In the 2018-2019 season, Liverpool Football Club got 97 points. Ninety-seven. Any season other than one in which we were going up against a financially-doped Manchester City, that would have been enough to win the league. Instead, we missed out by one point. When we finished second in 2001-2002 we followed that up with a fifth place finish the following season. When we did it in 2008-2009 we then ended up seventh the year after. Our improbably tilt at the title in 2013-2014 resulted in us ending the following campaign in sixth. It’s fair to say, then, that this club hasn’t done well at following up big points totals one year with a similar amount the year after during the Premier League era. Indeed, we haven’t gone on to win the title the year after reaching second place since the 1989-1990 season, which came towards the end of a nineteen season streak in which we failed to finish in the top two just once.
1 – On the only previous occasion that Liverpool started a league season at home against Norwich City, the Reds won the top-flight league title ahead of Manchester City in 2nd (1976-77). Liverpool beat Norwich 1-0 at Anfield on MD1 that season. Fate? #PremierLeagueFixturespic.twitter.com/7Skreef33b
The question that naturally crops up is whether we’ll have the ability to break the ninety point barrier again in the 2019-2020 season. The reality is that only two teams have managed to finish on more than ninety points two seasons running since the Premier League began, with both of them getting a lower points total the following year. We know about Guardiola’s Manchester City, with the other team being José Mourinho’s Chelsea, who racked up ninety-five points in 2004-2005 and then got ninety-one in 2005-2006. Every other side that got ninety points or more got fewer than that the season after, with only Manchester United in 1999-2000 getting over ninety points one season before retaining the title with less than that the season after. In other words, then, it won’t be easy for the Reds to take the challenge to the Cityzens in the forthcoming campaign, so what can we learn from the fixtures, which were released today?
We’ve Got A Tough Start & A Tough Finish Whilst City Have Neither
There’s no telling which teams will be involved in the title challenge next season. As I type this, it’s likely that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer will still be Manchester United manager at the start of August, that Chelsea will have yet another new man in the dugout and that Tottenham will be reeling from their Champions League final defeat, but none of those things are guaranteed. Who knows what will happen over the next eleven months as the season takes shape? After all, few people thought Liverpool would be able to close the gap to Manchester City in the space of one campaign, yet we did just that. Even so, whilst we can’t speak definitively, it is likely that Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will renew hostilities once again when we get to the business end of the campaign. With that in mind, here’s Liverpool’s opening five fixtures compared to City’s:
Manchester City’s Games
Norwich City (h)
West Ham (a)
Tottenham Hotspur (h)
Brighton & Hove Albion (h)
Norwich City (a)
On the one hand, Liverpool didn’t lose to any side that finished below then in the Premier League last season, so we shouldn’t fear playing anyone this time around. On the other hand, none of Chelsea, Southampton and Burnley are easy to play away from home, with the fact that Ralph Hasenhüttl will have had a pre-season to drill his methods into his Saints players a fact that I’m not delighted by. In comparison, City’s only slightly tricky fixture will be Spurs, but they beat them three times in all competitions last time out and will be keen for revenge for their Champions League dismissal.
When it comes to the end of the season, the last five games look like this:
Manchester City’s Games
Brighton & Hove Albion (a)
Newcastle United (h)
Brighton & Hove Albion (a)
Newcastle United (a)
Norwich City (h)
We both play Brighton away, plus Newcastle, but City get to take the Magpies on at home and we have to travel to St. James’ Park. Add into that the fact that we’ll again have to dig deep against Burnley and travel to Arsenal before welcoming Chelsea and it’s not hard to figure out which team has the tougher end of season.
When You Play Teams Matters
One of football’s oldest clichés is that the table never lies, when it lies every day of the season apart from the final one. Games in hand aren’t taken into account, for example, nor is when you play a team. One of the worst takes in the game on the day the fixtures get released is that ‘everyone plays everyone twice’. It’s true, of course, but the time at which you play them can make all the difference. Should Norwich be relegated by the time they travel to play City on the final day of the season, for example, then it will be a much easier game for the Cityzens than for us on the opening day of the season, under the lights. We don’t know right now when it’s good or bad to play teams, but it will become abundantly clear as the campaign wears on. Take our game against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season, for example. It came in the midst of a twelve game unbeaten run for them, of which ten were wins.
