Liverpool Must Learn From Their Festive Slumps In 02/03 & 08/09

Liverpool Must Learn From Their Festive Slumps In 02/03 & 08/09

Liverpool are 13 matches into their assault on another Premier League title, and they have arguably never looked more likely to seal that holy grail we have all craved so badly since 1990.

Under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds are looking the part more and more by the week, and they are picking up points in every way imaginable.

They have had to cling on for a few victories, most notably Arsenal and Swansea – if we’d drawn 4-4 with Arsenal, the damage it would have done does not bear thinking about – they have obliterated Leicester, Hull and Watford and have had to show patience in overcoming Sunderland and Crystal Palace.

Time and time again, the doubters are saying THIS will be the game when Liverpool come a cropper, but they keep silencing them. They can score goals, keep clean-sheets, win handsomely, win ugly. Champions do that.

The Reds must learn a lesson from two previous seasons, however – seasons in which they were receiving similar amounts of praise, before their title challenge stalled around Christmas.

2002/03 

At exactly the same stage in 2002/03, Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool had amassed the same amount of points as Klopp’s current crop (30).

Having narrowly missed out to Arsenal the previous season, supporters, pundits and rivals all felt this was the Reds’ moment to finally end their wait for a Premier League title.

With a superb back-four, complete midfield and world-class striker in Michael Owen, they looked primed to seal glory, or at least go right to the wire with those who dared take them on. Their 1-0 defeat to Middlesbrough, in their 13th league game, was their first of the campaign.

From nowhere, however, they fell off a cliff.

After that loss at the Riverside Stadium on 9th November – new England manager Gareth Southgate scored the game’s only goal – Houllier’s men then failed to win a single league game in their next nine attempts.

Jerzy Dudek decided to get into the generous Christmas spirit and gift Diego Forlan a comical goal against Manchester United, while Michael Proctor’s late winner for Sunderland made him one of the most average footballers ever to score against the Reds.

Paul Konchesky even found the net against them in a 2-0 defeat to Charlton Athletic, which goes to show just how bad Liverpool’s capitulation was.

It has to go down as one of the worst runs in Liverpool’s history, considering the expectations people had of that team.

Although Houllier and his team regrouped slightly as winter turned to spring, it was all far too late by that point.

United and Arsenal were battling it out for the title – Alex Ferguson and his pesky side eventually prevailed – and Liverpool had to settle for fifth-place, after losing to Chelsea on the final day, in a crucial battle for fourth.

A season that had promised so much a third of the way into it had ended in misery.

2008/09

Fast forward six years, and our beloved Reds were at it again.

By this point, Rafa Benitez was working his magic in the Anfield hot-seat, and with the spine of his team including Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, people were right to tip them for the title.

By the time late November arrived, they had reached 32 points from 13 games, and their latest win, a 2-0 triumph at Bolton Wanderers, had kept them right in the hunt.

Although Benitez’s Liverpool never tailed off as dramatically as Houllier’s in 2002/03, the festive schedule will always be remembered as the period in which they threw away the title.

Having seen off a potentially tricky Bolton side in ruthless fashion, the Reds drew 0-0 in consecutive matches at Anfield, against Fulham and West Ham. The crowd even booed at the final whistle against the Hammers, even though the point still took Liverpool to the top of the table.

It was almost as if the fans could sense that their team were blowing it before their very eyes. They were correct in that thought process.

A win over Blackburn brought back some positivity, but two further draws against Hull and Arsenal made it just one win in five.

Stoke, Everton and Wigan Athletic all took a point off the Merseysiders in January as well, in a truly infuriating run of results.

Making matters even worse was United’s form. They won eight out of their nine league games in December and January, drawing the other, and didn’t concede a single goal in that time. They were showing Rafa’s Reds exactly what it takes to win a league crown.

Liverpool recovered too late that season, winning 4-1 in memorable fashion at Old Trafford and briefly threatening to conquer a stuttering United after Yossi Benayoun’s stoppage time winner at Fulham.

As was the norm back then, though, we had to watch the Reds’ biggest rivals lift the title. They had been gifted it by the league’s best team that year.

2016/17

As Liverpool prepare for their first game of December, away to Bournemouth on Sunday, they must not make the errors that others before them made. These winter months are always gruelling – often in cold conditions, at odd times and on less-than-perfect pitches – but Klopp’s players must be up for the fight. There will be times when they really have to scrap to get something from a game, and a bad refereeing decision or a moment of misfortune may work against them.

Champions come through moments such as these. They dig deep, get the very most out of their squad depth and remain either near or at the top of the table by the time March arrives. The Reds are sure to slip-up once or twice along the way, just like any team does in the Premier League, but they simply cannot afford to suffer a run as fatal as those in 2002/03 and 2008/09.

The first test comes at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday – stay strong lads.

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