Image by coward_lion Bigstock Photo
Manchester City broke all kinds of Premier League records last season. After a disappointing first campaign in English football for Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich got pretty much everything right domestically as his City side amassed more points than any other team in Premier League history.
Understandably, the defending champions went into the new season as the odds-on favourites to win the title again. Those odds only shortened as they secured 13 wins and two draws from their opening 15 matches but all the while Liverpool were looming large in the rearview mirror. It’s not right to say that the pressure applied by Liverpool’s own unbeaten run is the reason that Man City faltered and lost against Chelsea but by ending the weekend at the top of the table Jurgen Klopp’s men have landed the first significant blow in the title race.
The job for Liverpool is to keep on going. Leading the way brings a whole different type of pressure compared to being part of the chasing pack and the bookies still make Man City the odds-on favourites to win the Premier League despite the current standings. Liverpool do have the head start though as well as the knowledge that the last team to lose their unbeaten in English football’s top flight tends to go on and win the title.
So, let’s see what lessons Liverpool – and anyone interested in the title betting – can learn from some of the teams who have preceded them as the side with the longest unbeaten start to a campaign.
Guardiola’s City Show the Value to be Found in Defeat
It’s often said that failure is a necessity to achieve anything that’s worth achieving. You see examples of top performers in all walks of life learning lessons from tough spells and that was exactly Man City did last season. After winning 20 of 22 unbeaten matches last season all the talk surround the Citizens was whether they had what it took to win the quadruple and would they go the whole season unbeaten. At that point it seemed obvious that Guardiola’s all conquering team had what it took to emulate Arsenal’s 2003/04 season and go the entire Premier League season without defeat and people simply couldn’t envisage them losing to anyone domestically.
It was not to be, as a pulsating match at Anfield finally saw Man City taste defeat. Guardiola was very disappointed with the way that his team defended in the first half but was happy enough with the fight they showed to bring it back to 4-3 in the closing stages. In fact, Guardiola remained relatively calm and was able to get a positive response from his players, who would only go on to lose one more league game all season.
The biggest test for Man City came later on in the season when they lost three games in a row. Two of them came in the Champions League against Liverpool and the other against Man Utd when the chance to win the title against their greatest rivals was missed.
As anybody who watched the behind the scenes documentary of the season will attest, that run caused friction between the Man City players but they actually made the most of that tension and unrest. It forced the players to face some home truths which eventually made them a stronger unit and a better team. Liverpool will need to do likewise if they are to build on their impressive start and kick on to win the Premier League.
Liverpool Cannot Panic After First Defeat
Liverpool have already had their problems this season and many feel they are yet to reach the heights they managed last term. They’ve shown the grit to come through difficult matches and have had to put damaging defeats in the Champions League behind them. As Man City showed, those tough challenges can be the making of teams but Liverpool fans themselves know exactly how easy it can be for their side to become derailed after one defeat.
This is the third season in which Liverpool were the last team to lose a Premier League match (they also share the accolade with Arsenal in the 2007/08 season). Not once have they been able to convert that start into a Premier League trophy so ex-Liverpool players have plenty of expertise to share with the current squad.
The first time Liverpool were the last Premier League side to be defeated was in the 2002/03 season. It did not go well. The Reds’ first 12 matches saw them put together a seven match winning run and pick up 30 points but it all went wrong after a surprise defeat against Middleborough sparked a collapse. Gerard Houllier’s men won just two of their next 16 matches and could only finish a hugely disappointing 5th.
Klopp Must be Wary of Overreactions
Liverpool fared better five years later when they remained unbeaten in their first 15 matches of the season. Despite that first loss to Reading being followed by defeat to Manchester United next time out, Liverpool only lost two subsequent league matches and were able to cling on to a place in the top four under Rafael Benitez.
One year later and Liverpool had the longest unbeaten run once again. 10 games was enough for them to have the longest unbeaten record in the 2008/09 season and after losing to a resurgent Tottenham side, the Reds would only lose one more league match.
However, that only paints part of the picture. Perhaps spooked by that defeat, Benitez retreated into his shell a little and got Liverpool playing in an increasingly defensive style which saw them struggle to turn draws into wins. By the time they rediscovered their verve it was too late and they ended up missing out on the title by four points despite Man United losing two more games than they did.
The lesson for Jurgen Klopp here is obvious: don’t let one defeat shake your confidence. Klopp’s charisma and the attacking style of play that Liverpool have favoured since his arrival on Merseyside may make that advice look a little unwarranted by it’s noticeable just how much more cautious he has been already.
Even in the midst of their unbeaten run some pundits and fans mentioned that there was less of the “we’ll score more than you” attitude that summed up Liverpool’s approach for much of last season. Improving the defence is one thing but we’ve seen Klopp take a much more pragmatic approach to things including sacrificing creative players for defensive ones. In moderation, those changes look to be a good thing as Klopp develops more of a well-rounded team but the past shows that becoming rattled by the odd loss can be terminal to a title challenge and Liverpool don’t want to lose what they do best if they are to capitalise on their strong start.
Whisper It, But Liverpool Have Much to Learn from Fierce Rivalries
As with any team who regularly compete for major domestic honours, Liverpool have developed many rivalries with fellow Premier League teams over the years. Two of the most fiercely contested of those rivalries are with Man Utd and Chelsea. Liverpool fans do not like those two teams at all and would prefer to ignore the league success they’ve each had in the last 15 years but Klopp and his coaching staff cannot.
In their pomp both Man Utd and Chelsea were able to create an imposing air about themselves that saw many opponents believe they had lost before the match started. That was the case in 2014/15 when Chelsea opened their season up with 14 unbeaten matches before lifting the title and, even more impressively when Man Utd began their title winning campaign with a 24 game unbeaten run.
Man Utd and Chelsea made mistakes during each of their Premier League winning seasons but they maintained their belief in what they do and kept the sense of fear high amongst teams in the rest of the division. They managed to do that fairly simply, by keeping the wins rolling in and showing that defeats were merely bumps in a road that would inevitably end in the title.
Liverpool are already part of the way to replicating those Man Utd and Chelsea sides. No team in the Premier League looks forward to a match against Liverpool given just how lethal the Reds can be going forwards. However, as the bookies’ odds show, there is still a long way before the wider football world believes that the Premier League trophy has Liverpool’s name etched on it.
Changing that belief among people in the club was one of Klopp’s main messages when he took over at Liverpool and if the team continue as they are it won’t be long before their odds to win the title shorten. For now, it could be the perfect time to snap up the 5/2 that bet365 are quoting on their chances of winning the Premier League. Their agonising wait for a league title has to end at some point and 2019 might just be the year.