It’s true; records are there to be broken this season, but for Liverpool, they should only be the by-product of chasing the future.
It’s a strange twilight zone we find ourselves in, but it is a reassuringly familiar one for me.
There is a certain art-form to ending a season when you have clinched the league title with a significant number of games still to be played.
Man vs. Food
A footballing equivalent of an episode of Man vs. Food, Liverpool have already satisfied their hunger yet the stay at home crowd and a critical social media circus still bay for Jurgen Klopp’s players to keep on devouring.
There are records to be broken, you see. Neighbours need further goading etc.
As nice as breaking records can be, Liverpool have never been a club that has held huge worth in them. They just tend to be an understandable side effect of success.
Records are there to ease the rainy days when your team of choice are struggling. They are a way of acting as a comfort blanket against seeing a rival excel.
For instance, I’ve seen plenty of examples in recent weeks of “don’t even say the name Liverpool in the same sentence as A.N Other FC, *because they’ve been inept enough to lose twice/not remained unbeaten/only won the league title/I hate them with an obsessional zeal”.
*Delete as applicable.
There is still a lot of pain being felt out there.
There’s No “I” in ‘Team’
For Liverpool, it has always tended to be the same when it comes to personal achievements. The active pursuit of a Golden Boot, for instance, can have a knock-on effect to what happens on the pitch. Harry Kane is a prime example of this.
Any player that thinks of personal accolades ahead of the collective of the team should have no place at Anfield.
Images like the ones that emerged of the Liverpool squad celebrating clinching the Premier League title, after Manchester City’s defeat at Chelsea, weren’t generated by a lust for breaking records, they were made possible by a steely focus of intent on winning the main prize.
I think the closest Liverpool ever really came to be proud of individual honours was when the Manager of the Year and Player of the Year awards were handed out, or the giant Bells whiskey bottles that Bob Paisley used to collect on a monthly basis as they only came if greatness had been achieved as a team.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be fantastic if Liverpool went on to break the 100-point barrier, but I won’t lose an ounce of sleep if they don’t.
Excessive Elbow Room
Seeing Liverpool crowned as Premier League champions was the objective this season and they have achieved that with the most spacious amount of elbow room to spare, ever.
Historically, we’ve been here before. The league title in the bag and games to play around with. It isn’t easy to lift a team after the highest spike of adrenalin has abated. There is an almost eerie calm to deal with.
I’m not the only one to flag this up, but Liverpool’s of the past used to take their foot off the gas once they had reached the point where they were unassailable to all others.
The 1982/83 vintage was the most extreme version of this. So far ahead; so accustomed to winning league titles, that they took their foot off the gas even before they were mathematically uncatchable.
This Liverpool, of Kenny Dalglish, of Graeme Souness, of Alan Hansen, of Ian Rush, of Phil Thompson, of Phil Neal, Alan Kennedy, Mark Lawrenson, Bruce Grobbelaar, Sammy Lee, Craig Johnston and Ronnie Whelan, they drew two and lost five of their last seven in a season when Bob Paisley was retiring.
Even the rightly celebrated 1987/88 team phoned it in towards the end of that campaign. They won only four of their last 12 in the league despite still requiring focus in the FA Cup.
It isn’t simply a Liverpool thing by the way. When Manchester United won the Premier League in 2000/01, a title clinched with five games to spare, they won only one of those final five games, losing three and drawing one.
Liverpool, having clinched the title with seven games to spare, have been handed this set of games that is akin to an extended pre-season towards the 2020/21 campaign.
Rather than chasing records, I’d rather Klopp embraced them as a chance to learn new things about the flexibility of his squad. All the more so given that he is allowed to use five substitutes.
Curtis Jones, armed with a new five-year contract, made a glorious goalscoring cameo appearance on Sunday, that Liverpool yawned and stretched their way through. Both goals brightening an otherwise sleepy afternoon.
These next five games are a unique competitive opportunity for Liverpool, where Jones should be handed a couple of starts. Not to get him past the five-appearance barrier to qualify for a title winners’ medal, but to see just how he can fit into a midfield he can expect to play an increased role in next season, given the departure of Adam Lallana and the advancing age of James Milner.
It would also be a great time to give Trent Alexander-Arnold a game in midfield to give us an inkling if the prophecy of him eventually moving into midfield holds any substance. Doing this, it would also allow Neco Williams a start at right-back.
If some Liverpool players are going to be understandably guilty of letting their minds wander to the summer break, then field some alternatives that are still hungry to finish the rest of the 2019/20 plate of food off.