City get one top 6 side in their first 11. We get 5 in our first 12.
Equally playing a team after an international break or a Champions League encounter will make a difference, given how much both of those things can affect fitness and rhythm. It might well turn out to be a good thing for us to play Chelsea at the start of the season, given that they’ll have had to get used to the workings of a new manager whilst our player will know exactly what Jürgen Klopp expects from them. On the flipside, though, the players will be trying to impress the new man in the dugout at the start of the campaign or playing for something towards the end, making both of them tougher than the mid-November and end of March encounters with them that City have to worry about. That’s to say nothing of the likelihood of games being moved around to satisfy the TV schedulers or to cope with fixture congestion because of cup runs. There are any number of things that might influence how the season pans out, given that I haven’t even mentioned VAR yet. What the Reds have to do is win and keep winning to take the fight to City.
This is a curious period for Liverpool supporters. Such is the euphoria that we’re still feeling from our Champions League win over Tottenham Hotspur that most of us want to watch the Reds play again tomorrow. Normally at the end of a season most of us are ready for a break, keen to go on holiday, read a book or otherwise return to a sense of normality after an emotionally exhausting campaign. We need to re-charge our batteries so that we’re ready to go again when August comes around, whetting our whistle by watching a pre-season match every now and then but generally being happy to not have to feel as though our moods are dependent on the result of a football match. Right now, though, we’re riding high to such an extent that I’ve seen loads of people watching and tweeting about England over the past week or so. Admittedly most of those tweets were wondering how normal people can watch such dross, but Liverpool supporters turning to the national team for a footballing fix really does demonstrate how desperate some people are to keep watching the game.
Virgil van Dijk, PFA Player of the Year, imperious Liverpool footballer, European champion, role model, class act on and off the field, supporter of the Red Cross, paid for Christmas party at Anfield for 120 kids suffering from cancer, is being booed by England fans #NEDENG
The joy of being European champions hasn’t rubbed off for most Liverpool supporters yet, though it’s fair to say that the idea that we’d be ‘unbearable’ has proven to be slightly wide of the mark. Yet it’s also naturally that the conversation begins to move on after some time and it feels as though that time is coming. People were happy to celebrate the event a week after the fact on Saturday, but as the days have passed so too has the need to look at what comes next for the Reds. After all, most of Europe will be waiting to see what the champions of the continent decide to do in the transfer market before making their own moves. Yes, players will be bought and sold in the coming weeks regardless of us, but it would be naive to think that plenty of agents aren’t being asked about the chances of a move to Anfield by their clients. After all, this isn’t just a flash in the pan like it was in 2005 but instead will hopefully prove to be the start of a period of domination for Liverpool Football Club.
What’s It Got To Do With Harry Wilson?
Liverpool’s journey to the Champions League final to face Real Madrid in 2018 felt improbably, remarkable and perhaps came a season too soon for the players. It’s clear that they learnt a lot from the loss, however, and worked hard this year to put it right. Those that criticised the match for not being a very interesting spectacle are failing to realise that the Reds had to do one thing and one thing only: win. They did so, becoming European champions for the sixth time in the club’s existence, which is double the number of times that the next closest English club have managed. The combination of that win with a league total of ninety-seven points means that Jürgen Klopp’s men are serious contenders on both fronts moving in to next season. We’re in a position where the best players on the planet are going to be having a long, serious think about whether they’d like to play for us; a notion which is strengthen by the fact that our players seem to be having so much fun doing it.
