Liverpool FC: The gap between rivals grows as era of dominance begins

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Alex Malone takes an unapologetic look at the current state of play between ourselves and our most bitter rivals.

The explosion of joy when Mo Salah slotted the second goal on Sunday not only took the roof off Anfield, it resonated around the world.

I was in Lucky Baldwin’s Pub, home of the Pasadena, California LFC fan club, and the jubilant reaction, screams of joy, strangers-hugging-strangers and high-fiving hysteria, mirrored the scenes in the stadium 6,000 miles away.

This win felt different – because it was different.

It wasn’t just that it sent us 16 points clear with a game in hand. It wasn’t just that it calmed the nerves in what had become a nail-biting finale. It was because it resulted in us going 16 points clear, our largest margin to date, by beating them.

Make no mistake, they were absolutely desperate to win this game. If they couldn’t win, then at least not lose. They wanted to be the only team that remained ‘unbeaten’ against this amazing Liverpool team in what will finally be the title-winning year.

They wanted to be the first team to beat us since last season, destroy our chances of an ‘invincible’ season, and prove that – at least in head-to-head games – they remain our equal.

Instead, by almost any measure, it became one of the most one-sided Liverpool vs. United mismatches in living memory.

The reactions I saw from their ex-players, and their fans on social media, were, to say the least surprising. But they also told the story of where they are now regarding their level of expectation. They were, in general, ‘happy’ with a 2-0 defeat because they ‘had a go’, ‘tried hard’ and ‘never gave up’. Once believers, their conversion to doubters is complete.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 19, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah takes off his shirt as he celebrates scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Let’s be honest, we absolutely battered them. Yes, Martial should have scored and Pereira was a boot’s length away from doing so, but these were fleeting moments and their only two genuine chances in the entire 90 minutes.

In contrast, we scored two, had another one VARed out and another ruled out because Wijnaldum’s shoulder is bigger than Maguire’s bum.

Mo Salah missed a sitter, while Mane and Firmino also missed very presentable chances. De Gea saved superbly from Mane and Henderson, with both hitting the post. If you go with ‘genuinely score-able chances’ as the measure, the final score would have been something like 7-2, such was the Reds’ dominance.

For too many seasons just before the Klopp days, the limit of our ambition seemed to be a Champions League place. As a result, we rarely achieved even that, because once the height of your ambition is to finish fourth, that’s as high as you are ever likely to get. The vicious circle then begins, as failure to qualify for the Champions League means the harder it is to attract players to get you back there.

This is exactly where Man United are now.

‘Not losing heavily’ to a rampant Liverpool side was deemed some sort of moral victory.

Achieving top four this season (which is unlikely) will be celebrated as a ‘successful’ campaign.

I was there in the ’70s and ’80s when we won just about everything put in front of us. I watched on in envy when United did the same in the ’90s and ’00s.

But rarely has there been a chasm between the two clubs of the size we are witnessing today. After 22 games, United are 30 points behind us – and they’ve played a game more. Last season we finished a whopping 31 points clear of them. So, over the last 60 league games, we have amassed a mind-boggling 61 points more than them.

Of those 60 games, Liverpool have lost just one. United have lost 17.

 

The Managers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 19, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (L) shakes hands with Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the dugout, we have the greatest manager in the modern game; a manager who, against all odds, took mid-table Borussia Dortmund and toppled the mighty Bayern Munich; a manager who has taken a mediocre Liverpool squad, and with a net spend that is dwarfed by United’s taken it to unprecedented heights of excellence.

Alex Ferguson, celebrated by many as the ‘best ever’ (he wasn’t, Bob Paisley was) never put together a team capable of 64 points in 22 games – nor did Guardiola, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Cruyff, Trapattoni or any of the other generally accepted managerial greats.

And that is just this season – if you go back to last season, Jurgen Klopp’s world champions have achieved an extraordinary 94 points from the available 96. Thirty-one wins and one draw from 32 consecutive games has quite simply never been achieved before – ever!

