You Never Walk Alone
“If you are first, you are first. If you are second…you are nothing.”
Unless you have been living under a rock, you pretty much know what is this about. The Scousers can gloat all they want and they should, to be honest. This is the moment they have been waiting for the last 30 years. Yeah, you heard me right, 30 years. Imagine if someone would have said this to a Liverpool supporter in 1990, “Cheers mate, enjoy while it lasts”. The natural response would be “Don’t be a blert, lad” or “What a beut”. Imagine a club so dominant in the 70s and 80s, they turned into a mere shadow of their dominant selves for the better part of the next 3 decades.
Liverpool was a force to be reckoned with. They dominated Europe by winning 4 Champions League (then, European Cup) in a matter of 8 years, had won 18 First Division Titles till 1990 (now, Premier League) and 4 FA Cups. No one saw such dominance at European level with the exception of a similar spell by Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Led by some great managers: Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. They achieved in a few years what most managers fail to achieve in their entire career.
One should ideally not go back these many years to talk about the greatest achievements of this club. Yet, the last 3 decades have been underwhelming in my opinion. Few moments of brilliance. The miracle of Istanbul. Some heartbreaking ones. The Gerrard Slip or rather the title slipping out of Liverpool’s hands. We are not here to be dejected over it. As they say, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Before we start with the good part, let me just lay it out that I am a United supporter and it hurts me to write this. But as a true football fan, you have my respect.
People who are still clueless, Liverpool won their first premier league title and are back to the throne after 30 years. Must feel like a lifetime. Yeah, yeah, please continue with your banter, I won’t mind. I have done the same to you for last so many years. This title was celebrated so wildly and passionately, it makes you wonder why is it so special? Not only because it breaks a 30-year dry spell, but it has been in the making for some time now.
It started 5 years back when a German took the reins from Brendan Rodgers. This man is something else. Let’s take a stroll down the memory lane. Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund, 2013 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final. The ever-so-frightening Dortmund crowd. A bunch of players who weren’t Ballon d’Or winners or superstars, but were collectively brilliant. No one would have seen it coming, but this team blew the shit out of Real Madrid. And this German was at the helm of this team. He was more animated and passionate than “The Yellow Wall”. None other than Mr Jürgen Klopp.
Oh, Ed Woodward, if only you had got him or Guardiola.
8 Oct 2015, Klopp is the new Liverpool manager. Liverpool had just bid goodbye to one of their biggest legends, arguably one of the biggest midfield legends, Steven Gerrard. With the usual leader missing on the field and a new manager steering the ship, it sure was a rocky start. But it had certain pieces which gave you hope: Joe Gomez, Milner, Henderson, Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge. 2015–16 saw Liverpool finish runner-up for Europa League and League Cup.
Following year, management brings in promising reinforcement: Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Wijnaldum, Mané. The team still couldn’t win anything during the 2016–17 season. Klopp would have been shown the exit door at this point if this was the team in Manchester or London. Good for them, because they had to see to believe what they had in store for the next 3 seasons.
Attack wins you matches but defence wins you the championship. Liverpool had some great midfield and forward players throughout the years. You ask pundits and experts to pick their best premier league players by position. One thing common, no Liverpool player at any defensive position. One can argue for midfield and forward: Gerrard, Fowler, Alonso, García, Torres, Suárez. Carragher, Mascherano, hmm, okay, you might make it to the club history but nothing to shine amongst the best. As a result, Liverpool put attacking brilliance but leaked goals at the back. So many permutation and combination, but you could not stick with a solid back 4.
This was the time when Premier League biggies didn’t shy away from emptying their wallets for a good defence. City, United, Arsenal, Chelsea had spent hundreds of millions into getting decent defenders. Liverpool kept digging Southampton, as usual (Lallana, Clyne, Mane, Lovren), and eventually struck gold. They found an iceberg who could stop the forwards like a freaking Titanic. Virgil Van Dijk. He had great support in the following: Trent Alexander Arnold, Robertson, Gomez, Matip, Milner and Lovren. I would include Milner because he would pretty much walk on the water if you ask him to. The guy has the work ethics of Rahul Dravid, for someone who understands cricket better.
Defence, check. But you don’t win matches by 0–0. You need playmakers and scorers.
Premier League has always been the home of great midfielders. Lampard, Gerrard, Giggs, Scholes, David Silva, Vieira, Keane. Klopp did not have any name on the team sheet which could match these legends in accolades or stats, but collectively they showed promise to be a great squad. Milner, Coutinho and Henderson were the most experienced members of this squad. Between Milner’s switching across defence and midfield and streaky performances of Henderson and Coutinho, Klopp could not figure out his ideal midfield. Lallana, Can and Wijnaldum provided decent support but it wasn’t a coordinated midfield. It needed a solid reinforcement which came in the form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And yeah, cleaning the rest of the trash. This still wasn’t the ideal scenario but was enough for Klopp to make a statement, which he did. He was trying to turn an orchestra into heavy metal, keeping possession and pressing at the same time. Never a dull moment with this guy’s team.
