Nearly six months ago it seemed like Liverpool had ascended their footballing Everest. Fernandinho’s valiant/foolish (delete where appropriate) attempts to salvage Man City’s ailing title challenge resulted in possibly the world’s most blatant handball and red card versus Chelsea.
Willian stepped up to the spot and smashed his penalty into the top corner. 15 minutes later, Liverpool were champions of England once more.
The achievement ended a streak of 30 years without a title. Gone were the memes about ‘Slippy G’ or ‘irrelevant player X has more titles than Liverpool’. But it was not just the lifting of the trophy that roused elation and pride among the Anfield faithful. It was the way in which they decimated the competition and marched their way to glory through sheer force of will.
Despite a shaky finish, 99 points were accrued – the second highest total in the Premier League era. 79 points were earned from a possible 81 across their first 27 games. For all intents and purposes, this was the most dominant season in the competition’s history.
Fast forward six months and Liverpool are staring down the barrel of a vastly different campaign. Points have been dropped to teams like Brighton and Everton, and no one will soon forget that Aston Villa debcale. Extrapolating their current tally over the course of a full season, Jurgen Klopp’s side would finish with just 83 points.
Potentially 16 points fewer than last year, but should that mark of 83 be enough to lift a second PL crown, it would not only beat last season’s accomplishment, but quite simply blow it out of the water.
Huh? What? How? Why? Read on…
1. The history books
Long gone are the days of clubs winning a title and immediately being installed (and rightly so) as favourites the following year. Between 1992 and 2009, the Premier League was retained on seven occasions. In the last decade, that feat was achieved just once (Man City 2017-19).
The most startling aspect of that graph is just far some champions have fallen. Putting Leicester to one side, who would’ve thought a Man Utd team containing Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and co. would drop to seventh.
Chelsea have found maintaining their lofty standards the most difficult, dropping to fifth in 2017/18 and a barely believable tenth under Jose Mourinho in 2015/16.
The drop in positions tells you one thing, but further context is provided by analysing the decline in reigning champions’ points tallies.
Just once in the last decade has a team followed a title-winning campaign with a greater tally of points in their defence. And even on that occasion (Man Utd 2010/11) a diminutive Argentine striker had the latest of surprises for Sir Alex Ferguson.
The average dip from the champions over the last 10 years is 16.5 points.
Improve on their current projection of 83 and Liverpool are already ahead of the law of averages.
2. Stronger competition
Man City could be argued either way. The exits of midfield maestro David Silva and ultra-threatening forward Leroy Sane have dampened their attacking flair. But with Aymeric Laporte fit and healthy and Ruben Dias already looking a cut above, Pep Guardiola’s men now have multiple avenues from which to eke out victories.
The real step-ups, however, have come at Chelsea and Tottenham.
It seemed like every week during the transfer window you’d check the news and see another £50m+ signing posing with Marina Granovskaia at Cobham.
Over a quarter of a billion pounds were plundered into literally every department of Frank Lampard’s squad.
The jury is still out on Edouard Mendy. But a pork chop would make a better goalkeeper than Kepa Arrizabalaga these days. Even if Mendy turns out to be a middle-of-the-road stopper, he’s still a big improvement on what they had.
Thiago Silva has brought class and composure to the backline, while Ben Chilwell offers the sort of attacking threat from left-back bettered only by Andrew Robertson.
Then we come to the exciting parts.
Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner. Throw them into a pan and add a little Christian Pulisic seasoning and what do you get? Goals goals goals.
Tottenham’s improvement has come via a different route. This Spurs squad were once the darlings of the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino. Graceful, exciting, full of flair… lightweight, easy to play through, quicker to fold than a deck chair.
Mourinho has seen to that. Whatever the Portuguese firebrand is selling, his players are now buying. Tottenham have already taken seven points from a possible nine against other members of the traditional ‘top six’ with an aggregate score of 8-1.
Oh, and it also helps that Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are putting out plausible impersonations of Lionel Messi and Pele.
Liverpool’s marriage with the treatment table this year is like something from a horror movie.
When one comes out, two more go in. One week Thiago is on course to return, the next we’re wondering if his signing was just a dream.
Putting Liverpool’s entire injury list this season into one handy, manageable slideshow would require a lot of patience and an even greater amount of insanity. Thankfully, @LFCUncensored has both in abundance…
If the Reds produce a clean bill of health and pick up no further injuries for the rest of the season, they’ll still wind up with a longer injury list than the entirety of last season.
Squad depth is being challenged like never before, but Liverpool still continue to hover around the summit of the Premier League week after week.
4. Weakening of home advantage
We know what you’re thinking. Covid-19 has affected everyone equally, no clubs have (as of writing) been allowed fans in attendance to give the team that extra couple of percent.
True, but no team relies on their home advantage to anywhere near the degree Liverpool do.
6⃣ 4⃣ consecutive home league games unbeaten – a new club record 🤩
HOME ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Nw7FxQuXqN
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 22, 2020
As of December 4th, none of the other 19 Premier League teams had even reached double figures in that metric.
Liverpool are a perfect five from five at Anfield in the league so far, but only the Leicester victory could be described as comfortable.
Three wins were achieved by a single goal, while their victory over Arsenal came from behind and was only capped off by a late Diogo Jota strike.
Fans will gradually begin to return to the stands as Covid restrictions ease, but the pulsating atmosphere generated by 54,000 urging their team forward will not return for some time.
2019/20 seemed (and felt!) like football had peaked as a Liverpool fan. Should Klopp and Jordan Henderson lift the Premier League trophy aloft once more come May, the collective euphoria and scale of achievement will eclipse what we witnessed six months ago.