Meanwhile, in their dugout, they have the hapless and hopeless Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A man whose prior managerial experience was at Molde in Norway and relegating Cardiff.

As a Liverpool fan, I smile with satisfaction every time I see the likes of Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand beg the United board to ‘give him time.’ I can only hope their board is listening. He has neither the experience, the pedigree nor the tactical nous required to fix them, yet they all want to keep him. It might be the first time I’ve ever agreed with Gary Neville.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 19, 2020: Former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher (R) and former Manchester United player Gary Neville (L) working for Sky Sports before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Since being given the job permanently, Solskjaer has the worst win percentage record of any United manager since Herbert Bamlett’s 31% in 1931.

Good old Herbert was a referee before becoming a manager. In an FA Cup quarter-final in 1909, he abandoned the game between Burnley and Man United with 18 minutes left. Burnley were winning 1-0 at the time. United won the replay 3-2 and went on to lift the FA Cup for the first time.

The United hierarchy were so enamoured with good old Herbert that he eventually became their manager. Herbert’s United were relegated in 1931, 20 years into a 41-year title drought.

Did you know United once went 41 years without winning the title? Doesn’t really ever get mentioned does it?

Ole’s current 35% win rate is similar to the 30% he achieved at Cardiff and the longer his United tenure, the more he spirals towards that magical 30% number.

If you take into account all competitions, where opposition tends to be inferior in the early rounds of domestic cups and the Europa League, his win percentage improves to 50%. United’s three prior managers to him – Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho – each of whom were sacked, had winning records of 53%, 52% and 58% respectively. In other words, I can state with a high level of confidence that they’re actually getting worse under Solskjaer.

Now, before promising to never mention Gary Neville again, it would be remiss of me not to include his quote from earlier this season:

“I guarantee you as clear as day, Manchester United will win again. They’ll win again, no problem; they’ll probably win the league again before Liverpool, in my opinion.”

A soothsayer he is not. Incidentally, he picked Paul Pogba as his ‘player to watch’ this season too. The reasons for his failed tenure at Valencia are becoming clear. He did at least manage to equal Solskjaer with a 35.71% win rate of his own in Spain.

Jurgen Klopp meanwhile has an overall win record of 61.5%. When you take into account he took over a team in mid-table, and has tended to field the kids in domestic cup competitions it’s exceptional and one that supersedes even the legendary Shanks (52%), Bob Paisley (58%) and Sir Kenny’s first stint (60.9%).

 

Record Breakers

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool), JUNE 1, 2019 - Football / Soccer : UEFA Champions League final match Tottenham Hotspur FC 0-2 Liverpool FC at Estadio Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by D.Nakashima/AFLO)

Going back to the record-breaking run of the last two seasons, it gets even more stunning. P60 W51 D8 L1 for an 85% win rate.

This season alone 21 wins from 22 games is 95%. No other manager in Europe’s top five leagues comes even close to these numbers.

It gets better still. In the last 61 games, we have achieved 164 points of 183 available. That’s 19 points dropped in 61 games. To put our current situation into perspective, we can afford to drop 18 points in the next 16 games and still be crowned Champions, even if Man City win every game.

There is talk about this Liverpool team being the greatest ever seen in the Premier League era. I would go further than that. It is the greatest ever seen in any era. No club in the top division has ever come even close to these figures. Not even the great Liverpool teams from back then.

There are only really three other teams in the Premier League era with a claim to be ‘the greatest’. Here’s why they’re not:

United’s treble winners, 1998/99 – after 22 games of that season, they had 41 points. No, it’s not a typo. That’s 23 points behind this current Liverpool team after the same number of games. They won the league that season with 79 points after 13 draws and three defeats. Sorry, but that doesn’t qualify as ‘great’ by anyone’s measure.

