As Liverpool prepare to take on Chelsea in a match which could have a huge role to play in the destination of the Premier League title, it’s impossible not to turn our minds back to 2014.
Back then, Liverpool needed just a point at home to the Blues to keep their destiny in their own hands, while victory would have left them needing just four points from their last two games.
Of course, we all know what happened next. Steven Gerrard slipped, Demba Ba broke the deadlock, Willian added a second late on and Liverpool lost out to Manchester City in the race for the title.
But what if the Reds captain had kept his footing? How might the Premier League – and the wider football world – look now? We’ve peered into our crystal ball to find out.
Fresh from their title victory, Liverpool make sure to back Brendan Rodgers to the hilt in the transfer market. The chance to retain the Premier League isn’t enough to deter Luis Suárez from leaving for Barcelona, but the transfer chest handed to the manager allows him to bring in reinforcements in the form of Real Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann and Bayer Leverkusen’s Heung-min Son.
Southampton duo Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert also arrive, while left-back Luke Shaw opts for the Merseyside club over Manchester United, stating his desire to play for a team with a champion’s spirit.
The Reds make it out of their Champions League group thanks to Griezmann’s goals, but fall short against a Ricardo Quaresma-inspired Porto in the last 16. The Champions League exit spells the end for Rodgers, who has seen his team’s league form fall away after a fast start to the season. Liverpool bring back Rafa Benitez, who is able to engineer an early exit from his Napoli contract to return to Anfield, and they recover in April and May to pip Manchester United to the final Champions League spot.
With Steven Gerrard retiring, Benitez makes a bold play to bring in Xabi Alonso from Bayern Munich, and the Bavarian club let the Spanish midfielder leave after securing his replacement with the return of former academy player Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen. The Reds’ only other signing is Porto full-back Danilo.
Liverpool are eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages, but go on to win the Europa League, beating Manchester United along the way. Sadly for them, though, the European run hampers their league form and a seventh-place finish follows.
The Premier League title goes the way of Arsenal, who pip their rivals in an open competition thanks to the goals of Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino. At the end of the season, Lambert and Philippe Coutinho leave the club, but they are able to secure Inter midfielder Mateo Kovačić after pursuing the Croatian for more than a year.
The Rafa experiment falls short, with Liverpool dismissing their manager in November after a difficult start domestically and in Europe. Liverpool respond with the surprise appointment of Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine is undoubtedly a wildcard choice, but the club’s owners lay out their aim to give the former Marseille boss time to impose his style on the club.
After scoring just 16 goals in their first 15 games under Benitez, only staying in the mix due to the defensive prowess of Mamadou Sakho, the Bielsa effect isn’t enough to claw back the big gap to league leaders Chelsea. However, it does help the Reds creep into the top four with more goals than any other team in the league. His arrival comes too late for a European renaissance, though, with Liverpool finishing bottom of their Champions League group with just one win from their six games.
The Bielsa effect takes hold more quickly and more dramatically than anyone could have imagined. Griezmann leaves for Barcelona, having grown frustrated with the failure to challenge for a league title, but Liverpool bring in Mario Balotelli, Dimitri Payet and Alexis Sánchez in an overhaul of their front-line. Santi Cazorla also arrives, as a replacement for Alonso after his compatriot’s retirement, while the pursuit of a goalkeeper better suited to the new manager’s style sees Kiko Casilla arrive at Melwood on deadline day.
Liverpool are six points clear at the top of the Premier League at Christmas, and bolster their ranks in January with the £45m arrival of Benfica superstar Lazar Marković and Roma’s Mohamed Salah. Son leaves for Italy as part of the latter deal. However, the new arrivals upset the balance of the squad, and injury problems for Sánchez leave Liverpool thin up front. Additionally, Casilla is dropped after a series of high-profile errors, with Danny Ward taking his place in the starting line-up from February onwards.
Liverpool finish second to Manchester City and reach the Champions League final, where Ward is at fault for two goals in a 3-1 win for Barça, with Griezmann and Suárez coming back to haunt their former employers.
Bielsa opts to make Ward his league goalkeeper and Casilla his first choice in Europe, while Marković and Salah begin to find their groove after a full pre-season at Anfield. The Egyptian runs away at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts, taking up the mantle on his own after Balotelli’s January departure.
With just a handful of games left, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson masterminds a victory over Manchester City to put the Reds in pole position for the title, and a win at home to Chelsea would all but seal it. He tells the press he has been paying attention to the motivational skills of Steven Gerrard in 2014, watching old videos of his predecessor as captain, and in a pre-match huddle before the Chelsea game he insists “this does not slip”.
We all know what happens next.