It’s party time for Liverpool after their 17th win in 18 Premier League games put them 13 points ahead at the top. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Liverpool has continued its apparent march to the Premier League title, with a 4-0 thrashing of rivals Leicester to open up a 13-point lead with a game in hand.
While the pundits might be ready to hand them the title, no-one at Liverpool will be counting their chickens just yet.
This is the fifth time the Reds have led the Premier League at Christmas — the most recent was last year. The previous four times they failed to go on to lift the title.
But going into a match on their rival’s turf, days after flying back from winning the World Club Cup in Qatar, the team could hardly have been more impressive in smashing the Foxes.
Undefeated, and seemingly having the answer to their rivals, the question now being raised is whether the Reds are, or could be, on the way to the greatest Premier League season ever?
There are many possible metrics to use in answering this — you have the raw numbers of most wins, most points, least losses.
You can look at who played the best football, or who dominated the most, who beat the biggest challenge.
Depending on your focus, you might come up with a number of different answers.
There was Leicester City’s fairy tale season that shocked the world in 2015/16, where Claudio Ranieri’s men went from favourites for the drop before the start, to Premier League champions.
If you want the greatest upset storyline, go no further. Players like striker Jamie Vardy, winger Riyad Mahrez, and dominant midfielder N’Golo Kante were crucial to the title win.
But it was a case of the team being much greater than the sum of its parts — and while it was an admirable and stunning performance from players and manager, Leicester was incredibly effective rather than overwhelming that season.
Arsene Wenger managed Arsenal’s “Invincibles” to the only unbeaten season in Premier League history in 2003/04. (Reuters: Peter Macdiarmid.)
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team of 2003/04 has gone down in history as the “Invincibles”, as the only team to make it through an entire Premier League season without losing a match.
Their 26 wins and 12 draws gave them an impressive 90-point total, but more than that it was the way they played that stood out. Wenger’s attacking philosophy saw his team combining flair and skill with a steely control, conceding four fewer than their nearest rivals.
Manchester United won the title in 1998/99 — an unmatched third straight crown — as part of an unprecedented treble, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side also claiming the Champions League and FA Cup.
However, that side’s Premier League triumph was more stamina and determination than dominance, with three losses and 13 draws from 38 games leaving them with a single-point margin over Arsenal.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side won back-to-back titles in 2004/05 and 2005/06, as the Portuguese maestro and his team imposed their will on the rest of the league.
In 2004/05 they led from the opening game to the finish, and in 2005/06 they overcame the challenge of Manchester United, melding the league’s equal top-scoring attack with the stingiest defence to defend their title.
Manchester City’s 100-points total and huge winning margin in 2017-18 set Premier League benchmarks. (Reuters)
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side did not go unbeaten in 2017/18, but it achieved almost everything else in the Premier League.
City crushed their rivals, turning the title race into a procession, winning the league by 19 points and scoring 100 goals for the season.
They were the most dominant league winners of the Premier League era, with class across the park, an unmatched depth of squad and match-winners including Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero.
So what about Liverpool?
The Reds came into 2019/20 on the back of a bittersweet end to last season, where the club beat Spurs to win its sixth Champions League/European Cup title — but still left disappointed after coming second to Guardiola’s Manchester City side.
Liverpool is on top of the world after the team’s win over South American club champions Flamengo in Qatar. (AP: Hassan Ammar)
Liverpool’s brilliant (almost) half-season
- V Norwich 4-1 win (H)
- V Southampton 2-1 win (A)
- V Arsenal 3-1 win (H)
- V Liverpool 3-0 win (A)
- V Newcastle Utd 3-1 win (H)
- V Chelsea 2-1 win (A)
- V Sheffield Utd 1-0 win (A)
- V Leicester City 2-1 win (H)
- V Manchester Utd 1-1 draw (A)
- V Spurs 2-1 win (H)
- V Aston Villa 2-1 win (A)
- V Manchester City 3-1 win (H)
- V Crystal Palace 2-1 win (A)
- V Brighton 2-1 win (H)
- V Everton 5-2 win (H)
- V Bournemouth 3-0 win (A)
- V Watford 2-0 win (H)
- V Leicester City 4-0 win (A)
52 Premier League points from a possible 54
13 points clear after Boxing Day
UEFA Super Cup winners
Club World Cup winners
Defending Champions League champions (into last 16)
You can argue their two bits of silverware this season so far — the Super Cup (Champions League winner v Europa League winner) and Club World Cup — are just manufactured titles.
But it shows the progression Liverpool has made from the early days under Jurgen Klopp, when they lost a series of finals, including a Europa League to Sevilla and a Champions League to Real Madrid.
Their finish to last season, with nine straight Premier League wins (and 17 Premier League games unbeaten), and a Champions League title that included an incredible comeback against Barcelona, gave the impression of a side learning to be more ruthless.
This season they have not been perfect. Their draw with old rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford led to talk of the same old failings, and their defence, while excellent, has had moments of wobbliness despite its expensive line-up.
But as a whole, Liverpool’s first four months of the season has been outstanding.
The Reds have conceded more goals, but that hasn’t stopped them — they have a level of self-belief that has translated into a series of late, late winners to stay on target for the title and produce the expectation breakthroughs are never beyond them.
They are also capable of an extra gear that few other Premier League sides have — against Leicester they put the game away with three goals in seven second-half minutes.
But the raw numbers are pretty frightening for the Reds’ rivals.
They are on track to finish with a staggering 36 wins from 38 games (a record) and 110 points (another record).
Their fixtures for the rest of the season are tough, with the added burden of the Champions League knockout stages (as have Manchester City). But in the form they are in, Klopp’s charges will not be frightened of taking on any side in the Premiership.
Bleacher Report tweet: Liverpool have tnhbe same number of points as Manchester United and Arsenal combined. The league leaders have played a game less.
Leicester may be second on the table, but after big losses to Liverpool and Manchester City, they are realistically out of calculations for the title race.
The only side that could produce the comeback of the century is City — and that would deliver not only the ultimate dagger for Liverpool fans but burnish Guardiola’s legacy with the Citizens.
But realistically, it is hard to see the Reds slip up enough times to lose it from here.
A couple of quick losses could make things interesting, and injuries to key players (like star defender Sergio Van Dijk, the playmaker from full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, or Sadio Mane in attack, for example) could change the dynamic very quickly.
But they have already successfully covered for the loss of number one goalie Alisson for the first three months of the season, and are covering for the loss of key midfielder Fabinho, so even that might not do the job.
Clearly, if Liverpool did go on to finish the season unbeaten — even if they picked up a handful of draws in the second half— they would make an almost-undeniable case to go past the Invincibles.
Assuming they did finish unbeaten, they would be a solid chance to beat City’s 100-point record as well — 15 wins and five draws from their last 20 games would do the trick.
In the meantime, if they can remain undefeated for the next 15 games, they will break another record — the longest unbeaten streak in the Premier League era, which currently stands at 49 for Wenger’s Arsenal between the start of the 2003/04 season and a loss to Manchester United in October 2004.
Regardless of what else happens in their Champions League defence, the season within Liverpool’s grasp is historic on a number of levels.
But the only goal that matters at Anfield right now is to ensure they stay ahead of their rivals to claim a first-ever Premier League title, and a first top-division crown since 1990.
If they scrape over the line by a point, or win it in a canter, the ending of that drought will mean more than anything to the red half of Merseyside.
Only time will tell whether a place in history awaits, or what will be from this position an epic failure.