Liverpool was wreaking havoc during 2013–14 season. Suárez, Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling were scoring screamers up and down. But missing out on the ultimate prize made Suárez and Sterling take the exit leaving Liverpool short of great attacking options. You got occasional flashes of brilliance but nothing consistent. The addition of Mané and Firmino brought flair to the attack. The duo has pace, dribbling, finishing and most importantly selflessness. This was the time when Ronaldo was groaning if his teammate scored. Yet, the third partner in crime was missing. Here comes the Egyptian King in 2017, Mohamed Salah. This short, curly-haired, left-footed magician was welcomed like a Messi and had a left foot to give Messi a run for his money.
Coutinho joined Barcelona to bask in the glory of the real Messi and tried to replicate what Suarez achieved a couple of years back. He jumped off the boat a bit too early. What followed was something the league didn’t witness since Rooney-Ronaldo-Tevez.
Come 2017–18 season, Liverpool was like a fresh breath of air. They weren’t as dominant as we witness this season but they showed promise. The summer signings showed immediate impact with improved attack and defence. However, Manchester City was unstoppable vying invincibility. Second half of the season, Liverpool vs City at Anfield. You finally saw the devil created by Klopp. They were unstoppable at the front and unbeatable at the back. City’s first defeat of the season, thanks to Liverpool. However, City still won the league by a record margin and points, becoming the first English club to register 100 points. Liverpool made sure City doesn’t forget this as a one-time performance. Quarter-Final, Champions League 2017–18. I went to a screening event for the 1st Leg. I asked a few friends, got stood up, nothing new. Me, a United supporter, at an event organized by City fans, was supporting Liverpool. Just because I love their anthem more, to be honest. What I saw was one of the best quarterfinal matches in recent memory. Trent and Robertson had the City wingers in their back pocket for the entire match. The trio up front was clinical. Liverpool won the fixture 5–1 overall.
And Bobby Firmino,
But we sold Coutinho, but that don’t matter actually”
Liverpool faced Real Madrid in the finals. A cynical foul by Ramos took Salah out of the game. Liverpool still had a chance. Karius made the biggest blunder of Liverpool’s season by gifting two goals. Real Madrid won their third successive title easier than expected. The team is as strong as the weakest link. This was the biggest glaring piece, missing from the puzzle. AS Roma had the biggest comeback that season by eliminating Barcelona in the Quarter Final. Roma’s saviour in the second leg: Alisson Becker. Klopp knew what he needed. A towering presence in front of the post who would back the defence in case someone goes past them. Liverpool added Shaqiri, Keita and Fabinho to the midfield. This brought more options for rotation and yet upheld the quality of midfield.
Everyone has heard of the FIFA XI Pro team. The best players from around the world at every position. It’s a dream squad. You should ideally be winning everything with this team. Yet, the most underrated element: Team Chemistry. The crest on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. Borussia Dortmund won successive Bundesliga titles at a time when Bundesliga was a one-team league. Klopp took them to the finals of Champions League. This was an outcome of a team who knew nothing better but to play collectively, rather than a few men show. This team wasn’t made of star players, rather they became stars in that system. To the Liverpool fans who were keenly observing, they could see this happening with their team.
Comes the 2018–19 season, Liverpool picked up from where they left. With a new goalkeeper to boost the defence, clean sheets became a habit with the trio up front still scoring goals. Everyone thought this finally could be the year. Liverpool led the league, but it was a familiar foe which halted them in their tracks. A Déjà vu of 2013–14. Liverpool’s defeat to City followed by a few draws gave enough breathing space to City to capture their second successive title. To give you a perspective of the competition, City won 16 of the remaining 17 matches and still won the title on the final day by just a point. This was City’s closest win after “Agueerrroooooo”. Oh, the agony of that moment.
To make things worse, Liverpool lost 3–0 to Barcelona in the first leg of Champions League semi-final. Pretty much everyone wrote them off. It seemed like another year where the team could sense the silverware. What followed was one of the greatest comebacks in the Champions League history. Maybe the top 5 of all time. Liverpool thrashed Barcelona 4–0 at Anfield. The winning goal was the smartest piece of play. The cheekiest, quickest and shortest corner by TAA and a composed finish by Origi. Origi was a revelation in the absence of Salah. Liverpool now faced familiar rivals in the finals. Tottenham secured their place on the back of two great comebacks against Manchester City in quarter-final and Ajax in semi-final. The 5 times champion were back in a familiar situation and didn’t want another heartbreak. Liverpool defeated Tottenham 2–0. European Champions for the 6th time. European Glory after 11 years.
Let’s pause for a moment to analyze this team.
One of the best goalkeepers on the planet. A giant Brazilian, who had established himself in the Italian league comes to one of the toughest leagues. 21 clean sheets and Golden Glove in the first season. He apparently follows the motto “Eat, Do not Let Barca Score, Sleep, Repeat”. Did that twice, for Roma and Liverpool.
A great centre forward who let only one player dribble past him in 56 appearances in 2018–19. Only one. Simply blows your mind. PFA player of the year, deservedly.
The two full-backs who have the motor of a horse. They could run like a winger, pass like a midfielder and score like a forward, if needed. TAA even takes better free kicks than anyone else. Am I exaggerating? Do check who were the top two assists provider for the team during the entire campaign. 17 for TAA and 13 for Robertson.
