By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
Fate, in Liverpool’s recent history, has been agonisingly cruel when it comes to the Premier League.
The Reds have not challenged at the very summit of the table consistently since the early 1990’s, and in the almost thirty years since the last title win, realistic title challenges happen extremely sparingly.
The Anfield faithful have had to stare enviously down the M62 to Manchester as well as London where the ever-elusive Premier League title has been passed about so regularly, all the while usually battling for a less glamorous prize in European qualification.
Yet there are seasons – sadly too few and far between nowadays – where the stars seem to align for Liverpool. The right manager, a potent attacking force, a beautifully balanced midfield and an indestructible defence. The Reds, on so many occasions, have had the ultimate recipe for a title win – but as fate would have it, it is never ever enough.
Of recent memory, the first example is of the infamous 2008/09 season. During the early days of his tenure , Rafael Benitez was notorious for dragging a team of rough underdogs to unexpected success – most notably in the Champions League.
Whilst impressing in the cup competitions, Liverpool never truly mounted a serious title bid in this time. But as Benittez entered his fourth season with the Reds, the pragmatic Spaniard smoothened out the teams rough edges.
A reliable keeper in Pepe Reina was complemented by a mean defence consisting of a prime Jamie Carragher, shielded by one of the strongest midfields the Premier League has ever seen in Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.
With a peak Fernando Torres leading the line, this Liverpool side took some stopping. A memorable season that saw the team amass 86 points, a tally that most seasons would see the Premier League trophy on Merseyside.
And yet, for all it’s wealth of talent and promise, the Reds were beaten to the title by arch-nemesis Manchester United. Years upon years of building this formidable team seemed to collapse in on itself, as Xabi Alonso departed Anfield the following season and Liverpool slipped down the table, and right back to square one.
Many dark years in the football wilderness passed as Benitez was sacked and Roy Hodgson took over the reigns – and that period is something I won’t discuss further at the risk of slipping into a semi-serious depressive state. However, Liverpool eventually saw some daylight – in the form of the 2013/14 season.
Whilst a title challenge was not at all expected this season, a very attacking-minded Brendan Rodgers had Liverpool playing some of the most breathtaking football potentially ever seen at Anfield. Spearheaded by the mercurial Luis Suarez, the Reds racked up consistent four, five and six goal hauls seemingly every week.
Swatting aside fellow title challengers Arsenal and Spurs by five goals each, the Premier League trophy was closer to Steven Gerrard’s grasp than it had ever been before.
Yet once again, fate had other ideas. Nine points clear of Manchester City with just three games left to play (although the Citizens had two games in hand), Liverpool capitulated. The words “Crystanbul” and “slip” still give the most armoured fans sleepless nights to this very day, dreams of how tantalisingly close Liverpool were to the title evaporated in one bitter instant.
Luis Suarez departed the season after to compound the heartbreak, with Rodgers never finding his mojo again. Liverpool regressed back into the typical, post-title challenge trauma which saw them once again slide quickly down the table the following seasons.
And now, as Liverpool enter the Christmas period under Jurgen Klopp- the Reds find themselves atop the Premier League once more. Embroiled in an even fiercer title race this time around against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City who seem to be slicing through teams like a hot knife through butter, the Reds have it all to do if they are to avoid fate poking its unwanted nose in once more.
Yet, this season feels different. While incredible, the sides of 08/09 and 13/14 had some very serious flaws. Aside the imperious spine of the teams, both Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers had a major shortage of options to call on over a 38-game span.
The likes of David Ngog and Iago Aspas were the go-to options should the front line fail, and even less inspiring players such as Andrea Dossena and Aly Cissokho got more football than one would expect in a title-chasing side.
For Jurgen Klopp, there is no such problem. Blessed not only with depth, but quality in depth, the Reds are arguably far more equipped for a title challenge than seasons gone by.
No player in the Liverpool starting eleven in any way can be deemed unfit to wear the famous jersey, and all have experience of playing at the pinnacle of football – namely in the Champions League run of last season.
Having one of the worlds fiercest attacking triumvirates in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino backed up by a defence that has been as watertight as the Premier League has ever seen anchored by man-mountain Virgil van Dijk, it’s not a stretch to suggest that this team exceeds that of the 08/09 and 13/14 teams in terms of first-team strength. Combined with depth previously unfamiliar, Liverpool are more equipped now than ever before.
Jurgen Klopp’s men find themselves top having been widely considered to have been “poor” at times this season. A strange word to associate with a team who have picked up 45 points out of a possible 51 – and are in the midst of a club record-breaking start to the campaign.
Yet, despite this, Liverpool’s biggest challenge remains to smash through the ‘fate’ glass ceiling that has kept them so contained for so long.
So sit back, strap yourself in, and enjoy the ride. There is more to come from this Liverpool side, and with a bit of luck – the ‘fate’ monkey can be firmly shaken off once and for all, and the Premier League trophy can finally find it’s way to Anfield.