For all kinds of reasons, this is one of the most remarkable seasons in English top-flight football in history. The announcement that all professional football is to be suspended until at least the 3rd April has thrown doubt over whether or not the season will even be finished.
That aside, though, and whatever does happen, it should not be forgotten just what a remarkable season Liverpool have had.
Cracks Starting to Appear
Even before the suspension of the league, there were cracks appearing in the aura of invincibility that had surrounded Liverpool this season; it should be noted, however, that Liverpool constructed this aura of invincibility brick by brick, win by win. Let us not forget that going into the season Manchester City were favourites to get their third consecutive title. The general consensus was that it would be a thrilling two-horse race between Guardiola’s and Klopp’s sides, and after a few weeks Leicester were being mentioned as possible party poopers. However, several months of almost flawless football from Liverpool since then has taken the Reds from perennial underdogs to bonafide favourites.
As mentioned, the last handful of games have seen not just a tailing off of form and results, but also their exit from several competitions.
The 5 – 0 defeat by Aston Villa in the League Cup can be dismissed, coming as it did in a week of farcical fixture congestion and four days before they lifted the World Club Trophy. The wheels started to come off after the much-heralded winter break—something Klopp himself had very much pushed for. We will perhaps never know whether that is the sole reason, a contributory factor or merely coincidence, but there is little doubt that from when they resumed their season after the short break they were not the Liverpool that had been so dominant prior to it.
They struggled to beat bottom-placed Norwich, with a late Sadio Mané goal clinching all three points. Three days later they were outclassed and beaten at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium against Simeone’s Atletico. Another late Mané goal saw them just beat West Ham, another struggling side. The following week Watford (yet another team fighting relegation) then outplayed, outfought and crucially outscored the Reds, beating them 3-0. Then Chelsea knocked them out of the FA Cup, and though the word “crisis” may have been overplaying it, there were certainly worrying signs for the Champions-elect. This was followed (after yet another unconvincing display against Bournemouth, one more club at the wrong end of the table) by perhaps their most disappointing match of the season—their 3-2 home defeat by Atletico Madrid.
A Phenomenal Achievement
That game at Anfield is the last time they played and may well not play for a while. Whether or not it is the final game of their season is yet to be decided, and, if it is, it would be a huge shame—and not just for the obvious reason that the league has been abandoned. Liverpool played well in that tie. They were by far the better team for almost the entire 120 minutes and created enough chances—good chances—that the Liverpool of only a couple of months earlier would have converted into more than enough goals to put the tie beyond doubt. They weren’t able to convert them, of course, and then goalkeeping errors cost them dearly.
That game, though, and those that preceded it, should not cloud people’s judgement of what the team have achieved in the rest of the season. Playing 29 games in what is considered the toughest league in the world top to bottom, losing one and drawing one, is phenomenal. When Arsenal went the whole season unbeaten, they drew 12 times. Liverpool were beating practically everyone they were coming up against. They were also doing it in a way that was delightful to watch. They had goals throughout the team, playing at a pace, fluidity and front foot aggressiveness that was almost impossible to play against. Added to that, they also had a defensive steel, which is often lacking in cavalier sides where the philosophy tends to be that they may concede but they will still score more. Liverpool conceded just 21 goals in their 29 games; that is ten less than Manchester City, who had played one less game. So, whatever happens for the rest of the season (indeed, if it happens), we should not forget just how good Liverpool were.
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