At the turn of the New Year, Liverpool were flying. Having collected 54 points from 20 games, and with Manchester City losing 3 times during a dismal December period, Liverpool sat unbeaten and 7 points clear at the top of the Premier League. No team have had such a big lead at this stage of the season and not gone on to be crowned champions. Were the 29 barren years without winning a league title finally coming to an end?
Fast forward just over a month and Liverpool have dropped those 7 points. They stand shakily at the ‘starting line’ of the Premier League run in, looking over their shoulders at City, Spurs, United and Chelsea racing up behind them as the 2018-19 season goes down to the wire. 12 games remain (as of writing) and by the end of next week the reigning champions could be firmly back at the top of the table.
As the business end of the season approaches, the question is whether Liverpool have the bottle to battle it out until the end or will they once again ‘slip’ at the last hurdle as they did in 2013-14…
“This does not slip”, were Steven Gerrard’s infamous (paraphrased!) words after their 2014 defeat of Manchester City at Anfield, on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. But fate it seemed would have the final say. A Gerrard slip, resulting in Chelsea’s 2-0 win a few weeks later, was the beginning of the end. The season soon unravelled for Liverpool following a shock 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace, and City went on to win the title. The high hopes placed on Brendan Rogers’ “incredible” team resulted in failure, and left Liverpool fans with a bitter aftertaste in their mouths of ‘what could have been’. For weeks the team bus had been greeted with flares, smoke bombs and deafening chants of “We’re gunna win the league”. The red “Champions 2013-14” shirts had already been printed and prepped in advance. It had all gotten a bit too much.
Liverpool have come a long way since then. Bringing in Jurgen Klopp in 2015 has completely changed the fortunes of the club: a weary and ageing team after the disappointing spells of Roy Hodgson, Sir Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers would be soon revamped. With some serious investment and Klopp implementing his high intensity ‘gegenpressing’ tactics, a new project began. Recruiting quality attackers such as Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané has been critical to their success, as well as creating a solid spine to the team with recent signings of goalkeeper Alisson, and players such as Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keita and Fabinho. James Milner has come into his own under Klopp’s tutelage, as have youth products like the exciting Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez.
However, you do wonder if Jurgen Klopp’s team are feeling some of that mounting pressure again. The Liverpool side is young and full of potential, but have no experience of winning titles. As charismatic and galvanizing as he is, Klopp has not touched silverware since the 2011-12 season, when he won his second Bundesliga title as well as the German Cup - and he has lost all 6 finals he has been in since that season.
With injuries to their defence hitting the team at a crucial point in the season, and Klopp complaining about the officials and even the weather after recent losses, it remains to be seen whether Liverpool can finally end their title draught. However, their fate is firmly in their own hands (and legs).