Neil Humphreys: Don’t switch off now, Liverpool
Late goals should inspire a fitting finale for the EPL champions
(Sadio Mane 71, Curtis Jones 89)
ASTON VILLA 0
No one really thinks about the epilogue. Once the final act has been resolved, the last moments of any production are often overlooked.
But those memories can live longest.
Liverpool have already won the title. Their final act was spectacular.
But they owe it to themselves to go out with a fitting epilogue, something that leaves us all with a spring in the step.
They deserve it. We demand it. That's how the relationship between a greedy audience and the greatest show in the English Premier League works.
But for 70 minutes against relegation-threatened Aston Villa this morning, that unique relationship was fraying, ever so slightly.
For 160 minutes of being champions, Liverpool hadn't once looked like champions. They had the feel of middle-aged men coming together for a school reunion and wondering why they couldn't recapture their legendary teenage parties.
When history is made, the hangover is long. When once-in-a-generation history is made, the hangover is even longer.
The heavy legs and weary gait stretched from Manchester City's Etihad last week to Anfield this morning.
Of course, no one among Liverpool's faithful will care much if the Reds fail to shine in their remaining games.
Ironically, the rest of us will. Strip away the blinkered tribalism and the rest of us are in it purely for the intoxicating football that has swept us all along on a red chariot.
It won't particularly matter if Liverpool's season ends with a damp squib. Their name only gets engraved on the trophy once.
But their campaign warrants more than a title and the removal of a 30-year losers' tag. They deserve as many records as possible and we want more swaggering, counter-pressing highlights for the memory bank.
Perhaps that's unfair. Perhaps the human element is impossible to deny, as tired athletes struggle to muster further enthusiasm for another five processions after the Lord mayor's show.
Juergen Klopp isn't buying it of course. After the 4-0 hammering by Manchester City, he came close to losing his temper at the interviewer's suggestion that a post-party funk was setting in.
But even he struggled to rouse his Reds. The hosts had not mustered a shot at goal in the opening half an hour - the first time that had happened at Anfield all season.
Indeed the only real highlight was the pre-match guard of honour. Villa could hardly be blamed for their opponents wrapping up the title with seven games to spare.
But the thought of another five guard-of-honour sideshows, no matter how well meaning, will begin to feel like a school sports day.
Klopp made three changes to his line-up, bringing in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Divock Origi, but the rotated personnel actually underlined his extraordinary accomplishment this season.
Liverpool's best XI remain the envy of Europe. But the squad still don't quite rival the riches of Man City, which is a credit to both the club and the coach. The Reds won the title with 20 points to spare with a weaker bench.
Still, the accolades meant nothing to an increasingly frustrated Klopp. After an hour, he'd seen enough. Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho and Origi.
Liverpool needed just 11 minutes to break the deadlock. In a cluttered box, Keita slid a clever pass across the area and Sadio Mane smashed his shot in off the bar.
Liverpool were lucky. Villa were hard done by. Despite being in the bottom three and fearing relegation, the visitors deserved something for probing the champions at every opportunity, with Jack Grealish springing the occasional counter-attacking raid.
But superior quality prevailed, just.
In the 89th minute, substitute Curtis Jones made it 2-0 with a half-volley after Mohamed Salah headed an Andy Robertson cross into his path, rounding off a fine team goal, which was much more like it.
Can we have more of that please in the last five games? Are we asking too much? Probably.
But Liverpool's season-long gluttony has made us all greedy. Their brilliance has brought out the Oliver Twist in all of us.
We're still hungry. We still want more.