Liverpool have had Premier League near-misses but this time feels different

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Liverpool players
Liverpool players celebrate during their 5-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield

Liverpool have had chances to win their first title since 1990 before - but they have never had a bigger or better opportunity than they will have this season.

The clock can be turned back to Steven Gerrard's catastrophic slip as Liverpool lost at home to Chelsea in 2014, a defeat that opened the door for Manchester City to rip the crown from their grasp.

And there was the outstanding campaign under Rafael Benitez in 2008-09 when Liverpool lost only two league games out of 38 but still ended up in second place, four points behind champions Manchester United.

This time, however, feels different.

This season feels like the opening Liverpool have waited almost 29 years for - created by manager Jurgen Klopp's potent blend of expensively assembled defensive solidity, in the shape of £75m defender Virgil van Dijk and £67m goalkeeper Alisson, and ferociously threatening attack.

Liverpool's stars are aligned and even though Klopp and his players - Dejan Lovren's recent mention of an unbeaten season apart - will never tempt fate, they will be acutely aware of the opportunity they now have.

Klopp's side are nine points clear of Tottenham after the north Londoners' shock home defeat by Wolves and 10 ahead of Manchester City, who visit Southampton on Sunday. They are unbeaten after 20 Premier League games and every key player in the team, and indeed the team as a whole, is hitting a peak.

Yes, they could almost touch the finishing line in 2014, but they were under pressure with City right on their shoulder. This feels like a Liverpool team in control of the Premier League and its own destiny.

Liverpool and Klopp will know the acid test is approaching when they visit Etihad Stadium on 3 January - but what riches they have in the bank with the knowledge that, at worst, they will start that game with a seven-point advantage over Pep Guardiola's reigning champions.

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: Jurgen Klopp delighted to win 'wild' game

The suggestion that their unbeaten run has somehow broken Manchester City's resolve, worn them down, is a nonsense - and disrespectful to the quality of players and characters Guardiola has assembled.

What is beyond question, however, is that Liverpool have taken control of this Premier League title race with a verve and momentum that currently looks like it will take some stopping.

The fans can sense it too.

Anfield has had false dawns before, but Liverpool and Klopp gained the total trust of their supporters in that thrilling run to the Champions League final last season.

And they have simply carried on where they left off, aided by key additions such as Alisson, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Supporters swarmed around the team bus on its arrival for the Arsenal game and a huge roar swept around the stadium once the immediate shock of Ainsley Maitland-Niles giving Arsenal the lead had dissipated.

Liverpool were asked the question and the answer could not have been more emphatic.

Nerves? Pressure? Not here as, led by Roberto Firmino's hat-trick, they gathered themselves in seconds and simply blitzed Arsenal.

And whereas the ill-fated 2014 title run was an adrenalin-fuelled thrill ride from the turn of the year, led by Luis Suarez's brilliance and characterised by Gerrard's emotional "this does not slip" speech in a huddle of Liverpool's players after a win against Manchester City put the title in sight, this feels controlled, relaxed, even ruthless.

Liverpool had Suarez, Daniel Sturridge in prime form and the tyro Raheem Sterling doing the damage back then while it is Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah now.

Roberto Firmino
Roberto Firmino has scored eight Premier League goals against Arsenal - only Robbie Fowler (nine) has a better record for Liverpool against the Gunners

There is, however, one decisive difference.

Liverpool have only conceded eight goals in their first 20 league games. In 2013-14, they shipped 50. They are currently 31 league games unbeaten at Anfield and have conceded only 13 goals in that time.

Salah felt confident enough, and the entire team comfortable enough at 4-1, to allow Firmino to take over penalty duties to complete his hat-trick, while a volley from Jordan Henderson that set sail in the direction of Liverpool city centre was greeted with a colourful response from The Kop, which the captain acknowledged with a beaming smile and arms raised aloft.

Klopp will do his best to keep the lid on title talk but Liverpool's performances, and the manner in which opponents are now being devastated in similar fashion to last term, makes the task increasingly difficult.

Liverpool are now Premier League title favourites. No debate.

The door is open and if Manchester City do not wrest something from them on Thursday, then 2019 can be the year the great drought, the era in which they lost their status as the great domestic superpower, can be ended.


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.


Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC