Usually, the break preceding the commencement of a new season is filled with football fans on social media complaining about the lack of football and whining about their club’s inactivity in the transfer window – but this year is different. Following the resumption of football after the lockdown, matches have been coming thick and fast with leagues all over the world scrambling to put an end to their 2019/20 seasons and commence the new campaigns.
The Premier League will be one of the first to do so. The most-watched league in the world will kick off its 2020/21 season on 12th September and fans all over the world will be itching to see their teams back in action, even though it has been a short turnaround.
For Liverpool and their fans, this return is extra sweet. The Reds have not had anything riding on their matches following their 4-0 drubbing at Crystal Palace, which eventually cemented their position as Champions of England following a thirty-year wait. The lack of competitive spirit resulted in the rest of their games having a certain pre-season vibe, which was completely understandable for a club who had an absolutely phenomenal campaign and wrapped up the title with seven games to go.
However, it was no secret that the Reds wanted to break that elusive 100 point record set by Manchester City in their 2017-18 campaign. As a Liverpool fan, it doesn’t feel like a loss at all, but it definitely wouldn’t have hurt to break a record in the process. Where did it go wrong for Klopp’s men? And where did Pep succeed in his 2017-18 campaign?
Let’s get down to the facts first. Liverpool wrapped up the league title with seven games to go, while City won the league with five matches to spare. Liverpool, at the time of being confirmed champions, were at 86 points, meaning they had to get 14 points from their remaining 7 games to equal City’s record of 100 points which amounts to 2 PPG (Points per game).
City, on the other hand, had amassed 87 points when they were crowned – which meant they had to win 13 points out of a possible 15, amounting to 2.6 PPG.
On paper, Liverpool definitely had tougher fixtures than 2017-18 Manchester City, with challenging games coming up against Arsenal, Chelsea and City themselves. City had a much easier set of fixtures as all their five opponents were rooted in the bottom half of the table. Both the teams’ situations were fairly even, with Liverpool having the greater margin of error and City having an easier run till the end of the season.
So where did Klopp go wrong? Or should we be asking whether he went into the restart with a disadvantage?
Liverpool could be forgiven for celebrating following Chelsea’s win over City which confirmed that their lead was indeed unassailable and that they were Champions of England for the first time in the Premier League era. Having said that, footballers at the highest level aren’t used to partying all night with alcohol in the middle of the season. The party clearly went on through the night and there were festivities in the morning as well, as confirmed by Andy Robertson (who was one of those heavily involved). The players were granted a deserved day off but their routine had been broken.
Discipline is key when you want to succeed at the highest level, and anything out of the normal routine could be detrimental – as observed in the next game against Manchester City. The fact that Liverpool had to play a week after that night didn’t help, and it allowed them to take it easy for the next couple of days (which may not have been the case if they had a match scheduled after a shorter break).
“All or Nothing: Manchester City” on Amazon Prime gave us a brilliant insight into Guardiola’s tactical mindset and how he handled his players. Pep wanted the record badly and he made sure his players knew it. On 15th April 2018, they won the title but everything after that was directed towards breaking that record. The players saw their manager’s thirst for that elusive 100 point mark and they wanted to deliver. Klopp, on the other hand, held a very loose stance on the points record. On June 26th, a day after the Reds clinched the title, Klopp admitted that breaking the points record would be “tough” but the boys “see the chance for a points record”. On July 8th, after a comfortable 3-1 win over Brighton, Klopp publicly described breaking that record as “not that important” despite being in a position to challenge for it. Confidence bounces off those around you, and Klopp definitely didn’t sound like someone who was confident that they would break that record.
The loss of Jordan Henderson in that Brighton game was a crushing blow to the Reds. Losing your leader with four games to go isn’t a position any team would like to be in. But Henderson had been much more than a fearless leader in the 2019/20 season. He single-handedly marshalled the midfield and was the only constant in a Liverpool midfield which suffered it’s fair share of injuries. James Milner also suffered an injury which effectively ruled him out for the majority of games post the restart. Replacing Henderson and Milner would always have been a difficult task and Naby Keita deputised well at times, but that leadership which would have quashed any signs of complacency was missing, and this would come back to bite them against Arsenal and Burnley. Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino looked lacklustre when given a chance and this prevented Klopp from giving his front three a breather during an already hectic schedule. City, on the other hand, were able to rotate easily without having a drop in quality of their starting eleven. This meant they could afford to rest key players like De Bruyne, Ederson and Kompany.
The fact that the players had to come back from a three-month break would usually affect their performances, but in Liverpool’s case, it was more of a boon than a hindrance. Before lockdown, the Reds were going through a rough patch, and losses against Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Watford hinted at difficult times ahead. The lockdown gave Liverpool a chance to refresh, and also halted the flow of some of their rivals who were starting to pick up the pace. Though they lacked match fitness, it was something that applied to all the teams and they went into Project restart on equal footing with their opponents.
Calling Liverpool’s 2019/20 campaign anything but a massive success would be an understatement. The Reds finally broke their Premier league curse, and they did it in style. They completely obliterated the competition on their way to glory and deserve all the credit they are getting. But breaking that points record would have been a cherry on the top of an already brilliant season. Klopp has succeeded in what he came to do – he turned Liverpool from doubters into believers. And now, they go again.
Written by Hrishikesh Chaudhuri | Feature Image by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles, Manager Profiles, Retro articles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.