Liverpool Are a Force Again but Jürgen Klopp's Title Is Tough to Place in Pantheon
Liverpool could still end up with a record-shattering 107 points this season, though whether they will continue to carry everything before them after winning the title so early remains to be seen. Their game against Manchester City on Thursday should offer a fairly large clue about how the champions intend to approach their remaining fixtures, though by virtue of wrapping up the title with seven matches to play, Liverpool have already managed one of the most impressive Premier League campaigns.
Whether it will be deemed the best probably depends on the final points tally. If it falls below the 100 mark set by City two years ago it will look less arresting in the record books, which tend not to reflect the fact the title was won so comprehensively that rivals began to acknowledge the futility of pursuit around Christmas and the last few weeks of the season were spent preserving the integrity of the league in empty stadiums in temperatures better suited to lazing by a swimming pool.
Two asterisks, not only one, may be needed to put Liverpool’s extraordinary season into a proper context. One to indicate all the coronavirus disruption and matches behind closed doors, another to emphasise that to all intents and purposes the title race was run by the halfway stage.
For both those reasons it is difficult, certainly at this juncture, to compare Liverpool’s achievement with other notable Premier League campaigns. As this is Liverpool’s first Premier League title, after a mere 28 years of trying, it seems reasonable on this occasion to restrict comparisons to the Premier League years.
There will naturally be those who grumble that football did not start in 1992, and that many a notable campaign took place in the previous century or so, but in terms of recent history all anyone needs to know is that in the years between their last title under Bill Shankly (1973) and their last before the advent of the Premier League (1990), there was only a single season (1980-81, Aston Villa and Ipswich) when Liverpool did not finish either top of the pile or runners-up. That is some level of achievement and consistency and is why the 30-year wait for the next title seemed so unimaginable to supporters of a certain vintage.
When you go from feast to famine in such a pronounced manner it is easy to feel the old glory might never come back. Huddersfield were unbeatable once and Preston were Invincible. There were even those who were beginning to worry that Steven Gerrard slipping or Manchester City reaching new heights of excellence might represent some sort of curse on Liverpool success.
A manager breezing in with the promise to turn doubters into believers, then doing exactly that, was almost literally a dream come true. Liverpool do not only have the crown back, they have in Jürgen Klopp Shankly reincarnate, which is why this title is being celebrated more wildly than any of the 18 that preceded it.
On Merseyside, at any rate. In Manchester they are making jokes about an image of the Liver bird being projected on to the moon. Gary Neville has been pretending to disappear, but there is a palpable unease behind the easy laughs about overexcited scousers. To use the tiresome cliche, Liverpool will not be “back on their perch” until this sort of success has become such a regular event it starts to go unnoticed. Yet looking at the past two or three years that may not take too long. Liverpool are on the move again.
Anyone in search of the perfect Premier League season would find it hard to look past Arsenal’s unbeaten campaign of 2003-04, even if the title was won with fewer points (90) than Manchester United had managed on two previous occasions. Another strong contender would be José Mourinho’s first season at Chelsea, when after a blistering start the points record was pushed out to an impressive 95. That stood for more than a decade until Pep Guardiola’s City smashed it with 100 in 2017-18 and followed up with a hugely creditable 98 points the next season.
Those campaigns are comparable to what Liverpool have just done but, and it’s a big but, each was achieved in a degree of isolation. Klopp’s team haveended a 30-year title wait while still technically the champions of Europe. They are technically champions of the world, too, though many feel that distinction has little to add to the prestige of winning the Champions League.
Arsenal have never won the Champions League, Chelsea managed it only after Mourinho had left and it took Alex Ferguson 13 of his 26 years at Old Trafford to put the Premier League and the Champions League on the sideboard at the same time. Klopp has done it in five years, albeit in different seasons.
It is true Covid-19 has distorted the usual timeframe, but even if the season had played out as planned Liverpool would still have been crowned champions long before the date of the Champions League final.
Considering they have reached the past two Champions League finals, and 97 points and one defeat would have won the league by a distance last year but for opponents of the calibre of City, only one conclusion is possible. Liverpool are back.
The debate about where this season fits into the Premier League pantheon can wait until it is properly finished, but it already seems clear Klopp can turn teams into winning machines. While there may be a concern his high-energy game may not be suited to long-term domination, short-term domination is well under way.
What was true in the 70s and 80s now seems true once again. If you want to win anything in England, you have to get past Liverpool.