THERE was plenty of schadenfreude across social media, radio phone-ins and among football fans after Liverpool’s unbeaten run came to a stuttering end at, of all places, Watford. Within minutes of the final whistle, hordes of Arsenal (and maybe Preston North End!) keyboard warriors were reminding the Koppites that the Gunners’ last league title winning side of 2003-04 remains the only modern age “invincible” team. Liverpool should worry, it is only a matter of weeks until they are crowned champions.
Records are incidental and a by-product of success. The priority is finishing top of the table, teams that feverishly set-out to go unbeaten (Leeds under Revie were obsessed with doing just that) put extra pressure on themselves, so much so that the feat almost becomes more of a focus than the pursuit of silverware itself. Invariably, when the record goes, the team becomes vulnerable to a temporary drop in form as the adrenalin evaporates.
Liverpool’s defeat at Vicarage Road was being treated like the end of the world by some people – players being consoled and pundits hinting at “decline”. As Mourinho, if he was in that situation, would probably say, “22 points…22…respect, man, respect.” The result at Watford was totally unexpected, but so often in the past milestone runs have come to a halt at the least likely places – for example, Burnley and Stoke for Leeds in 1968-69 and 1973-74 respectively.
Liverpool are in the ascendancy on and off the pitch, the club could be on the brink of something very special. Even non-believers like this writer have to admit they have so much in their favour right now – great coach, excellent starting XI, passionate support and, equally important if you covet success, strong financial momentum.
Liverpool broke the half-billion barrier in revenues in 2018-19, a successful campaign that saw them win their sixth UEFA Champions League. Liverpool’s revenues totalled £ 533 million, an increase of 17% on 2017-18. All revenues streams increased, broadcasting by 41% (largely due to new UEFA deal), commercial by 34% and matchday by 3.5%. Liverpool’s pre-tax profit was £ 42 million.
Nobody can claim that Liverpool are trailing way behind clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, not to mention Manchester United. True, United’s revenues are just under £ 100 million more than Liverpool’s but they are not spending their money as well as Liverpool. Liverpool’s revenue growth rate over five years is 54%, higher than all the major clubs with the exception of Tottenham Hotspur (101%).
Moreover, Liverpool have the manager they have needed since the days of the boot room. Klopp may prove to be as transformational as Shankly was in the 1960s, Clough at Derby in the 1970s and Mourinho in the 2000s at Chelsea. Klopp’s record is better than almost every one of his predecessors, only Kenny Dalglish 1.0 has a win-rate to compare (60.9%). If Klopp stays at Anfield, these next few years could see Liverpool dominate in the manner of their past glittering periods of multiple trophy wins.
Let’s get one thing straight, though, Liverpool circa 2020 are not the best Premier League side of all time, just as Manchester City 2019 were not. There are flaws, certain imperfections in Klopp’s team. If nothing else, the 3-0 defeat at Watford put some perspective around the champions-elect. They are undoubtedly the best team in the Premier in 2019-20, they may be the best in Europe, and they have some excellent players, but they are still work in progress. Judge them in a year or two.
The round of 16 in the Champions League also suggests Liverpool look so good partly because the Premier this season iappears rather forlorn. Their 22-point lead suggests a lack of strength in depth in the division. Let’s be clear, they are 22 points ahead of City, the team everyone was garlanding as the best ever a year ago. After that, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham have all been inconsistent for various reasons. Leicester, Sheffield United and Wolves have all provided the unexpected, but their elevation is also attributable to the decline of the bigger names. Look at how easily Chelsea and Spurs were dismantled by Bayern Munich this season, to get some idea of the relative strength of the Premier this year.
There’s no denying that Liverpool’s record is superb and they will be worthy champions, but there’s no other team below them with the same level of consistency. As it stands, Liverpool will probably win the league with a points haul in excess of 100 and their margin of victory is going to be more than 20 points. In the past five years, the highest gap at the top has been the 19 points between Manchester City and United in 2017-18. The margin between sixth place, which has averaged 27 points since 2014-15, looks set to rocket past 30 and could even touch 40.
The combination of wealth, support (2019-20 attendances are an all-time high at Anfield, averaging 53,098), talent and progressive management has positioned Liverpool to launch a new golden age. All of their key players are on long-term contracts with only Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana demanding upcoming attention. The likes of Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mané are all tied-up until 2023. Transfermarkt values Liverpool’s current squad at more than £ 1 billion.
Watford may have punctured one small balloon, but Liverpool are in such good shape that the title will probably be wrapped up within a month. And of course, there’s still the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup – a 1-0 deficit from the first leg against Atlético Madrid should not worry Klopp too much given memories of Barcelona are still fresh from last season.
It may be a massive irritation to fans of Liverpool’s rivals, notably Manchester United and City and Chelsea, but Kop Socialism is about to have its day once more, and they won’t remember Watford, February 29, 2020 when the Premier trophy is finally paraded through the streets of Liverpool for the first time. The club does have a history, after all.