Premature evaluation and Liverpool

EVEN AT this early stage, Liverpool’s current team, as exceptional as it is, is being prematurely labelled the club’s best ever side. There’s a degree of “presentism” about this claim, not least because if any club has a phenomenal list to choose from, it is Liverpool.

Liverpool are odd-on champions-elect this season but as yet, Jürgen Klopp’s team has won just a single prize, albeit a big one, in the form of the UEFA Champions League. Challengers for all-time honours have to be successful over a sustained period, the sort of timeframe that characterised Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s.

Admittedly, Liverpool fans are desperate to place a modern-day team on a pedestal, but constant eulogising about the current team is a little ahead of its time. A year ago, Manchester City were being heralded as the greatest ever Premier League team, but would they call them that now? True excellence, the type that others benchmark themselves against, is more than one season of superb football.

Liverpool have not won the title yet and it is always possible in football that teams can collapse. Simon Fletcher of CCN made a bizarre comment when he said: “It is fitting then that the club’s first Premier League title will be claimed by a team that can justifiably be considered the greatest ever to play in the league.” This sounded more like marketing copy than a carefully considered opinion.

This is certainly the best Liverpool team since the last championship winning period of 1986-1990 when they won three league titles and two FA Cups. Perhaps that is why some people are getting over-zealous with their praise. The “drought” – for all the angst about the league, Liverpool have won 10 trophies in 30 years – is coming to an end and Liverpool fans are 150% behind the team that will take them back to the top. Anfield seems a far noisier place these days, arguably the most passionate crowd in England.

Richard Jolly, writing for the National, put it into perspective: “In one respect, Jurgen Klopp’s group cannot yet rival the feats of 1976-84, a nine-season spell that yielded four European Cups, a UEFA Cup, seven league titles and four League Cups, though not the Club World Cup that eluded them in an era when they took it less seriously.”

Jamie Carragher, former Liverpool defender and Champions League winner with the Reds, believed Liverpool are the best team in the world at present. Liverpool have certainly made the best ever start to a season with 64 points from 66 and Carragher says Klopp has transformed them from a team that produced edge of the seat football to consistent brilliance. He added that: “Liverpool are not buying superstars, they are making them.”

Jonathan Wilson, in the Guardian, said that statistically, this is likely to be Liverpool’s greatest season. He pointed out the only season where the club came close to their current points haul was 2018-19, when they didn’t actually win the title: “Statistics must always be considered in context.”

Wilson takes five past great teams from Liverpool’s history: 1965, 1974, 1978, 1988 and 2005 and lines them up against the Klopp side of today. If nothing else, this reminds us of a remarkable run, from 1963 through to 1990 (27 years!) when the club set its extraordinary high standards.

Turning to 2019-20, Wilson says: “This is a very great side, one that essentially updates the principles of Paisley’s best team, pressing opponents and then cutting them apart from rapid passing moves.”

Wilson rightly notes that the current financial structure of modern football has widened the gap between the top and bottom, and therefore, 95 points is easier to achieve than it was in the days of Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly and even Kenny Dalglish.

Unsurprisingly, the Manchester United camp struggle to concede that Liverpool are poised to become one of the truly great teams. Ole Gunnar Solskjær said Liverpool 2020 are still behind the United team of 1999 in which he played. “We showed we could cope with three tournaments…I am sure Liverpool can win all three, so let’s see in May. You have to do it again and again.”

Football London, predictably, lists the games that could end Liverpool’s unbeaten run and extinguish any hope of Arsenal’s “invincible” achievement being matched. “Liverpool have not only made it through 21 (now 22) matches of the Premier League this season without a defeat, they have done so winning 20 (now 21) of those games. It is hard to see a weakness in their team that can be exploited by their remaining foes in the topflight this season.”

One of the heroes of Liverpool’s glory days, Phil Thompson, told Sky Sports that he didn’t think they would match Arsenal 2004. “”I don’t think they will go unbeaten. I think there will be a hiccup along the way. Hopefully there won’t be too many games. The Invincibles was an astonishing season but they did draw more games than Liverpool have.”

Thompson, when comparing the Klopp side with those he played in, said: “We did it for nearly two decades. Greatness comes from doing this on a regular basis. If this team are going to be one of the greats, and bring it back after 30 years of hurt, it’ll be a most wonderful thing – but then they need to keep on doing it.”

Evaluation of a team is a process that comes with hindsight, not while history is in progress. Liverpool’s reputation over the decades has created a rich club history, the very thing their fans claim some opponents do not have. Therefore, judging how good the current Liverpool team versus other outstanding sides will only be truly accurate when its achievements can be assessed – not based on potential acquisition of silverware.

Sources: The Guardian, CCN, Football365, The National, Football London, Daily Mirror.


Photo: PA

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