DOMINIC KING: It was like old times with fireworks both on and off the pitch for Liverpool’s coronation but Jurgen Klopp may wait for a proper celebration to see if his squad can draw level with United’s 20 titles
In many ways, it felt like old times. Outside Hotel Anfield, a hub that bounces on match days, they were singing their songs and enjoying the struggles of old rivals.
A giant television screen had been erected for locals and when West Ham took the lead at Old Trafford, the cheers were long and loud. Not as loud, though, as when the two executive buses carrying the Champions loomed into view. This was what they wanted to see.
There were flares and fireworks and plumes of red smoke made a corridor of colour for Liverpool’s arrival. It was a stark contrast to a month earlier, when Jurgen Klopp’s side had faced Crystal Palace, and there was barely a soul in the vicinity.
Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita capped a superb performance with a thumping 30-yard drive
Quite what Klopp would have made of the scene, after urging Liverpool’s fans to exercise social distancing, keep safe and stay home, can only be surmised but there will certainly have been some disappointment.
He would not, however, have dwelt on it. Klopp had a team to prepare for a night of huge importance and when the game started, it also felt like old times. Chelsea arrived at Anfield in high spirits but within 35 minutes a Red tide had washed all over them.
If Liverpool have been a little lacklustre at times in recent weeks, dropping some unexpected points, the zip and fizz was back, embodied by the superb Naby Keita; Klopp had said he was ‘completely in competition mode’ ahead of this fixture and that attitude had rubbed off on his squad.
Flares and fireworks and plumes of red smoke made a corridor of colour for Liverpool’s arrival
Keita was signed two years ago to provide dynamism from midfield and this, really, was the first time we have seen him produce the fireworks that were on show so regularly for RB Leipzig. His goal, battered in off the underside of the Anfield Road End crossbar, was fit for the occasion.
Had Liverpool turned up to their coronation in anything but their best, Klopp would have been boiling so to see them harrying Chelsea from left to right would have had him purring. It is worth noting that 367 days ago, he was preparing for this season with a fixture against Sevilla in Boston.
The colour and the football, though, was distorting. This, really, was nothing like old times. The empty stands and the vast swathes of perimeter fencing starkly reminded you, again, that this is an unprecedented period.
When Liverpool were last presented with the league title, on a balmy Tuesday night in May 1990, the stadium was packed, the Kop paid an emotional tribute to Kenny Dalglish in what was the final game of his career and a scruffy game against Derby County ended in a 1-0 victory.
Jurgen Klopp demanded Liverpool turn up to their coronation at their very best at Anfield
Yes, it was a celebration but it all felt very routine – the trophy lift from Alan Hansen, the lap of honour at the end; Liverpool were winning the title every other year, so why was there ever going to be a fuss?
This celebration should have been different. For all the razzamatazz, the music and pyrotechnics – more than £100,000 worth of fireworks were set to be detonated when Jordan Henderson reprised the role of Hansen – you could not shake the feeling how something was missing.
Klopp has made it clear there will be a proper celebration when the time is right and the authorities allow it but you just wonder whether he will be planning for 12 months’ time, so it coincides with Liverpool retaining this title.
Only then, if Liverpool go on and win their 20th title – do not underestimate how much this squad wants to draw level with United’s tally – will it truly feel like old times.