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Dublin: 12°C Friday 14 May 2021

Liverpool are 17 games from greatness

The Reds are on course to win a first league title since 1990.

Klopp and Henderson: can they lead Liverpool to the promised land?
Klopp and Henderson: can they lead Liverpool to the promised land?
Image: Nick Potts

IT IS INDICATIVE of Liverpool’s incredible dominance that most critics — even those prone to hyperbole — are no longer seriously talking about a genuine title race.

The Reds may still have 17 league games to play, but barring a dramatic collapse which seems impossible judging by the mental resilience they have consistently demonstrated so far, they will win their first title since 1990.

The only real sense of tension left is in the fact that they are bidding to make further history by going the entire season unbeaten.

Should they achieve that feat, they will undoubtedly be talked of as one of English football’s great sides.

In Premier League history, Arsenal’s 2003-04 side are the only team to have gone the entire season unbeaten, avoiding a loss in 49 consecutive games in total.

Liverpool are currently 38 games unbeaten — the third longest by any Premier League side — and are on course to match Arsenal.

They have already made the best start to a season in the history of any of the top five European leagues and could outshine even the Gunners’ achievement. Arsene Wenger’s side won just 26 of their 38 games, drawing the other 12. Liverpool have currently won 20 of their 21 games. Arsenal finished that season on 90 points. The Reds will eclipse that feat if they win 10 or more of their last 17 games.

The 100 points achieved by the Man City side of the season before last is the current record points tally in Premier League history. Liverpool can break this record if they win 14 of their last 17 games, or win 13 and draw one.

Klopp inevitably has played down talk of such history, but privately, you suspect a man as competitive as the German boss must be hoping his side can round off a remarkable season in style.

Standing in their way this weekend is the one side who have already taken points off them in the league during this campaign — Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Manchester United.

Despite an indifferent season so far, as they sit fifth in the table, much closer to the relegation zone (13 points) than the league leaders (27 points), United have shown a knack for punching above their weight at times.

The Red Devils have put in some dreadful performances and been beaten by a number of the statistically worst sides in the league (including relegation-threatened Watford, Bournemouth and West Ham). But, in addition to frustrating Liverpool, they have beaten every other side currently above them — Chelsea, Leicester and Man City.

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A New Year’s Day 2-0 loss to Arsenal and comprehensive defeat by Man City in the League Cup seven days later suggests they are still well below the level required to restore the glory of the Alex Ferguson era, but a win away at Anfield on Sunday is not unimaginable.

Jurgen Klopp’s men showed signs of frailty in their last league match away to Spurs. Despite the visitors dominating for long periods, Jose Mourinho’s side sat back and frustrated their opponents, before showing greater ambition in the final 20 minutes and wasting some excellent chances. While finishing the game with just 33% possession, Tottenham actually registered more shots than Liverpool and will feel they deserved at least a point from the match.

Man United are likely to employ a similar strategy, and they have done so effectively on previous occasions. In fact, as Mourinho and others have pointed out, it is a big reason why they have often enjoyed better fortune against the top sides. The Red Devils are at their strongest hitting teams on the counter attack and sometimes struggle against sides who defend deep and do not allow space for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to run into.

The problem, of course, is that no matter how well teams defend, Liverpool have the quality to expose even the most efficiently organised sides.

Before Jurgen Klopp came along, Reds sides have often relied on two or three brilliant individuals more so than anyone else — a Steven Gerrard or Luis Suarez.

They have enjoyed some luck with injuries, given that Firmino has featured in all 21 of their games, while Mane has only missed one and Salah has been out for three.

Certainly, their workaholic midfield has at times been criticised for a lack of creativity, but their full-backs have patently compensated for these perceived flaws. Trent Alexander-Arnold is currently second in the assist charts with eight, while Andy Robertson has managed a similarly impressive six.

Man City have actually scored 12 more goals than them (62 compared with 50), but their defence has been the best in the league by some distance, conceding just 14 goals.

Yet their obvious quality aside, this Liverpool team’s most impressive attribute has been their mentality. Of their 20 league wins, 10 have been by a single goal, yet it has got to a stage where there is almost a feeling of inevitability that they will find a way to secure three points, much like peak-Fergie-era Man United.

It is why most people are tipping them to win at least 12 of their remaining 17 games to be sure to claim the title and it is why talk of potentially going the season unbeaten has begun to intensify.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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