Manchester City remain the only credible threat to the Reds’ reign for the next few seasons, says John Duerden.
SINGAPORE: Liverpool’s 30-year wait for the English championship finally ended on Friday (Jun 26) without the Reds kicking a ball.
Second-placed Manchester City lost at Chelsea to stay 23 points behind Liverpool with only seven games of the 2019-20 English Premier League (EPL) season left to play. It meant that the inevitable was finally confirmed.
There was never any question since earlier in the season that Liverpool would end its three-decade drought but what will be uppermost in the mind of Jurgen Klopp – the German coach who has revitalised the club since arriving in 2015 – is whether this triumph is the start of another period of Liverpool domination of English football or a one-off.
The numbers this season suggest the former. The only positive for the rest of the league is that surely Liverpool can’t be as dominant again.
LIVERPOOL WERE JUST TOO GOOD
Under Klopp, the team have collected an amazing 86 points from a possible 93. Of the 31 games played, only three have not ended in victory and only one has ended in defeat, a shocking loss to Watford on Feb 29, just two weeks before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic that brought sport around the world to a grinding halt was the only thing that could have prevented the title ending up at Anfield, the club’s legendary home stadium. There were concerns among fans that the season would be voided.
“Project Restart” ended those worries and while there can be no mass celebrations just yet, fans still have plenty to smile about.
Liverpool, who just missed out last season to Manchester City but still managed to win the UEFA Champions League, have thrilled supporters and neutrals alike with their football.
With a much-envied forward line of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, goals are not an issue. Then there is perhaps the best pair of full-backs in the world in Andy Robertson and local lad Trent Alexander-Arnold next to the magnificent centre-back Virgil Van Dijk. Goalkeeper Allison adds a safe pair of hands as well as Brazilian flair.
Playing a fast-paced, aggressive and attacking game and led by their charismatic coach, everything seems to be perfect for Liverpool FC and their army of global fans.
Liverpool owner John Henry summed up the general feeling. “This was a season for the ages and for the faithful of Liverpool Football Club,” he wrote on social media.
It has been an incredible year of magnificent achievement culminating tonight in capturing the Premier League title.
Graeme Souness, a member of the Liverpool teams of the 1970s and 1980s that dominated English and European football, paid tribute to the new champions.
“Nobody enjoys playing against them, you have to go to war with them. Every time they cross the white line the manager instils in them that they have to give everything for the cause. When you combine that effort with the qualities they have, they are some team. You can’t say they will win it every year, but they will come very close to winning this one and the big one, the European one.”
A NEW POWER IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL
Souness as a player was part of Liverpool when the club were a dynasty. He returned as coach in 1991 but was unable to stop Liverpool’s decline and was fired three years later. Other coaches such as Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez delivered trophies but the league title, the ultimate prize offered to the best team over 38 games, remained elusive.
Klopp has succeeded where others have failed but the job is only half-finished. Since the EPL started in 1992 there have been six other winners.
Two failed to repeat their success. Blackburn Rovers in 1995 and Leicester City in 2016 both finished top of the tree but then quickly faded away.
Other teams have had their purple patches. Arsenal won it three times between 1998 and 2004 but not since. In 2005 Chelsea won and picked up the last and fifth Premier League win in 2017. Manchester United are the most successful with 13 titles though the last of those came in 2013.
Manchester City were the best team of the previous decade, winning the title four times.
It would be a surprise if Liverpool go the way of Leicester and Blackburn.
The team was so far ahead this season that they could collected 25 fewer points next time and still be in with a shout. Arsenal have faded and Chelsea are still rebuilding.
Manchester United are the most successful team in domestic football with 20 championships in all, with Liverpool one behind on 19.
The Manchester club will be desperate to maintain that lead over their bitter rivals but despite investment in players, United are struggling to finish in the top four this season and don’t seem ready to challenge Liverpool just yet.
United’s best hope of stopping Liverpool next season is Manchester City. City, coached by former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola and with massive financial backing, will be keen to recapture their domestic title.
A likely ban from the UEFA Champions League due to a reported breach of Financial Fair Play rules, will only focus City’s minds on the domestic challenge. Guardiola will look to strengthen his team in the transfer market this summer but then so will Klopp.
Regardless of whether Liverpool can repeat their success in 2020-21, there is not going to be a 30-year wait for the next title.
The current English, European and World Champions are set to remain at the top of English football for years to come. The balance of power has shifted back to the red half of Merseyside.
John Duerden has lived in Asia for 20 years and covers the region’s sporting scene. He is the author of three books including Lions & Tigers – The History of Football in Singapore and Malaysia (2017).