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By any analysis, the Premier League title race for the 2018/19 season was a remarkable one. Many have debated whether the relentless excellence of both Manchester City and Liverpool provided a compelling title race as there were few of the twists in momentum or shocks which characterise the most memorable ends to a season. The sustained brilliance and continued victories of both meant that for a long time the only intrigue came as the teams kicked off at different times, but you can take nothing away from the quality of either team.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side have rightly had a huge amount of praise recently as they became the first team to complete the domestic treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup. There are many numbers and stats which can be used to paint a picture of just how good this Man City team are but the one that really stands out is that they had to win their last 14 matches to win the title by just a single point. Just one slip, just a single draw during what amounts to the last 37% of the season, would have cost them the Premier League.
That tells you just how hard Liverpool pushed Man City. Although the resilience of the champions is to be applauded, it’s tough not to feel at least a little sorry for Jurgen Klopp and his players. Unless perhaps you are an Everton or Man United fan perhaps!
Liverpool have an incredible history of success in English football’s top flight but they have so far been unable to get their hands on the Premier League trophy. Never before have Liverpool had such a strong team as the 2018/19 cohort though. In fact, the stats show they can count themselves incredibly unfortunate not to have won the title this season.
Coming Up Against the Premier League’s Best
This season was the 27th edition of the Premier League. The introduction of what was then known as the Premiership in 1992 has had a major impact on English football. The strength of the product and close ties with broadcasters and advertisers has seen an influx of money and talent to British shores to create what is widely regarded as the most exciting and watchable football league in the world and can arguably call itself the best too.
The nature of the Premier League is not to everybody’s cup of tea, as evidenced by the number of questions that Man City are facing regarding alleged breaches of financial rules. As City fans will tell you, they are not the only team who have utilised their financial might to succeed in the Premier League. Indeed, Liverpool have spent a huge amount of money on transfers and wages since Jurgen Klopp took over at Anfield.
The other point often made by those defending Man City is that having money is just a part of the puzzle, the key is in spending it in the right places. You don’t need to move your gaze far from the Etihad, to Old Trafford, to see that spending hundreds of millions alone is no guarantee of success, or even anything close to success.
Liverpool certainly had to spend their money very wisely with investments in Anfield. Their coaching staff and player scouting all helped ensure that their spending on transfer fees and wages was well placed. An improving end product from their academy, plus the man-management of Klopp, have also allowed them to get maximum bang for their buck. The Reds were also well served by big-money sales to Barcelona, bringing in around £170m plus add-ons for Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
Then there’s the amount of hard work that it takes to achieve the sort of consistency throughout a 38-game season that Liverpool showed. Klopp and his coaching staff had to carefully prepare for every opponent whilst every possible element of player performance and development was poured over.
Points Equal Plaudits but Not Prizes for Reds
The upshot of all Liverpool’s hard work in any number of different departments was a points tally of 97. That would have been enough to win the Premier League in all but two seasons since the rebranding of England’s top flight in the 1992-93 campaign. Unfortunately for the Reds, the two higher points tallies in the history of the competition were both achieved by Man City in the last two seasons. Liverpool were facing one of the best club football teams of all time and, at least in terms of points tally, the best team the Premier League has ever seen.
In just two seasons, Manchester City amassed 198 points from 76 matches. That equates to an astonishing average of just over 2.6 points per game. Those numbers will do nothing for Liverpool fans who still cannot believe that 97 points was not enough to win the title but it gets even worse.
During the 2018-19 campaign Liverpool scored just six goals fewer than Man City and conceded one goal fewer. The Reds also lost just one game all season whilst the champions were beaten four times. Indeed, Klopp’s men’s tally of defeats is second only to Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003/04 when the Gunners not only won the league but also a place in the history books. Despite that, they still ended the campaign with seven fewer points than Liverpool did this season.
Premier League Points Tallies
The table below shows how many points the winners of the Premier League have achieved each season. And, in what might make painful reading for Liverpool fans, where their 97 points and +67 goal difference would have seen them end up in each of the 27 completed campaigns to date.
|Season||League Winner||Winner’s Points||Liverpool’s 97 Point Position|
|1992-93||Manchester United||84||1st by 13 points|
|1993-94||Manchester United||92||1st by 5 points|
|1994-95||Blackburn Rovers||89||1st by 8 points|
|1995-96||Manchester United||82||1st by 15 points|
|1996-97||Manchester United||75||1st by 22 points|
|1997-98||Arsenal||78||1st by 19 points|
|1998-99||Manchester United||79||1st by 18 points|
|1999-2000||Manchester United||91||1st by 8 points|
|2000-01||Manchester United||80||1st by 17 points|
|2001-02||Arsenal||87||1st by 10 points|
|2002-03||Manchester United||83||1st by 14 points|
|2003-04||Arsenal||90||1st by 7 points|
|2004-05||Chelsea||95||1st by 2 points|
|2005-06||Chelsea||91||1st by 6 points|
|2006-07||Manchester United||89||1st by 8 points|
|2007-08||Manchester United||87||1st by 10 points|
|2008-09||Manchester United||90||1st by 7 points|
|2009-10||Chelsea||86||1st by 11 points|
|2010-11||Manchester United||80||1st by 17 points|
|2011-12||Manchester City||89||1st by 8 points|
|2012-13||Manchester United||89||1st by 8 points|
|2013-14||Manchester City||86||1st by 11 points|
|2014-15||Chelsea||87||1st by 10 points|
|1015-16||Leicester City||81||1st by 16 points|
|2016-17||Chelsea||93||1st by 4 points|
|2017-18||Manchester City||100||2nd by 3 points|
|2018-19||Manchester City||98||2nd by 1 point|
So, whilst Liverpool would have won the title by a whopping 22 points in 1997, sadly, in 2019 it wasn’t to be. It’s also worth noting that the first three Premier League seasons featured 22 teams and thus 42, not 38 games. But even with four extra matches, neither Man United not Blackburn could get anywhere near Liverpool’s 2018-19 points total.
