Before the worldwide coronavirus pandemic ground the Premier League season to what we are assured is a temporary halt, Liverpool looked set to win the league title at a canter.
Winning 27 out of their 29 games, the Reds — who have beaten every other team in the league on their remarkable run — find themselves a full 25 points ahead of second-place Manchester City and, mathematically, only need two more wins to claim the clubs’ 19th league success and first in the Premier League era.
The European Champions last league fixture — a nervy 2-1 win over struggling Bournemouth at Anfield — was on March 7th and the campaign’s hiatus has given us ample time to consider what exactly makes Jurgen Klopp’s team so good.
Here, we will look at the qualities that have put Liverpool on the cusp of winning their first league title since 1990.
While at the point of writing it doesn’t appear likely that the Reds will have a player winning the Premier League golden boot for the third season in a row — in fact, last season both Mohamed Salah, the 2018 winner, and Sadio Mane shared the top scorer award with Arsenal’s Pierre Emerick Aubameyang — goals haven’t been in short supply for the Anfield club, who have troubled the scoreboard 66 times this season.
Instead of relying on one player to score the bulk of their goals, Liverpool spread the responsibility around and the aforementioned Salah, 16 goals and six assists, and Mane, 14 goals and 7 assists, have provided an attacking thrust from each flank.
Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino — the glue player who selflessly helps link the midfield to the attack — has notched 8 Premier League goals as well as laying on 7 assists, although the Brazilian is strangely yet to score domestically at Anfield this season.
It hasn’t only been the forwards who have supplied goals, though, with Virgil van Dijk — effectively using his massive frame and physicality — scoring on four occasions from set-piece situations. Even the full-backs, Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson — so renowned for manufacturing goals for their team-mates — have chipped in with goals.
Robertson sealed a massive three points away to Aston Villa when — like a sword-wielding William Wallace running through a horde of Englishmen — his surging run from deep saw him clatter home a late header from a Mane cross with the game tied at 1-1.
Alexander Arnold, in the Reds’ 4-0 thrashing of Leicester City at the King Power Stadium — the high water mark for performances this season — sealed a performance of Herculean individual proportions — which included a goal and two assists — with a sweetly struck drive past Kasper Schmeichel.
With so many routes to goal and means to exploit teams weaknesses, it’s little wonder that Liverpool find themselves in such a promising position in the league table.
Defence Wins Titles
While the Reds have scored 66 times in the league to date — second only to Man City’s 68 — it’s at the other end of the pitch where they are the standard-bearers.
Only conceding 21 times, Liverpool have the meanest defence in the league, a stat that is all the more impressive when it is looked at in the context of the injuries they have suffered in their rearguard this season.
After injuring himself taking a goal kick on the opening night of the season — a 4-1 demolition of Norwich City at Anfield — keeper Alisson Becker missed almost two months of action.
In the Brazilian’s place, Adrian — the clubs only senior signing in the transfer window preceding the season — applied himself admirably but this doesn’t diminish the fact that he was in situ for most of the games when the usually frugal team went 11 games without a clean sheet.
Enforced absences didn’t only afflict Liverpool in goal, however, with Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez all missing games through injury meaning van Dijk has not always had the comfort of a regular partner in the heart of the defence.
Nevertheless, showing why he is the finest centre half on the planet, the Dutchman — regardless of who he was paired with — has been his usual brilliant self and has orchestrated the well-oiled machine to the brink of glory.
When viewed in the light of how adventurous their full-backs are, Alexander Arnold and Robertson bomb on to the extent that they have provided 19 league assists between them — 12 for the young Scouser and 7 for the Scotland captain — then you start to fully appreciate the qualities of van Dijk, Gomez, Lovren and Matip in keeping Liverpool so watertight at the back.
Transfers, or Lack Of.
After cruelly missing out on the Premier League title the previous season, despite registering the third-highest ever points total in English league history, 97, many expected Liverpool to push the boat out in the transfer market in a bid to take that next step and add domestic honours to their European Cup success.
However, Klopp decided to keep his market powder dry and the only senior addition made to the squad was the signing of Adrian on a free transfer to replace the departing Simon Mignolet.
Many were aghast that the European Champions — whose fixture list would be bloated because of Club World Cup commitments — were not adding to their squad, especially considering all three of Mane, Firmino and Salah played summer football for their nations in the African Cup of Nations and Copa America respectively and had little or no pre-season rest.
But the ends justify the means and Liverpool’s lack of transfer activity looks to be a masterstroke of man-management from Klopp.
Speaking to Ian Wright for Premier League Productions, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain said the club not bringing in new players in the summer window threw down a gauntlet to the current squad and challenged them — as a core group — to go one better than last season.
“So, I’m really proud of us as a group of lads that we’ve achieved that and the manager as well, the whole club, the backroom staff, they are the same. I’ve seen everyone pushing even harder this year, and that’s what the manager’s created, it’s people like Jordan Henderson, leaders in the team, Millie, that’s what they help create, and we’ve got an amazing group of players.
“There’s not one ego in that team. Our superstars are the hardest working, the most humble and the most relatable guys in the team. Along with industry and the relationship that everyone has, I think that makes it easier for us all to pull in the right direction,” the England international said.
Any new signing may not have fit straight into the strong team ethic and bond that Oxlade Chamberlain alluded to and any teething problems — tactical, personal or otherwise — may have prevented the Reds from immediately hitting their straps; Liverpool’s first dropped points were in October and they didn’t drop another point in the league until late February.
Largely keeping the same group together — aside from the departures of peripheral players, Daniel Sturridge, Alberto Moreno and Mignolet — the Champions League holders reinforced their already strong team cohesion and the benefits are clear for all to see.