Whisper It, But 2019 Might Be Returning
2019/20 was the crowning season of a Liverpool team that had collected 99 points on the way to the title, beating the previous year’s 97 point total. Arguably one of the greatest sides in Premier League history, Steph Jones’ review of the team in The Guardian rightly asserted that the team played almost flawlessly, from the opener against Norwich until the season closer at Newcastle. The team of 2019 set a high bar, however, and last season’s ill-fated title defense shows how hard it is to do it all again. However, there are tentative signs that this year will see the Reds rise to those heights once again.
Strong league performance has followed European glory in the Champions League for the Reds in the past few years. This was the case under Benitez, too – strong league finishes brought in gradually improving league finishes, the team of the time cutting their teeth on the continent. As The Athletic outlines, Liverpool remain a strong pick for the Champions League. The petroclubs PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea sit among the favourites alongside perennial winners Bayern Munich; however, Liverpool have matched Chelsea’s odds and placed themselves firmly in the top 5 favourites at 9-1. Liverpool’s far greater European pedigree can propel them forward, and the momentum these games generate will
The first two games this season have shown something clearly – Liverpool’s press is back. Klopps’ methodology in the game has seen a world-class press implemented, and this has come back with a force – the side have the fourth-highest number of successful final third pressures, according to FBRef statistics. Perhaps the only reason this figure isn’t higher is the huge amount of possession Liverpool have had in their opening games, an average of 58% – the highest in the league. This shows how tightly the Reds are controlling the game; dominating possession, and then efficiently turning possession back over when off the ball – absolutely key to the Liverpool ethos, and the excellence of 2019.
Liverpool’s incredible 2018-2020 period was founded on defensive bedrock. Virgil van Dijk not only overhauled the defense, but brought up the game of everyone else around him. His loss to injury was underplayed by cynics, who noted the 7-1 demolition versus Aston Villa happened with him on the pitch – however, the gap in defensive organisation and the wobbles of the defense ever since show exactly how important he is. In the three games so far this season, the fans have been treated to the sight of two fully fit central defenders playing together – and not only that, the centre halves have played in consistent pairings, as opposed to a backline drawn from what the midfield and the Reserves can provide. Virgil is back, yet Matip has arguably been the standout player so far. That’s the beauty of this Liverpool defense – when everyone is fit and firing, it becomes even better than the sum of its parts. Together, the only goal they’ve shipped is an unstoppable wonder header.
Which, of course, is no mean feat. Every player in the backline has a genuine stake to be one of the very best in the world, from Trent across to Robbo. With stars throughout the team, but the same collaborative ethos run through by Klopp, the team have every chance of capturing the heights of 2019 once again.