsley Maitland-Niles put the Londoners ahead in the 11th minute it was the first time Liverpool had trailed at Anfield all year in the league. But by the 16th minute they were 2-1 up and come half-time it was four, the hosts eventually prevailing 5-1 thanks to Firmino’s hat-trick and goals – of course – from Mane and Salah.
And so Liverpool ended 2018 without losing once at Anfield in either the Premier League or Champions League, while their final haul of 88 points from 37 league matches – a points-per-game ratio of 2.38 – marked the best calendar year in the club’s history.
Roll on 2019…