Liverpool’s hopes of a dramatic last-day Premier League title win were dashed by Manchester City’s remarkable second-half comeback, with the 3-1 home win over Wolves not enough to maintain their quest for an unprecedented quadruple.
For a long period, with their rivals losing at home to Aston Villa, belief coursed around the ground but the dream was extinguished in the space of six minutes in which Pep Guardiola’s men turned things around.
It meant the Reds finished second by a point, with a 92-point tally which would have been good enough to win the title in 25 of the previous 30 seasons.
The last time a team failed to win the top-flight title after leading the table on the final day was Liverpool themselves in 1989 when they lost 2-0 at home to Arsenal.
But this time their destiny was out of their hands as it needed Villa, managed by former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, to pull off the unexpected and get something at the Etihad Stadium.
For 75 minutes it looked like they might just do that and with Sadio Mane’s 11th league goal at Anfield cancelling out Pedro Neto’s surprise opener there was a feeling that something special was happening.
But by the time Mohamed Salah had put his side 2-1 up with his 23rd league goal – to share the Golden Boot with Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, City were ahead.
That required something special from Villa late on but the next goal came at Anfield where Andy Robertson stabbed home in the 89th minute.
The match began and ended in a feeling of deflation but the consolation for Liverpool and their fans is they have a Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday to complete a cup treble.
Neto’s goal was most definitely not in the script but highlighted chinks in Liverpool’s defence which had seen them concede the first goal in five of their last six matches.
What was more annoying from the hosts’ point of view was the simplicity of the goal: Ibrahima Konate misjudged a Jose Sa kick and Raul Jimenez raced clear to square for Neto to become only the third opposition player to score a league goal at Anfield in 2022.
What was uncharacteristic, however, was Liverpool’s lack of sharpness up front.
Luis Diaz took the ball too close to Sa having been played in by Joel Matip, with the Colombia international’s next attack seeing his cross fly through the six-yard box with no team-mate close.
With so much at stake it could have been a nervy, cagey affair but it had the feel of a cup tie with both sides having chances as Leander Dendoncker fired from a breakaway before Neto was forced off injured.
A moment of genius lifted the rood off Anfield in the 24th minute when Thiago Alcantara, the dominant player in possession, produced a brilliant back-heeled pass for Mane to run through and score for the fourth successive final day, the first Liverpool player to do since since Ronald Orr in 1911.
Just before half-time came news of Villa’s goal at City and the ground went giddy with delight but on the pitch captain Jordan Henderson could be seen telling his team-mates to calm things down.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker was the coolest of them all in saving substitute Hwang Hee-Chan’s near-post shot but the loss of Thiago to injury just before half-time was a significant blow.
However, other players started to energise and Mane – and the majority of Anfield – thought he had scored with a cheeky dink over Sa early in the second half only for a late offside flag to dampen the celebrations.
Salah, introduced in the 58th minute having recovered from a minor groin problem after last week’s FA Cup final victory, lobbed over with the outside of his left-foot from a tight angle as Liverpool kept probing.
The Egypt international then delayed his shot having capitalised on Willy Boly’s slip and the defender produced a brilliant recovery to dispossess the forward.
Moments later another roar went around the ground as former Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho doubled Villa’s lead at City, with Jurgen Klopp putting a fourth forward on the pitch when he replaced Naby Keita with Roberto Firmino.
The tension was starting to become unbearable as Alisson tipped over a Hwang shot to provide a reminder there could be no gung-ho approach – and then City scored. Three times in six minutes.
Every goal from the Etihad was cheered by the visiting supporters, revelling in their misfortune of their Midlands rivals, who chanted “You nearly won the league” as the mood switched from frustration to deflation.
There was a brief respite when Salah forced home from close range after Matip’s header was cleared off the line.
With five minutes to go it appeared the rumour mill, fired by wishful thinking, went into overdrive as for a brief moment there was an outpouring of ecstasy for no apparent reason.
Fans were waiting on a goal from elsewhere so Robertson’s strike in the 89th minute goal produced only muted celebrations.