That means that suddenly the future of players like Harry Wilson is much less clear. The twenty-two-year-old spent last season on loan with Derby County, developing his game under Frank Lampard and helping the Rams get all the way to the Championship. We’ve all seen his spectacular goals during the campaign, leading some supporters to believe that he should be given a chance to prove himself next season. Yet, for me, the cause of Harry Wilson sums up where Liverpool are right now. We’re no longer the club that has scraped top-four finishes and is being rebuilt by the German in the dugout. We don’t need to take punts on youngsters that have done well in the second-tier of English football, but can instead look at the top shelf of transfer targets and be reasonably confident of bringing them in. It will be a shame for Wilson if he’s sold this summer, but rather than lament that fact we should celebrate not needing to hope such prospects come good any more.
We Should Be Shopping On The Top Shelf
The simple reality is that we’re heading into this summer as one of the most attractive clubs in Europe. No longer is Anfield seen as a stepping stone for talented youngsters to head to in order to develop themselves before getting a move to a ‘big club’. Instead we have become that big club once again, being watched by everyone who is looking to move on from their current side in the next couple of months. The question for Jürgen Klopp and his team is no longer about whether or not they can keep their best players but is instead about which lads they’d like to bring in to bolster our ranks. With that in mind, would anybody seriously be saying that we should buy Harry Wilson from Derby if he wasn’t on our books? I don’t think he’s even cross many supporters’ minds.
Harry Wilson is both a very talented player and not good enough for Liverpool.
Makes total sense to accept a £20m-£25m bid for him his summer.
The good news for Wilson is that the manager is a fair man. He’ll unquestionably given him a chance to prove himself during pre-season, but he’ll have to hit truly spectacular heights in order to convince Klopp that he’s good enough to play for the European champions. We’re being linked with the likes of Nicolas Pepe and even Gareth Bale, so the goalposts have been moved as far as the level that we’re operating at is concerned. Wilson is a very talented football, of that there’s no doubt. Yet is his level the same as our level? Of that I’m not convinced. There were plenty of times when he went missing for Derby last season and he struggled to make an impact in the Championship Play-Off Final against Aston Villa. We should be buying players that take us to the next level, that are able to compete with those currently in the squad for their place and, sadly, I’m not sure that the twenty-two-year-old fits that brief.
It’s over, then. This long, incredible, inspiring season has finally reached its glorious climax. The most important thing of that is the word ‘glorious’. The campaign has been crowned with a European Cup that makes the Reds the Champions of Europe for the sixth time. Only AC Milan and Real Madrid sit clear of us with seven and thirteen trophy wins respectively, but Real played teams they could pretty much definitely beat at the start of the tournament’s history so most of their wins don’t really count. The potential disappointment of this season, of missing out on any silverware at all, was very real when we lost the first leg of the semi-final against Barcelona 3-0. Yet the resulting victory made things even sweeter and a big shiny cup is no more than this Liverpool team deserves after a truly stunning campaign. In pretty much any other season, ninety-seven points in the league and a European Cup would have resulted in the players winning a double, but we came up against the riches of Manchester City and so will have to make do with just one of the biggest trophies in football.
Klopp in October 2015 with Liverpool in 10th place: “We have to change from doubters to believers.”
The match itself wasn’t a classic by any means. It was the definition of the notion that winning teams are better in both boxes than their opponents. Tottenham generally controlled the match, dominating possession and asking questions of us time and again. Yet the reality is that we had the answers to those questions, with Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip standout performers in keeping Harry Kane and pals at bay. At the other end, the penalty was a stonewall one and the only question I’d have asked if I’d seen that given against us would have been what on earth the player was doing sticking their arm out like that. Mo Salah’s penalty was a little bit like the match itself: unconvincing but ultimately ending in victory. The let-off for Divock Origi’s goal was incredible, with sheer relief flooding through everyone where I was and, doubtless, throughout the world. Origi, like most of the players, was pretty poor when he came on but, just like everyone else, did what needed to be done to get us over the line. It was just one of many stories from a night that will live long in the memory for the result rather than the performance.
What Do Things Look Like From Here?
