Liverpool might win the Premier League title in 2018/19, but Manchester City probably will, and that right there, that someone has always just been a little better, has been a cruelly consistent feature in the 28 years and counting since the Reds last finished a league campaign as champions of England.
Liverpool as they sit would arguably have been the best team in the Premier League in a lot of previous seasons, yet when reigning champions City have established themselves as such a dominant force it makes the task for anyone looking to topple them almost impossible.
Jurgen Klopp and Anfield directors, scouts and officials have built a fine team, possibly the best Liverpool team in the Premier League era to date. It has been constructed through a combination of smart recruitment, cohesive bonding, pedal to the metal tactics and deep levels of physical fitness.
Manchester United were laughed at when they were linked with a big money move for Southampton’s Sadio Mane in 2015. Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool splashed out £29m on a largely unproven Roberto Firmino that same year, and no one could have predicted how Mohamed Salah would take off after returning to England two years after a Chelsea nightmare.
Between them, those three players alone scored 91 goals in all competitions last season and only eight fewer than Manchester United managed as a whole team.
The Reds have systematically strengthened their biggest weakness over the last 18 months, bringing in centre-back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson, paying world record fees for both, to bolster a defensive unit that had long been an Achilles heel going back several years.
The impact of van Dijk, who has served to make the previously erratic Dejan Lovren a better player and is proving an excellent influence on 21-year-old Joe Gomez, and Alisson has already been felt. Liverpool have conceded only five goals in 13 Premier League games this season – never more than one in a game – and have recorded a joint league high of eight clean sheets.
Virgil van Dijk vs Watford:
Completed 93 passes, more than any other player on the pitch.
Won every single aerial duel (8).
Won every single tackle (3).
Didn’t give away a single foul.
Ended the game with the captain’s armband.
— bet365 (@bet365) November 24, 2018
This summer gone, Fabinho and Naby Keita were bought to add quality and stability to the midfield. As it happens, neither player has really had the desired impact yet – the former took a while to be trusted and break into the team, while the latter has also struggled to justify the hype. But Liverpool as a whole are still flying high regardless.
Victory over Watford at the weekend marked a 13th game unbeaten in the Premier League this season, the Reds’ longest run without losing at the start of a season since 2007/08 when a Rafa Benitez-led side went 14 unbeaten, matching the 1990/91 team.
So far this season, Liverpool have taken 33 points from a possible 39. That would have put them top of the table after 13 games in as many as 20 Premier League seasons to date, with only seven exceptions, including this 2018/19 campaign.
A rudimentary calculation based on points per game so far suggests that Liverpool’s projection for the season is 96 points. Only one other team in Premier League history has ever amassed more than that in a single season. Unfortunately for Liverpool that was last season and was achieved by the only team currently above them right now, one that is showing no signs of slowing down. The same calculation gives City a projected points tally for this season of 102.
Manchester City were the first ever Premier League to hit the 100 points last season, they also set new records for goals scored (106) and wins in a 38-game Premier League campaign (32). As things stand, there is very little to suggest that this once in a generation team the Sky Blues have assembled will not defend their title, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.
For Liverpool fans it is a depressingly similar story. Whenever the club has brought it all together and put themselves in serious title contention, there has always been one other team who has been that little bit better. In other words, they’ve never been in a position to scrape a title with a relatively low points total as others have done on a handful of occasions – Manchester United on 75 points in 1996/97 or Arsenal on 78 points in 1997/98, for example.
In 2008/09 when Liverpool finished second it was on 86 points behind a United side that were reigning European champions, double reigning Premier League champions and would soon play in a second Champions League final in as many seasons.
Second in 2001/02 was behind a famously great Arsenal team completing a second Premier League/FA Cup double in the space of five years. And in 2013/14 Manchester City had to score more than 100 goals to finish above the Reds.
Liverpool right now are as good as they have ever been in the memory of a whole generation of fans, and arguably among the best teams the Premier League has ever seen. And yet because there is one club, just one, who is currently better, 2018/19 still isn’t any more likely to yield that long overdue league title Liverpool so desperately crave.
Global Express News