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THE FINISH LINE

Liverpool win EPL at last, and without breaking a sweat

Chelsea's victory over Manchester City hands trophy to Reds, which ends 30-year drought to cap strangest of seasons

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Fans celebrating Liverpool winning the Premier League title outside Anfield stadium on Thursday. They set off fireworks and smoke bombs, firecrackers and flares.

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Liverpool, managed by Jurgen Klopp, sealed a 19th league title for Liverpool on Thursday with a record seven games left to play.

Liverpool

THE first fireworks burst into the clear, still sky a few minutes early, a thud, a fizz and a crackle of what was to come. It had not happened - not quite, not yet - but after 30 long years, a little impatience was understandable.

A long, sultry day, the hottest of the year, had given way to a warm, quiet evening. The fireworks broke the peace, heralded the shift. Then came the car horns, blaring and echoing around empty streets, a joyous Morse code in their short, sharp blasts, summoning people from their homes, confirming that the moment had arrived.

In London, Chelsea had beaten Manchester City 2-1 on Thursday night (Friday morning, Singapore time), a result that meant City could no longer catch Liverpool.

Liverpool's lead at the summit of the English Premier League (EPL) had been first impressive, then daunting, then unimaginable. Now, at last, it was insurmountable. For the first time since 1990, Liverpool were champions of England.

Gathering flood

And then, almost out of nowhere, the pilgrimage began. The tight streets around the club's stadium choked with traffic. Flags fluttered from windows, scarves twirled above heads.

Around them, a gathering flood, the pavements were suddenly filled with people: hundreds and hundreds all of the same mind, all with the same destination - Anfield stadium.

They converged outside, the air thick with cordite. They clambered up the Shankly Gates and along the wrought-iron railings, some with masks, but most without. They set off fireworks and smoke bombs, firecrackers and flares.

They sang of glories past and, with vigour and relish, they sang of glory present, the glory of the moment they had all been waiting for.

It was not, of course, quite as they imagined it, not quite how it was meant to be.

That Liverpool would win the title this season has been all but certain for months: since Jürgen Klopp's team went clear at the top by beating Manchester City in November, maybe; since Leicester City was dismantled on Boxing Day, perhaps; since Mohamed Salah confirmed victory against Manchester United in January and even the Kop decided that it could afford to tempt fate.

All that had been left to decide was when, and how, the moment might arrive. For a while, Liverpool fans dreamed it might be on enemy territory, at Everton or at Manchester City, a dream and a nightmare all at once. Or perhaps it would be better for it to come at home, at Anfield, where the players could be with their people.

Relief of the restart

The pandemic, of course, changed all that. There would be no delirium inside a packed ground when the title was clinched. There would be no trophy parade, no garlands and confetti on the city's streets.

Whenever the title came, it would be celebrated without fans. Through the shutdown, through those long, fretful days when the possibility of the EPL season's being cancelled entirely, struck from the record books, written off as a dream, lingered in the spring air. It threatened not to come at all.

For all the relief of the restart, Liverpool - the club and the fans - knew they would be denied that moment. On Wednesday night, after Klopp's team had produced a display of swagger and power and intent against Crystal Palace to move to the brink of the title, the manager daydreamed what it would have been like with fans inside the stadium: the delirium of the goals, the noise, the fervour.

Instead, the moment, when it arrived, was a fractured, distant one. Liverpool's players were at a hotel watching the Chelsea game together, counting down the last few seconds before the title was won. Liverpool's fans were in their own homes and gardens, doing the same.

Perhaps, though, that was fitting. The history of Liverpool's last three decades suggests that it could only, really, have won the EPL like this: by producing a season so imperious it was all but devoid of drama.

Every other modern incarnation of Liverpool, after all, has fallen short. The youthful, homegrown team of the mid-1990s had brio and panache, but lacked grit and steel. Gerard Houllier's obdurate, grizzled 2002 edition lacked imagination. Rafael Benítez's finest effort in 2009 ran into a superior Manchester United.

Brendan Rodgers came close, his frenetic, flawed team denied by a single slip at its shot at history in 2014. Klopp's altogether more finessed version seemed to have missed out last year thanks to the relentlessness of Manchester City.

That year, Liverpool became the only team to lose just one game in a season and not win the league. Only one team has ever lost just two games in a season and failed to win the league, too. There are no prizes for guessing its identity.

By definition, perhaps, Liverpool needed a season like this: one defined not by a single moment but constructed of a series of moments. A championship might be won in one game, but it is defined by a string of them, each one adding something to the glory. The championship is the journey, as well as the destination.

In time, the realisation will dawn that Liverpool's big moment arrived a long time ago. The wait is finally over. In reality, however, it has been over for months. NYTIMES

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