The midfield could pass the ball for a living. They managed to hold on to the ball 62% of the time with an average pass accuracy of 85%. That speaks for itself. Milner made a Champions League record by providing 9 assists in a single campaign beating Rooney and Neymar.
And finally, the forward could pass the ball to each other perfectly to score or just simply dribble and score themselves. The trio scored 10 goals each in 2017–18 champions league campaign. Mohamed Salah, PFA player of the year and golden boot winner in 2017–18 scoring most goals in a single season (32). He continued his form being the joint top scorer with Mané in 2018–19.
Looks like a complete team, doesn’t it? A German has fine-tuned this classic engine to bring back the consistent golden days. The engine which could not win NASCAR is now winning Le Mans. The on-paper expectation started matching the on-field results. Liverpool went on to add Super Cup and Club World Cup to the European glory. But they still wanted nothing more than to open their account for premier league medal.
Never ever had this happened in the premier league, that two teams were this favourite to win the title. You always had big 4, now big 6, making equal claims to the title. You had occasional underdog winners such as Leicester City. The last two seasons were comparable to the Barcelona-Madrid situation in Spain and Bayern-Dortmund in Germany. Epic records were on the line for both the teams this season. City could match their neighbour’s 3-peat record. Liverpool could win their first premier league title, claiming back their perch. No matter who won, United fans had equal reason to hate both the teams.
From Liverpool’s perspective, matching last season’s performance would be difficult but should be enough to win the title. Yet, Klopp and the boys had something else on the mind. Everyone expected another close-fought season but Liverpool took off like Usain Bolt in a 100 m sprint. They never looked back. The clean sheets from the keeper, assists from the full-back, game control from the midfield and goals from the forward, all continued in the next season as well. They were unbeaten in the league till the end of Feb. No one thought they could lose. The first defeat came against an unexpected opponent, Watford, fighting a relegation battle. But it was already too late. Liverpool was so far ahead, they could almost go on a break for the remaining part of the season. The competition provided a helping hand by being equally bad. Streaky performance leading to unexpected defeats for City. Chelsea, United, Tottenham and Arsenal were all trying to find their stride under new managers, hence aiming only for the Champions League spot.
Watford match kicked-off a series of defeats seeing them bow out of FA Cup and Champions League. Yet they never lost their sight on the ultimate prize. It was all but done for Liverpool, if not for the Coronavirus hiatus. United fans never prayed this hard for anything let alone this season’s cancellation. After a restless 3 months for the team, they were back scratching their itch to hold the trophy. Some butterflies in the stomach against Arsenal and City. But on June 25, 2020, the shitty year finally brought something for the Scousers to be happy about. English Champions for the 19th time.
Liverpool never had to depend on a single player to be their saviour. You do not achieve the following records by individual performances:
- Winning the league by the biggest margin — 25 points
- Most wins in a season — 32 wins, tied with Manchester City 2016–17
- Most home wins in a season — 18, tied with Manchester City, United and Chelsea
- Claiming the title with seven matches remaining
- Best start ever in top 5 leagues by claiming 61 points in first 21 matches
- Zero home losses in last 3 seasons (2017–20)
- Most consecutive PL wins -18 (27 Oct’19 to 24 Feb’20) tied with City
- Most consecutive home PL wins — 24 (9 Feb’19 to 11 Jul’20)
Some records which they missed out on — Most PL points in a season by crossing century mark, Most home and away wins. Yet, one would make an argument comparing this team to some legendary squads. The second 3-peat United squad, Arsenal’s Invincibles, Chelsea’s Special Ones, Manchester City’s Centurions. One common thing: they are as intimidating on-field as they are off the field. It strikes fear into the heart of the opponents before they enter the fortress of Anfield.
As a football fan and especially a Premier League fan, resurgence of Liverpool is a great sign for the league. We are seeing Premier League teams putting a great fight at the European stage. We saw all-English Champions League final after 11 years and an English winner after 7 years. This reminds you of 2000s Champions League campaigns where the OG Big 4 shook the opponents.
With the new season almost on us, the rest of the teams have little to no time to define a strategy to challenge at the top. With Guardiola at the helm, City is still expected to be amongst the favourites. Chelsea and Arsenal have shown signs of promise under their players-turned-managers with an FA cup title to still fight for. United was a different team post coronavirus break and Ole would look to build on this momentum for Europa League and the next season. All and all, the coming season promises a lot of action and entertainment.
Liverpool has a decent break now since they have no other competition to participate in. The first premier league title can be overwhelming and we, United fans, would surely hope for that. No team in the recent past has been able to dominate consistently for 3rd straight season. Please God, leave aside this record for United only. The expectations of the Liverpool fans would add to the burden as well. Liverpool is the favourite and I so want to say to a Liverpool fan, “Cheers, enjoy while it lasts”. I would hold that thought for now looking at the way we have been performing for the last 7 seasons. Let’s talk a year later!
One last thing, please tell Klopp not to call Ferguson at 3 in the morning to say you won the league, he is 78.