It should be remembered that in some ways the higher points totals of the last 20 years or so do reflect the greater dominance of the top sides. Earlier editions of the PL didn’t have quite the financial disparity we see now and so the bottom sides were more competitive. Whilst 40 points may have been the survival target back then, now 36 is usually enough.
At the opposite end of the table, the average points total of the winners over the last 10 years has been 89 points. In contrast during the first 10 38-game campaigns it was just 86. Our point here is that yes, Liverpool’s incredible return would have won them the league easily in almost every other season but it isn’t quite a like for like comparison with the earlier top flight campaigns.
Do Not Respect the Point
Sam Allardyce and Jurgen Klopp do not share too many footballing philosophies. This season may have convinced Klopp that there is even more difference between himself and Big Sam than he previously believed.
One of the messages that Allardyce would preach during his time managing in the Premier League is that his teams should ‘respect the point’. Draws were often a very good result for the teams that Allardyce managed because they were neither as good as Liverpool nor were they working towards the same goals. However, it seemed for too much of this season as though Liverpool were content to respect the point. That was particularly true before their first and only defeat of the season against Man City on 3 January.
Before that 2-1 reversal at the Etihad, Liverpool fans were getting excited about the prospect of going the whole season without defeat. Publicly, Klopp rubbished the suggestions they could achieve that feat but the 0-0 draw with Man City at Anfield and the 1-1 draws in London against Chelsea and Arsenal suggested that Klopp was not willing to risk Liverpool’s unbeaten record by pushing for all three points.
It was the dropped points against Leicester and West Ham in consecutive matches that many point out as the key failures for Liverpool. Others may point to Liverpool’s last dropped points of the campaign against Everton too, which of course is doubly painful for Reds fans.
Following that clash, which ended 0-0, Klopp was criticised for his team selection and pragmatic, rather than aggressive substitutions. He responded angrily that “We don’t play Playstation. Do you think we didn’t take enough risks today? That’s a really disappointing question, I have to say, because that means it’s like it’s so easy. I tell the boys to take more risks, ‘Come on boys, we go for it!’ Is there any draw we didn’t try to win? We are offensive enough, football doesn’t work like that.” Maybe had they opted for a little more Playstation-style attacking in that game the title would have been theirs but of course we will never know.
Equally, of course, a win in any of those three matches against Man City, Chelsea or Arsenal would also have given Liverpool the two points they ended up needing to win the title. Had they taken more risks and won two of those games, they could have afforded to lose the other – perhaps getting caught on the break – and still have won enough points to secure the title.
In contrast, the only example of Man City seeming to settle for a point was in that 0-0 draw at Anfield and even then the Citizens missed a penalty late in the game. Guardiola’s relentless pursuit of goals and wins meant that they always went fully on the attack if they were level. His team did come unstuck in losses to Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Newcastle but the number of games they won more than made up for this.
City were able to overcome losing three more matches than Liverpool by beating the Reds and winning two more matches in total. Allardyce’s respecting of the point may be important for teams looking to avoid the drop but when you’re locked in a two horse race for the Premier League title the message is clear – it pays to go all for the win.
Forwards Hold the Key to Premier League Success
To be fair to Liverpool in regards to their attacking credentials, they did have the strongest record of any Premier League team this season from 76 minutes to full time so the heart was willing. Time and time again they did press for and achieve important late goals.
However, as said, they were unable to score the one extra goal they needed to turn a draw into a win in away games against Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton or West Ham though. Whether those disappointing results against top half teams away from home were due to issues of mentality or quality is up for discussion but it’s those games which stopped Liverpool from taking that one more step they needed to go beyond 97 points.
The other side of the coin is that Liverpool could have turned four of their draws into wins were they able to keep out just one more goal. Of their seven draws, three of them were goalless and so required Liverpool to score to get the three points but the other four were score draws. Assuming everything else remained the same, Liverpool would have won the title had they not conceded at London Stadium or when Leicester visited Anfield. You’ve got to think it’s more than a little churlish to criticise the strongest defence in the Premier League though.
A combination of Liverpool’s hard work on the training ground and the impressive performances of key members of the defensive unit including Premier League player of the season Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and goalkeeper Allison, meant that no team conceded fewer goals than the Reds this season. Liverpool also kept more clean sheets than any other team so this is the first season in Klopp’s time at the club that their defence is beyond reproach.
Liverpool’s vast array of attacking talent has been praised from all quarters during the last couple of seasons and the goals of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have once again taken the team to the final of the Champions League. It seems similarly unfair and harsh to criticise those forwards given that Liverpool scored more goals than every other Premier League team bar one.
The problem is that Liverpool were competing with Man City for the title and besting such a freakishly big points tally requires a monumental effort from all parts of the team, especially the forwards.
Man City have an awesome defensive unit and are not shy of the odd professional foul to stop their opponents as they break forward. But it’s in forward positions that Guardiola’s men are at their strongest though and Liverpool ultimately fall short when compared to an admittedly ludicrously high level of competition.