My biggest fear leading up to the game was that I had no idea what life looked like if we lost. It was easy for my to convince myself that the manager would be able to tell the players the story of why 97 points was just the beginning, why it was proof that they were on the right tracks and just needed to keep going. I was also just about able to see a manner in which he’d have been able to pick them up off the canvas if we’d lost to Barcelona in a manner that he referred to before the match as ‘glorious failure’. Yet I had no clue how he’d have been able to tell any kind of tale that would have seen him explain how he’d lost seven finals as a manager, nor been the manager of the losing team in the Champions League three times out of three. How does he tell players he knows how to win if he seems to have become a serial loser? That was what I feared the most and that fear went up a notch when we scored so early. Losing a final is one thing, but losing after taking the lead? It may well have broken him and his team.
This is absolute justification for those of us that have long thought that Jordan Henderson is more than good enough to captain Liverpool Football Club. An integral part of the team that brought home number 6 & immortalised forever. Delighted for him. pic.twitter.com/OYBQ6no59a
It was a question that didn’t need to be asked in the end. Instead, the manager got his decisions right and Liverpool Football Club are once again Champions of Europe. The big question now becomes ‘what happens next?’ It feels as though the answer should be that this team takes off. So many people in the world of football say that getting that first trophy is the most important thing, with more tending to follow suit soon after. Having got the taste for it, the players will want to do that again and again and again. In 2006, having won the Champions League the year before, the Reds went on to win the FA Cup. A step down, of course, but proof that silverware often begets silverware. Who knows what Rafa Benitez would’ve achieved if he hadn’t had to deal with the war in the boardroom at the time. Who knows what Jürgen Klopp can achieve because he doesn’t have to. A title tilt next season feels like the crucial next step, but would anyone rule us out of returning to the Atatürk, considering Klopp has yet to lose a two-legged European tie with the club?
The Supporters Deserved It
It goes without saying that the players deserved to lift that trophy. From the likes of Alisson and van Dijk, who turned down the chance to go to ‘surer things’ such as Real Madrid and Manchester City to come to Liverpool, through to Jordan Henderson, who has spent his career on Merseyside being told that he’s not good enough by some people and even offered as a makeweight for part of a deal for Clint Dempsey, the captain has come through so much to mean that he’s earned that trophy. Yet so have the supporters. The men, women and children on Merseyside, up and down the country and throughout the world that have had to deal with so much footballing heartbreak in recent times have very much earned their day in the sun.
Best Football Club in the world.
Best fans in the world.
Best manager in the world.
We all know that social media isn’t real. We’re aware that opposition supporters will always be on the wind-up because we do the same thing. Yet it’s also hurt to be nearly men so many times. From League Cup and Europa League disappointment to missing out on the Champions League title last season and the Premier League this, it was beginning to feel like we were cursed. Fourteen years is too long a period of time for a club like our to wait for major silverware, with all of the banter that is attached to that. Since Jürgen Klopp’s arrived at Anfield, though, the supporters haven’t let that burden drag him or his players down. He wanted us to turn from doubters to believers and we did, even when it felt impossible to do so. We kept on believing and now we’ve been given our rich rewards. Liverpool Football Club are European Champions. Soak it up.
Footballing rivalries can do funny things. There are plenty of Evertonians that point-blank refuse to wear anything red, for example. Come Christmas time, they’ll genuinely buy blue Santa outfits rather than have to wear traditional ones. That Father Christmas has nothing to do with Liverpool Football Club is an irrelevance, for whatever reason they fear that if they wear the traditional red outfit then they’ll soon have to stop booing every time they go to Goodison or they won’t get irrationally excited over a corner. The idea of being seen to have anything to do with LFC terrifies them, so they avoid it at all cost. It’s fun to laugh at them, but Liverpool supporters aren’t immune from their own ridiculousness. I’ve seen grown men refer to Manchester United’s ground as ‘Old Toilet’, for example. Rivalries make you blinkered to certain things, willingly ignoring things at your own club whilst simultaneously criticising a team you don’t like for something similar.
Imagine slating Liverpool for finishing one point behind this incredible Manchester City side when everybody else is 20+ points behind. We’re the only reason it’s not becoming a one-team league.
