Liverpool ended 2020 as they started it – at the top of the Premier League. However, while the gap on 1st Jan 2020 was measured in miles (Liverpool were 10 points clear with two games in hand over Leicester), we could measure it in millimetres today.
It’s been a funny old season in 2020/21, with many unexpected results. Liverpool suffered a “Super Sunday Shocker” when losing 7-2 to Villa, and draws with West Brom, Fulham and Brighton should also be filed in the “nobody expected that” cabinet. Experts making predictions on Liverpool games can still bank on Klopp’s men delivering, however, as the Reds are still the most consistent team in the league, especially at home.
While Liverpool remain firm favourites for the title, it’s almost guaranteed that the points margin – should they retain the trophy – will be greatly reduced compared with last season. But it’s worth wondering whether a tough and close title race will suit Liverpool?
Liverpool galvanised by 2019 disappointment
Now, to be clear: Title races with twists and turns are exciting, and it’s arguable that some Liverpool fans would relish winning the league in a last-gasp “Aguerooo” moment over a rival like Manchester United. Indeed, many fans might take that over a 20-point winning margin with a bus parade in April.
But what we are suggesting here is that a keenly-contested title race that would benefit the team, both in the short and long term. Tough competition can galvanise players – we saw the result of that at the end of the 2018/19 season when Man City squeaked home by a point. It’s not a stretch to believe that helped galvanise the Reds for the 2019/20 season.
There isn’t any evidence that Jurgen Klopp is the kind of manager that will allow his players to take their foot off the gas. And, the backroom setup at Liverpool has been lauded for its long-term approach to sustaining success. But there is a natural tendency for complacency when teams have had it too easy for too long.
These things don’t happen overnight, but a kind of rot can set in, and the task of fixing it can take years. Some might cite the example of Manchester United after Alex Ferguson retired when it soon became apparent that the team had cracks being papered over. But a more pertinent example might be found when looking across to Serie A, where Juventus have waltzed to nine consecutive titles.
If you have followed the Old Lady, you will notice that, despite the success, there has been a myopic approach from the club. Sure, there have been exciting signings like Cristiano Ronaldo, which hardly points to a long term outlook. In a sense, Ronaldo’s arrival in Turin felt a bit like Robin Van Persie’s move to Old Trafford at the end of the Ferguson era; enough to get the job done, but adding little to the club’s development.
Juve have fallen away this season
At the time of writing, Juventus sit 10 points off the top of Serie A in 6th position. Unfashionable Sassuolo have scored more than the Old Lady in Serie A this season. Now, it’s too early to say that Juventus have taken their eye off the ball after years of having it easy in Serie A, and the Premier League is not alone in having its season of shock results. But there is a view that they have become less dynamic than the teams around them. And that was apparent before this season started.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that adage rings true in football too. We can all sit back and admire Liverpool’s setup – the attitude of the players and coach, the sports scientists and the technical staff, the transfer policies and the youth system. But sometimes you learn more about a team when it is pushed to its limit. If that happens this season, then – win or lose the title – it might be better for Liverpool in the future.