Arsenal’s Invincibles, 2003/4 – unbeaten yes, but they drew 12 games. 90 points was commendable, but this Liverpool team just achieved 97 and will undoubtedly achieve far more than 90 this season too. The Invincibles also achieved nothing in Europe getting knocked out in the quarter-final by Chelsea.

Man City’s current team – City’s team, who were the first to achieve 100 points, then went on to pip us by a point last season, are the closest challengers to the ‘greatest ever’ title, but even they fall short.

Again, they achieved nothing in Europe during this time and in the last season and a half Liverpool have won the Champions League while suffering just one defeat in 60 games. In those same 61 games (they’ve played one more as it stands this season) they have tasted Premier League defeat no less than nine times.

 

Recruitment

It’s fair to say that Liverpool’s recruitment under Klopp has been close to perfect.

Other than Naby Keita, who is yet to fulfil his potential or justify his price tag due to constant injury, every other recruit has either been a huge success, or, in the cases of e.g. Karius, Solanke, Klavan who haven’t quite worked out, they’ve been moved on. Every player in the Liverpool squad now is a quintessential ‘Klopp’ type player.

United’s in comparison has been dismal. The list of failures as long as your arm, far exceeds their successes, and many of those failures remain as first choice. The gulf in recruitment is such that not a single Manchester United player would get into Liverpool’s first XI. Not one.

That includes their three so-called (by the media, not me) ‘successful’ recruits under Solskjaer. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James are all virtual ever-presents this season. Two of them are defenders sourced from Palace and Leicester, yet without them both clubs have superior defensive records than United this season.

They’ve also conceded 93% more goals than Liverpool. How does this rate as success? James has three goals in 22 appearances, but after two goals in his first three league games, he has one in his last 19. After an adrenaline-driven start to his United career he’s now finding out there’s far more to being a top Premier League player than simply being able to run fast.

Maguire, Wan-Bissaka and James cost United £145 million. Klopp has put together this almost-perfect squad with a quite extraordinary net spend of £74.5 million. That’s £5.5 million quid less than the cost of one Harry Maguire.

 

The Perch

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 25, 2009: Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez organises his team, while Manchester United's manager Alex Ferguson tries to influence the fourth official, a tactic he uses when losing, during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Unless the biggest capitulation in the history of football occurs, the fabled holy-grail of No. 19 will be coming to Anfield in a matter of months.

While revelling in United’s misfortune over recent seasons has been fun, it’s also been somewhat hollow given their 20-18 titles advantage has remained intact. It also served to disguise the secret relief that the two-title gap was not increased.

Thankfully, not only have they failed to add to their title haul, but their fall from grace has been nothing short of spectacular. Who could possibly have predicted the sequence of events to follow once Ferguson and Howard Webb hung up their watch and whistle?

It’s obvious now, that the only credible challengers to our current dominance is no longer the red side of Salford, but the light blue side of Manchester.

As if their current plight isn’t depressing enough for their fans, we also extended the gap in European Cups to 6-3, the catalyst from which this hugely impressive Liverpool team has since excelled. The addictive drug of choice for any footballer is the winning one. It is habit-forming and one to which all involved with Liverpool FC are now addicted.

 

Living The Dream

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, June 2, 2019: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp lifts the trophy during an open-top bus parade through the city after winning the UEFA Champions League Final. Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur. 2-0 in Madrid. To claim their sixth European Cup. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

The stage is set and the foundations are in place for a new era of glory. The club, in terms of manager, squad, finances, backroom staff, structure and management team is in possibly the greatest overall shape in its 128-year existence.

One of the simplest, yet most iconic banners unfurled at Anfield in recent years read ‘Make Us Dream’. For a long time we were dreamers; Jurgen made us believers; now we are achievers. We are European and World Champions and within touching distance of that elusive title.

It will be the first league title in the modern era. With this squad, this backroom staff, this management structure and this manager in place, it may not be the last.

And I think, now, you’re gonna believe us.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is now available to pre-order exclusively on This Is Anfield.

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