This season has been the perfect example in many ways. Very real accusations about their financial dealings have been levelled at Manchester City to the point that most people simple accept that they’re true. Yet as Liverpool took them to the final day of the season in the race for the title, the majority of non-Reds in the country seemed to want Pep Guardiola’s side to win because our supporters enjoy celebrating the team doing well an would therefore be ‘unbearable’ if we won. Forget the unbearable nature of the Premier League turning into the sort of thing we see in France and Germany, with one dominant team buying all of the best players and everyone else playing for second-place, the blinkered nature of rivalry meant that people were happy to see a side with realistic accusations against it win their second title in a year. Yet as we all talk about how City are obsessed with us, aren’t we at risk of being accused of the same thing?
They Desperately Want A Rivalry
Manchester City will always see Manchester United as their main rivals, just as most Liverpool supporters will look at Everton in the same way. When a club is based in the same geographical location as you it’s impossible not to view them as the side you most want to beat and least want to see do well. Yet it says plenty about how fan Manchester United have fallen as a football club that City view them in the same way as we view the blues: an annoyance but not a threat. Right now, the club that Pep Guardiola calls his own is desperate to be seen as legitimate on the big stage. They don’t have the history of success that the likes of us and the Red Devils can boast, so the fans feel inferior and don’t know what to do with themselves. At the same time as the Spaniard asks why nobody is talking about his side’s historic achievement, everyone associated with Manchester is busy talking about us. They need a rivalry to make them feel legitimate, to give their success added meaning because buying success feels meaningless otherwise.
A Manchester City fan has just burst into the press seating area here at Wembley, and was being escorted away by security.
He screamed “We’ve won the f****** domestic treble! … but you will ignore us. You will all have Mo Salah on the back of the papers tomorrow.”#MCFC#LFC
They see Liverpool as their most likely challengers right now on the pitch, but more important than that is the fact that we have the unspoken thing that they don’t. Watch the trophy celebrations from the other night and compare that to when we won the Champions League in 2005. Even more than that, see how City’s fans acted when they won the Premier League again and see how Anfield responded to not winning it. We were more passionate in sending the players off to Madrid than the crowd at the Etihad was to have seen their side become the first team since their neighbours to win back-to-back titles. They don’t know how to act like a big club right now and they’re trying to engineer a rivalry with the team that look most likely to threaten their dominance, which is us. They had to perform at an incredible rate during the second-half of the season, losing just one of their final nineteen games, to make sure that they pipped us to the title, so it’s little wonder that they’re concerned by us right now.
We’re Just As Guilty Of Displaying Signs Of Obsession
Just as we can point to Man City constantly talking about us and referencing us in everything that they do, up to and including their players singing about us in the aftermath of winning the title, so too can their supporters point out that we seem to be talking about them all of the time. I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else. The problem is that when you watch your club miss out on its first title for nearly thirty years, it’s difficult not to feel bitter about why. When you start to look at the financial dealings of the Manchester club and the accusations that surround them, it’s difficult not to wonder whether things might have been different had the Football Association and Premier League been quicker to clamp down on what they’ve been up to.
They won the treble yesterday, already have one of the biggest squads in the country, have spent £1.3bn in a decade, and you’re actually hearing stories that they’ll look to bring in up to 4 “upgrades” this summer. If you can’t see a problem here, you’re blind (or a City fan).
So whilst our supporters do talk about them almost as much as they talk about us, it is at least slightly more justifiable. As I saw Michael Lennon say on Twitter, it’s more impressive when you climb to the top of a mountain than when you’re flown up there, so it’s little wonder Liverpool fans are struggling to give City’s achievements much respect. My fear is that soon the lines become blurred and we’re just talking about them all the time in the same way that Evertonians talk about us. We run the risk of becoming obsessed about them in a manner not dissimilar to how we’re talking of their fans right now. If we win the Champions League, won’t some people take to social media to tweet City supporters about our success? It’s easy to imagine. Loyalty’s admirable, but if we want to live in our glass house we should be careful about throwing stones.